Now that the Holidays have passed, it is time to reﬂect on what is ahead. With Brexit in the air, political quagmire in Israel, Turkish President Erdogan’s invasion against the Kurds in northern Syria, and political volatility in the United States, we all are deserving of a respite. Perhaps it is time to study, to learn about Judaism, our heritage and past.
There are many opportunities ahead. Our Sunday Morning Adult Discussion Group is always open to newcomers and there is not a subject that we miss. Our two core classes are on Jewish Prayer and the Shoah, and I encourage all of you to join us in an exceptional learning environment. In addition to our regular class from 10-11:15am, we always have wonderful guest speakers, and I would ask you to consider coming on Sunday 3 November to hear John Ware, a well-known journalist whom I have come to know through our mutual time on the Israel-Diaspora Trust.
It was John Ware whose Panorama BBC news investigation programme exposed the corruption and blatant antisemitism in the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party. He will be with us for a behind-the-scenes look to see what has happened in the aftermath of his coverage of the Labour Party.
On Sunday 8 December, we welcome Professor John Barton, Anglican priest and professor of Biblical Studies at Oxford University, recently retired as Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture. If you have not yet read his magnum opus, A History of the Bible, you should. I have arranged for Professor Barton to join our discussion group in his only appearance at any synagogue since the release of his best-selling book.
In his book Professor Barton takes the reader through every critical scholarly debate regarding the biblical text, including Christian Scripture. Not only is his scholarship superb, he is incredibly sensitive to the Jewish essence and roots of Biblical texts, including Christian ones. He is well versed in Judaism and I have complimented him on his knowledge of everything Jewish.
Professor Barton takes on the fundamentalist religious crowd that ignores modern scholarship in archaeology, comparative literature and history when dealing with Biblical texts. He equally challenges the “secularists” who know little about the breadth, scope and contribution of the Bible to western civilisation. Here is a sample of how he deals with our misunderstanding the Bible – his challenge to biblical purists, especially Christians:
“There are versions of Christianity that claim to be simply “biblical” (no versions of Judaism do so), but the reality is that the structures and content of Christian belief…are organised and articulated differently from the contents of the Bible. This can be seen most clearly in Christian fundamentalism, which idolises the Bible yet largely misunderstands it…The description of the Bible (warts and all) which follows will necessarily make disconcerting reading for those who idealise it, but I will also show that it is not and cannot be the whole foundation of either Judaism or Christianity.” As reviewer Kirsty Jane Falconer wrote, his “handling of Jewish Scripture is sensitive and informed.”
This is a special treat, to have Professor Barton come from Oxford to be with us. Do consider joining us on 8 December.
I wish you all a wonderful couple of months of learning, peace, commitment, prayer and thought. Rejoice in your health and in your many blessings.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler