Monday, 4 January 2016

Justice, religion, family and the world...

I am Jewish (with a name like Goldberg that probably doesn’t come as a surprise). I am not observant or even religious but would not and could not adopt any other religion.

The last few weeks have given me pause for thought on the whole issue of religious observance.  Our granddaughter had her Bat Mitzvah in the summer.  For those of you new to this idea – boys have always had a Bar Mitzvah – a coming of age – but for girls this is newish.  I had one with two other girls in the Orthodox Synagogue in Wolmarans Street in Johannesburg.  We read from a prayer book and read from the pulpit because women were not and are not allowed on the “bimah” which is where the Torah (scroll) is placed for the singing of the service.  So this was a lurch into modernity of sorts and while an Orthodox girl’s coming of age is often acknowledged it is not in synagogue and not the same as the boys.

Our family in Switzerland belong to a small and new Liberal community where there is equality. Because the community is small, they probably only have one or two of these events a year so the whole community is excited and engaged. Our two families were there in force so it was standing room only for the rest!

The Torah is removed ceremonially from its resting place, known as the Ark, and very carefully placed on the Bimah. There are certain prayers and rituals attached to its removal, its unwrapping and rewrapping and placing back in the Ark. Many opportunities for “honours” for family members to take part in this – and joyously there were so many of us that it got a bit crowded. 

The Rabbi was thrilled as she said that she cannot remember the last time she officiated at a Bat/Bar Mitzvah where all four grandparents were present (not to mention the three uncles, great aunt and great uncles and all the cousins and second cousins) and each had their moment. The Torah is paraded around the synagogue so all can touch it and then opened at the correct place. 

But before this happened, the rabbi held it and “passed” it to each of the grandparents and then to the parents - we didn’t actually lift it but just touched it.  As the Rabbi explained, this symbolises the passing of the knowledge from parent to child and has taken place for over 5,000 years. It was very moving and confirmed my Judaism and what it symbolises to me – beyond the faith.

Listening to our granddaughter sing her piece from the Torah and then her discussion of its meaning and the Rabbi’s comments gave me more food for thought. The section of the Torah for that week is called Shoftim – which means “judges” but is about Law, Justice and how we behave.  We find one of the most famous lines from the Torah.

 “Zedek  Zedek  Tirdof “ which means “Justice - Justice shall you pursue!

More of that in my next blog.

At the end of the service we had a Kiddush – prayers before blessing the challah (bread) and wine (grape juice for the children). It isn’t that usual to have a female Rabbi but I bet she is the only one who always bakes the challah for the Kiddush – and very good it was too!

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