Senior UK rabbi urges congregation to ‘fight’ for an ‘open, tolerant and inclusive’ Judaism

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Senior UK rabbi urges congregation to ‘fight’ for an ‘open, tolerant and inclusive’ Judaism

Rabbi Josh Levy told the congregation at Alyth Gardens synagogue in Yom Kippur sermon; 'We have ceded the ground of religious discourse to those whose Judaism does not reflect our values. We can do so no longer'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Rabbi Josh Levy, Alyth Gardens
Rabbi Josh Levy, Alyth Gardens

One of Reform Judaism’s most senior rabbis has used a Yom Kippur sermon to issue a rallying call for his community to be “willing to fight” to maintain a Judaism that is “open, tolerant and inclusive.”

Rabbi Josh Levy told the packed congregation at Alyth Gardens synagogue: “We have to acknowledge something…. We have ceded the ground of religious discourse to those whose Judaism does not reflect our values. We can do so no longer.

“If we want a Judaism that is open and tolerant and inclusive, one that reflects those core liberal ideals in our rich inheritance, then we have to be willing to fight for it. ”

In a sermon delivered as in Israel hardline religious Zionist activists in Tel Aviv attempted to impose barriers to separate genders for prayer in the public Dizengoff Square, Levy told congregants at his shul in Temple Fortune, north-west London;“We are witnessing a decisive moment in Jewish history; the invention of a new kind of Judaism… [This is] a struggle to save Judaism itself… the threat is spiritual destruction”.

Levy refered to the “stark warned” issued by the Israeli historian, philosopher and author, Yuval Noah Harari, during his recent visit to the UK, including in an interview with Jewish News.

He said:” Harari warns of the implications beyond the narrow politics of Israel, implications for the nature of Judaism itself.

“He cautions that the removal of checks and balances in the Israeli system is designed to allow a determined minority to reshape Israeli society, and that they will seek to do so around a vision of Judaism that is new and highly problematic.

“If Israel, as the most public expression of our religion and culture in the world, comes to represent a Judaism that is based on, in his words, a principle of Jewish supremacy.

“If it comes to represent a Judaism that is discriminatory, intolerant, and oppressive, one that does not have at its heart concern for the vulnerable, then this will redefine Judaism for all of us. ”

Outlining his own vision of Judaism, Levy, now chief executive of The Movement for Reform Judaism, added:”Judaism is a religion of goodness and decency and kindness; it is one that speaks up for the vulnerable rather than making them more so; one that believes in dialogue and meeting the other; one that recognises complexity and nuance; that privileges conversation and compromise.

“A Judaism that is not these things is not just “not my Judaism” as the bumper stickers and badges of the current protests declare. It is not Judaism.

“Certainly not a Judaism anyone who spends their life immersed in our texts should recognise. It is not honest about our texts and our heritage; not, for want of a better word, an ‘authentic’ expression of Jewish voice.”

Issuing his call for the “fight” to begin to preserve this expression of Judaism, Levy added:” We need to recommit ourselves to living it in our lives.

“We need to commit to the strength of its institutions: helping its places of worship to grow and to build; supporting those charities that speak on social issues with a progressive religious voice.

“We need to recommit ourselves to the place of progressive religion in our society, as a response to the challenges of modern society, as a voice for good in the world. ”

Jewish News understands that other senior rabbis, especially within progressive Judaism used their sermons over Yom Tov to reflect on the on-going crisis within the Jewish world reflected in the religious Zionist stance of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government.

There was also an admission from a leading United Synagogue rabbi that some regular donors to charitable causes had made it known they would not support appeals that were supportive of the Netanyahu government.

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