An Orthodox rabbi is joining millions of Muslims around Britain in observing the month-long Ramadan fast, writes Justin Cohen.
Rabbi Natan Levy – who will break from the fast to enjoy Shabbat meals with his family – hopes his unprecedented act will help to increase understanding of Islam within Anglo-Jewry.
The rabbi, who is the Board of Deputies’ interfaith consultant, told Jewish News: “I’m not fasting as a prelude toward Islamic conversion. I’m just trying to understand how another faith works and maybe create a touchstone for conversation.”
Saying he is “frustrated with how little my community is willing to engage with Muslims”, he added: “I hope this gets us thinking and talking as a community about two things; the hungry poor in our midst, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Ramadan is a time for charity and hungry people care about hungry people.
“And secondly, that we Jews and Muslims can share, and fast, and feast and talk, and stop hating each other from
behind closed doors. I want my children to know that their father is fasting with over one billion people for this long Ramadan, that God speaks to others”.
In conjunction with the Board, he plans to tweet each day of the fast on the language links between Hebrew and Arabic. Rabbi Levy was spurred on to join the fast – during which followers refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset for 30 days – after one young congregant at the synagogue he attended panicked at the sight of a devout Muslim guest in the Friday night service who had a head covering, leading to security being called. The minister wants to counter the negative images created by ISIS and other groups.
Just two days into the fast, Rabbi Levy admits the undertaking is already proving a challenge. “A Muslim colleague tells me it gets easier after the second week, which feels like a really, really long time away. I’m doing this out of choice. Imagine the nearly one million people in the UK who have nothing to eat except handouts from a soup kitchen or food bank?
“I’m still eating on Shabbat, so there’s a break for chicken soup! We also have a fast ourselves this month, on 17 Tammuz, so what’s a few more days?”
He said he was not urging others to follow his lead and admitted that family and colleagues had shown “not the slightest” interest in doing so.
But he said: “The conversations emerging in the office, on the train, in shul, have been fascinating and heated and challenging and that – I hope – is all for the good.”
Rabbi Levy added: “Beyond the inevitable question of why would a Jew fast for Ramadan, my children’s main question was: ‘Will the imams fast for Yom Kippur now?’”