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Lightning flashes that illuminate the way

One of the recent debates in the letters’ pages of the Jewish Report has revolved around the question of miracles in Judaism, particularly those relating to the Exodus and a 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.

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DAVID SAKS

One correspondent asserted that the Biblical narrative lacked veracity, since there was no way such a large number of people could have survived in the desert (while also denying that the departing Israelites could have been so numerous).

Those responding have pointed that, as the Torah itself frequently emphasises, there was nothing natural about either the redemption from slavery or the subsequent period of wandering. Rather, the natural order underwent various crucial changes at the behest of the A-mighty Himself, to which the entire Jewish people were direct witnesses (and beneficiaries).

There nevertheless exists strong resistance to the idea that this formative period in Jewish (and world) history did not come about by natural means. Frequently, one finds attempts to find more prosaic, everyday explanations for the miracles that purportedly occurred, such as that Krias Yam Suf might have been simply a matter of incoming and outgoing tides which our primitive ancestors took to be a Divine phenomenon, or that what really occurred was a timeous tsunami (possibly caused by the volcanic eruption that destroyed the Mediterranean island of Santorini, estimated to have taken place around that time).

None of these alternative explanations are really plausible. For one thing, the details of the Red Sea parting as recorded in our tradition, make it clear that what happened was of a supernatural nature. Moreover, it was something the entire Jewish nation experienced at first hand.

It was not as if Moses came along and said: “Follow me, o my brothers, for behold, the L-rd caused the waters to split before me…” The event is claimed to have been experienced at first hand by an entire nation. Could such a thing have been fabricated long after the fact? While not an outright impossibility, it is highly improbable.

It would entail, for a start, convincing every Jew that such events had actually happened to their forebears, even though none would have heard of any such thing from their own parents and grandparents. Once they had compared notes with one another, and learned that in no family did such a tradition exist, they would surely have concluded that those telling them about it were speaking nonsense.

Remember, too, that the whole Exodus narrative has never been approached as a vague tradition assigned to an undesignated time in the distant past. Rather, its central events – the date of departure, the splitting of the sea and the Revelation at Sinai six weeks after that – are pinpointed to the day (even the approximate time of day).

Would the purported inventors of such a tradition really have gone so far as to locate their whole imagined scenario so exactly in historical time? On the contrary, it would have been far more logical for them to have kept the details vague, so as to forestall uncomfortable questions.

Moreover, the Torah account makes it clear that the Jewish people began commemorating the events of the Exodus from the very first year after it happened, and were indeed instructed to do so in the years to come.

This means that those making up the whole account not only sought to convince the masses that their ancestors had experienced a series of miracles (which none of their own forebears had told them about) and that these each occurred on a specific day of a specific month of a specific year, but that these had been commemorated on those very dates in each subsequent year before the practice was inexplicably discontinued at some unidentified point in time.

What seems to me to be the clincher is that if, despite all these objections, it was in practice possible to fabricate a tradition of mass revelation long after the fact and persuade everyone else that it actually happened, then not only the Jews would have done it. Rather, one would find similar accounts of supernatural events with multiple witnesses in other religions.

It is, after all, obviously much more convincing to allege that many people (and how much more so an entire nation) were privy to acts of Divine revelation rather than just a single individual.

In fact, in no other religious system does one find even an attempt to make such a claim. Miracles and Divine visitations are invariably said to have been experienced by a single individual or, at most, a handful of people who never in turn passed on their experiences to their children. All this demonstrates that at the very least, something extraordinary must indeed have happened to our ancestors all those years ago.

Interestingly, Judaism nevertheless advises us not to place too much emphasis on miracles. As I see it, they are like occasionally lightning flashes that momentarily illuminate the way forward during a long, hard journey in the dark.

They show, unmistakably, where one has to go, but actually walking that path when all one has is the fading memory of that brief revelation is when the hard work begins.

This is what Judaism is really all about. It is not about blind faith, but of remaining faithful to the mission that was revealed to our forebears and of which we are the heirs.  

 

 

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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