Leo Baeck 2


Feb 2009 Journal

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God on trial (Point of View series)

Last September the BBC ran a programme called ‘God on Trial’ in which, fictionally, some of the prisoners in Auschwitz demanded to know the nature of a god that can allow so much suffering to take place. They decided to put God on trial.

An interesting assumption is made here. The prisoners, it seems, decided that there is a god. If I had been in Auschwitz, the first question I would have wanted to ask is whether God actually exists. The prisoners came to the conclusion that God had broken His covenant with the Jewish people and had become their enemy. But I couldn’t help wondering why the author decided to portray the prisoners as believing in God’s existence. Personally, I am not convinced God does exist.

The Jews are said to be the Chosen People. I think it is in Fiddler on the Roof that Tevye asks ‘Why couldn’t He have chosen someone else?’ I do not want to offend any of my frum readers but how can they still pray to a God that is so heartless as to allow six million of His Chosen People to die in the Holocaust?

I had lunch with a Progressive rabbi recently. I challenged him on the stories in the Old Testament (and, for that matter, those in the New Testament and the Koran). To my surprise, he agreed that they were simply tales that were apt for the days when they were written. He didn’t believe that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God but was saved from doing so in the last minute by a ram - any more than I believe in the story of Jonah and the whale. So, very puzzled, I asked him why he was a rabbi. His answer made everything much clearer to me: ‘I believe that I must teach the idea of God.’ So this means that my rabbinical friend does not believe, as the Orthodox do, that the Torah was written by God. To him, it was man-made because, like the Ten Commandments, the Torah was necessary for its time.

Now let’s look at the animosity our religion causes among ourselves. The Orthodox do not recognise the Progressives – many of their rabbis will not even greet ours as such. Our conversions are not acknowledged by most Orthodox rabbis. They will not come into our synagogues. Chief Rabbi Sachs would not even go to the funeral of his friend, Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn. Furthermore, look what is happening in Israel. The religious parties have more power in the Knesset than their seats warrant because they are usually needed to make up a coalition. Yet they do not see Israel as a secular state, wanting, in particular, power over education and justice. How different is their attitude to that of the fundamentalist Muslims in Saudi Arabia? And what about Neturei Karta, who do not recognise Israel at all? Remember, like Hitler, Ahmadinejad of Iran sees no difference between Jews of different persuasions.

Do our kosher laws make sense? Of course they did. But do they today? No meat goes off faster in hot climates than pork. We do not live in a hot climate. No fish goes off faster in hot climates than shellfish. As I said, we do not live in a hot climate. What have these dietary laws to do with religion? Anyway, we have refrigeration today. Why can I not have milk after meat? Why is halibut a kosher fish but turbot isn’t? Should we not take a fresh look at what we believe? Eruvs? In 2008? May I remind my fellow Jews that we left our shtetls behind many years ago. No riding on the Sabbath? Why? Reform Rabbi Tony Bayfield was criticised recently for riding in the Lord Mayor’s procession on the Sabbath. What nonsense!

‘God on Trial.’ I think that in the play He was found guilty. Does God exist? Richard Dawkins says ‘no’. I do not know. Should there be more tolerance among the many different sects of Judaism? Yes, it is essential, because otherwise we will not survive as Jews.


Peter Phillips

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