Category Archives: Education

Kolot: Voices of Hope – A Different Judaism

This essay is the latest in RHR’s series of ‘Kolot: Voices of Hope’ profiles of Israelis and Palestinians furthering the cause of peace and equality and is also presented as part of their END THE EXPULSIONS matching grant campaign from June 1 to June 30. With only one day left in RHR’s campaign, please help them to reach our goal and double the impact of your gift by giving now. 

On the 21st of January 2022, Palestinian and Israeli activists gathered together at the West Bank Palestinian village of Burin to plant olive trees. Roughly corresponding with the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, olive tree planting in Palestinian villages as well as participation in the Palestinian olive harvest are longtime Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) traditions. While the activists were working, settlers from the Givat Ronen settlement descended down the hill, threw rocks at them, attacked them with clubs, and torched a car. This attack was carried out in the name of Judaism—or, should we say, in the name of a distorted version of Judaism that, among other things, subscribes to the belief that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, and the Jews alone.

Education – RHR’s Education program brings Israeli gap year students to Jerusalem to learn about
human rights & Judaism on the ground. Credit: RHR

Continue reading

Parashat VaYishlah: Words of Peace

“And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak peacefully with him”. (Genesis, 37, 4)

How is hatred born? What is the human mechanism that creates such a harsh feeling? Is it jealousy that causes hatred? Perhaps it is the difference or specialness of the other, that I lack, that arouses the hatred. Is it the absence or neglect of a significant person who arouses love that causes hatred? Perhaps the past difficulties and memories of the father are reflected in the relationships of his children. We are referring to hatred amongst brothers.

No doubt Joseph is an annoying younger brother. Continue reading

Parashat VaYishlah: The Unheard Voice of Dinah

The spiritual and practical world of women in the Bible (and post-Biblical literature) is relatively unexplored. Their mention is disproportionate to their percentage of the population, and when mentioned it is usually as a component of a male narrative, as an object of male actions and desires rather than as a subject.

The story of Dinah in this week’s Torah reading VaYishlah is an extreme case of this. We don’t know how Dinah felt. Did she scream for help when Shechem, son of Hamor, raped her? Or was she perhaps silent in her great surprise and horror? What did she say when her brothers Simon and Levi abducted her and led her out of the city, strewn with corpses, back to her mother and father’s tent? Dinah’s voice is not heard throughout the incident. The victim has turned into an object. Continue reading

Rabbi Michael Marmur at BFRHR AGM

At the British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights’ AGM on 9 December 2019, Rabbi Michael Marmur delivered the below speech, reproduced here with his permission.

At this time of year we read the Torah passage relating Jacob’s dream and try to interpret what it means. There are three clues as to what it is about:-

  1. A psychological reason for the wrestling. It takes place at the Ford Yabbok, which is a word play on the consonants in Jacob’s name. It is a struggle with himself as he tries to work out how we are meant to live in this world.
  2. A struggle with God in the guise of an angel. Jacob is trying to work out a theology and a religious response. There is an element of modernity in the struggle of the human with the divine.
  3. Another possibility is that he is wrestling with the spirit of his brother, Esau, of whom he is afraid. It is a drama of not only encountering ourselves and God but what happens in the struggle with the other – our brother.

Continue reading

RHR goes up North

For the last couple of years, I’ve taught a class about ‘Religions, Justice and Peacemaking’ at Leeds Trinity University in the Theology and Religious Studies program. It has been a wonderful opportunity for my research into Israeli-Palestinian peace activism to lead directly into my teaching, by using religion in the Israel-Palestine conflict as the class topic. Among the activists I research are Rabbis for Human Rights, giving me the perfect case study around which to focus the class.

RHR doesn’t describe itself as a peace group but it certainly pursues “justpeace” as conceived by peace studies scholars. One key idea of “justpeace” is expressed by the familiar slogan “no justice, no peace.” Beyond that, “justpeace” entails an ongoing process of addressing inevitable social conflicts non-violently and with an emphasis on justice. RHR’s advocacy for social justice within the State of Israel as well as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, its practice of nonviolence, and its dedication to building reciprocal social relationships through education and interfaith work all indicate that it strives for “justpeace.”

So, what did the students learn in the class and what did they make of RHR? Continue reading

My Testimony

(Testimony written by the servant of Esther in the days of Achashverosh, the king who reigned from India to Ethiopia, over 127 provinces)

You have probably never noticed me in Esther’s book.  I am one of the ‘seven maidens’ given to Esther on her arrival in the harem of the king’s palace. The chroniclers have given us no names, no history, no identity; we are there to take care of the women while they wait to be summoned by the king.

I scarcely remember my own story; I watched my mother and younger siblings die at the hands of Persian forces, sent to suppress the uprising of our city.  I fled into the forest and survived eating berries and leaves from trees and shrubs.

After three days, I was captured by a soldier who brought me to Persia and sold me to Hegai, keeper of the women, and that is how I am here in the king’s palace. We are slaves.  We sleep on old mats outside the chambers of the women who have been brought into the harem.

This woman Esther is somehow different from the others: proud, yet not unkind to us; courageous, yet fearful too.  I feel in her presence a prescient terror of something sinister, not yet revealed. She prays alone, addressing an Unseen Presence in a strange tongue. Some say it is the language of the Jews – Hebrew.  In her face, I see something of my own grief and loneliness and am moved to pity for this woman, also uprooted from the place of her birth.

The king is capricious and irascible, in the thrall of Haman the Agagite.  Haman has got the king to assent to a decree eliminating the Jews – ‘a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples.’ 

We know of this planned genocide even before Esther.  Her cousin, Mordecai, is sitting outside the king’s gate in sackcloth and there is terrible weeping and wailing among his people.  At night, I cannot sleep, imagining that I am witnessing again the decimation of my own people.

‘What is the matter?’ Esther touches my arm gently.  I cannot hide the news from her.  She is distraught.  She confides in me – no one can come into the inner court of the king unless summoned.  ‘Surely I will be put to death.’  Mordecai prevails over her: ‘If you hold your peace this time, then will relief and deliverance arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish?’

There is an intimate, royal banquet – the king and Esther and Haman – on the first night; and then, on the second night, another banquet is prepared.  As the candles are lit and the food prepared for the table, I listen to the hammering of Haman’s men outside building a gallows for Mordecai.

Tonight I dress her carefully – in a deep purple silk gown that falls to the ground, her waist bound by an embroidered girdle, her head crowned with a diadem of precious stones; her face and throat whitened with lead powder, her lips reddened with crushed mulberry.

I know that her people are sold, to be destroyed, to be slain and to perish – all the silks of India, the dyes of Phoenicia, will not save the life of this woman or her people.  I cannot tell her this, for she is resolute, there is something determined in her expression, a deep and enduring protest against the injustice of the king’s written decree.  I watch her approach the king, confront her enemy and point her finger towards his face.  He has forced himself upon her; she looks away – his face is consumed with hatred and lust, in his eyes a stony godlessness.

They cover Haman’s face – a face that looked only on itself, that was its only self-referent; eyes that averted their gaze from the face of the other lest the soul submit to responsibility, compassion, a moral urge to place others before, even above himself.  They cover his face because he will die alone, because he has betrayed ‘the most basic mode of responsibility’. 

Haman will die for his failure to see in the face of Esther a yearning for life – le droit vitale.  U’f’nei Haman chafu – his face is covered to extinguish that asymmetrical look that says: you are an infiltrator, a maggot, you deserve to die.  Esther will live and set her own people free, because she suspends her own natural right to self-survival for the sake of justice and for the sake of the life of others.

I, too, will be given my freedom by Persia’s new king, Mordecai – a freedom that will be difficult, but breathed in a place of peace and truth, of equity and trust.

Rabbi Alexandra Wright is Senior Rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, London, and vice-chair of BFRHR.