Parashat Beha’alotecha: Mind your words

Wherever we go in today’s society, we are bombarded by ads about what we should and should not be putting in our mouths. The ads tells us to eat this so that we can lose weight; to not eat that because it could raise our cholesterol; and we constantly hear promises of how ingesting a certain product will make us strong, beautiful, and healthy. But what about what comes out of our mouths?

If our tradition teaches us anything, it is the power of words — for good or evil, pain or joy. In this week’s portion Miriam is stricken with tzara‘at, a type of skin infliction that is similar to leprosy. The
rabbis are clear as to why: she slandered Moses by both insulting his wife, and then claiming that God speaks with her as well. As a result of what comes out of her mouth, she is stricken with disease and quarantined outside the camp; and only the prayerful words of her brother
Moses lead to her healing. “Please God, heal her now.” (Num. 12:13)

There is a vital teaching here that we need to remember at all times. When we speak ill of another person, we are creating a disease that affects the entire community. Like a disease that is easily passed from one to another, those words can become epidemic, a matrix for marginalisation and racism. Like tzara‘at; rumors, gossip, and slander change the way that we perceive someone at such a basic level that the entire community becomes contaminated.

Lashon Hara”, the “evil tongue”, hurts everyone, and therefore I applaud the SAUPJ for their initiative to counter racism in our own language and environment (see below).

Don’t let racism be our Judaism
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Michael Barclay )

Anti Racism Initiative of the SAUPJ

The SAUPJ, together with the SAJBD, is starting an initiative to stamp out racism in the Jewish community.   Starting in the home, among family and friends, we can stand up to those whose Yiddish vocabulary is limited to Shoch and Shwartze.   These derogatory terms cause great hurt – whilst we expect people to address us and talk about us in a respectful way so should we realise that referring to blacks in that way should be buried in the past.  I urge you to point out to anyone using those words that they are unnecessary and undignified.

Don’t let racism be our Judaism.

 Monica Solomon
National Chair, SAUPJ



It will create opportunities

Dear congregants,

The press release from the SAUPJ/SAAPR (read it here) is an  immediate response of our movement on the newest development in Israel. It is a well thought through reaction on a demeaning attack on our Progressive movement. In the last days since the decision was  made by the Israeli government I read and learned about many who stand with us in solidarity and support our request to re-instate the compromise about the Western-Wall-Plaza, but I also hear voices that ask why we care about a “bunch of stones”. Our connection to Israel, so they say, are human beings and much more. While I agree that the Kotel is not Judaism alone, and that we have more and perhaps even many more spiritual places in Israel and around the world to practise Judaism, the Kotel and the Western-Wall-Plaza symbolises an important part of our traditions and history and a common link between us and the generations to come.

For me it is not a question of what we can currently do in Israel and in our homes, but what we are not permitted to do, even though the absolute majority of world Jewry shares our request to create a space where all Jews feel comfortable and recognised. The compromise would have enabled women and men to worship God together  as we do in our Synagogues. We need a place where we can share a pre-wedding-blessing with a gay-couple as any orthodox yeshiva student receives one in the orthodox-men-section before their wedding. A transsexual women should have the right to do hagba-ah (lifting the torah) at the Kotel to show her connection to the Torah without fear, and a young boy should be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah standing next to his grandmother and mother at a place that is meaningful for them without (!) being shouted at and booed by ultra-orthodox extremists. Women should be allowed to sing proudly and loudly and not have to remain silent because some ultra-orthodox men argue that a woman’s voice is evil.

It is important for me that when teenagers from our congregations arrive for the first time in Israel and perhaps celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem that they can do it in a meaningful and dignified way, too—strengthening their Jewish identity.

A third, egalitarian—pluralistic section at the Western-Wall-Plaza will enable more Jews to pray to God in their own authentic way. This section will create opportunities and does not take anything away from anyone.

And this is why I feel so strongly about the decision of the Israeli government. This decision demands from us to give up our way to pray, to cut our connection to the Kotel and perhaps even to give up on Israel. The Kotel is currently not a place for “all Jews”. Sunday’s decision is a clear statement that non-orthodox Judaism doesn’t count for the Israeli government.

We can’t accept this. We are proud Jews. We have values and ideals that are worth being protected and cared for. Israel and Jerusalem is as much part of our Judaism as it  is for any other Jew.

In the next few days and weeks we will—together with our partners in Israel (the Israeli Progressive movement and IRAC) find ways to challenge this newest development, and I urge you to support us.

Thank you—Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell