Alternative SA Jewish Report – 30 May 2008

by Maskil on 2 Jun 2008

The Great Debate on Mashiach

Page 5 of this week’s edition of the SA Jewish Report carried a half-page advert for various events related to Shavuot at the Mizrachi Shul.

One of the items featured is a “Great Debate on Mashiach”, including such thought-provoking questions as “What will he look like?”, “When is he coming?” and “How will we bring him?”

At one, time, this obsession with Mashiach (usually rendered Moshiach to prevent any odious confusion with the Messiah of another faith) was the domain of Chabad. With conventional Orthodoxy seemingly having lost its way in so many other respects, it is probably not surprising that Moshiach fever has taken hold there too.

Belief in the Messiah is one of Judaism’s 13 principles of faith (“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless I wait every day for his coming.”), but it appears to me that Chabad and those of like mind are elevating it to the status of a super or defining principle. Questions along the lines of those quoted above seem to me to be a pointless exercise in religious self-stimulation, given that none of us can possibly know or even guess at (never mind intelligently debate) the possible answers.

Let’s rather have a debate along the lines of “Observance – is it taking the place of ethical behaviour?”

Lag B’Omer at Great Park Shul

Pages 6 and 18 featured the Lag B’Omer bonfire and other activities at Johannesburg’s Great Park Shul.

According to the glowing account of Rabbi Dovid Hazdan:

There was a marvellous diversity of people that lent their logos and support including Chabad, Bnei Akiva and Aish Hatorah, and others from the different synagogues, shuls and schools.

The greatest joy for Hashem is when communities get together in harmony.

When Jews are sharing smiles, when His children are close to each other, then they are close to our Father.

There is so much Ahavas Yisroel here – surely the time to bring Moshiach, he said.

His sentiments were followed by those of Chief [Orthodox] Rabbi Warren Goldstein who paid tribute to Rabbi Hazdan and the organisers, saying that Lag B’Omer in the forest had become an institution for South African Jews who can teach everyone the concept of achdut, unity.

We are ‘one person with one heart’. May this continue to go from strength to strength. Every Jew is a part of Hashem and we have to focus on each other’s similarities rather than the discrepancies.

This concept of diversity can probably be paraphrased as “you can be as diverse as you like, so long as you’re Orthodox”. Don’t expect to see a warm fraternal welcome extended to the SAUPJ, Netzer, Tamar or the SA Union of Temple Sisterhoods here. Reform or Masorti Jews would presumably have been welcome in their individual capacities, but not as representatives of these organisations. Marvellous diversity indeed.

Likewise, in the case of Rabbi Goldstein’s pronouncements that “we have to focus on each other’s similarities rather than the discrepancies”; this only applies when dealing with other religions. Reform Judaism need not apply for this dispensation.

Brushing off evil: Dinner with Mugabe

I really enjoyed these gems from author Heidi Holland, author of Dinner with Mugabe on page 8:

Heidi Holland … said she had tried to present a “more nuanced version” of the man as much of the reporting on him was “rather shallow” – due to the fact that he had banned “most” journalists from the country.

Yes, I imagine that if a journalist can’t even get into the place, any reporting might start exhibiting signs of shallowness.

She had first met him 30 years ago and said she had been impressed with him then and had thought of him as “caring”.

I can clearly remember the fate of any unfortunate white Rhodesian who happened to fall into the clutches of his “caring” terrorist cadres from the mid-60s to the mid-80s.

She claims that he has been “deeply hurt” by his rejection by whites and his response has been to take revenge.

He certainly gives every indication of having been “deeply hurt”. As we all now know in the age of PC, the oppressor is the real victim. It doesn’t explain how this translated into taking revenge on his entire country, not just the whites who rejected him.

Describing his “traumatised psyche”, she said he was “emotionally incapable of accepting defeat” and was “now going for revenge as we’ve never seen before”.

Holland disagreed, saying: “I think the West should talk to Mugabe – Britain should engage with him and make peace with him.” She described as “tragic” the fact that President Thabo Mbeki had been left to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe.

Talking to someone has and will always solve every problem. That’s why our world has so few problems, it’s because we’re all talking to one another. I do agree with you on the Mbeki thing though.

She predicted that Mugabe would win the election “on his own terms. I think he’s still running the place – I don’t think he’s been displaced,” she added.

Definitely on his own terms. And yes, he’s definitely still running the place.

I can’t wait for Heidi Holland’s next book, “provisionally entitled “Cocoa with Hitler”. Rumours of a third volume “Chardonnay with Bin-Laden” have been strenuously denied by her publishers, however.

Yes Heidi, it is possible to find some redeeming human attribute in just about anyone. Just remember that explaining or understanding evil does not justify or excuse it.

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