Saturday, November 17, 2007


The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, gave a speech called The Temple Address last week, to an audience comprised (among others) of evangelical Christians. Part of his talk was a tradition-based call for tolerance among the religions, and with the non-religious. A huge amount of Jewish teaching and ethical wisdom is, of course, contained in the medium of story-telling. Here is a really good one from Sacks, with a hat-tip to Ruth Gledhill:

'You know that in the middle of our synagogue services we have what we call the reading of the Torah- the reading of a scroll - a section of the Pentateuch and some Rabbis rule that when this is to be read you stand and others rule that when its read you sit. A stranger came to a new community one year in America and went to the local synagogue that Sabbath. It was wonderful- everyone was welcoming and the praying was wonderful until it came to this bit in the middle of the Torah reading of the scrolls.

'To his amazement and horror half the congregation stood, half the congregation sat and they started yelling and screaming at each other. The people that were standing were saying, “ignoramuses, don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to stand” and the people who were sitting were saying to the ones who were standing, “Heretics! Don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to sit?” This crazy pandemonium carries on; the reading comes to an end, peace reigns and etcetera. The same thing happens the next week and the week after. Finally, the stranger cannot stand it any longer. The town is currently without a rabbi so he travels to the nearest town where there is a rabbi, a distinguished rabbinical scholar and he is ushered into his presence. An old, wise, grey bearded scholar surrounded by books.

'He says, “Rabbi, I have a question for you. Tell me, when the Torah is being read, do you stand?”

'And the sage stroked his beard and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” So he said, “Well tell me Rabbi, in that case, when the Torah is being read, do you sit?” And the sage shook his head and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” And the man said, “Rabbi, you’ve got to help me here. Because in my Synagogue, half of them stand and half of them sit and they all shout out nasty names to one another.” The Rabbi nodded and he said, “Yeah, that is the tradition.”

'That is the tradition, friends, that you and I have to break.'

No comments: