Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Poor, the Mean and the Lowly

You have to be careful when quoting from the Talmud. Its 63 tractates have long provided a happy hunting ground for anti-Semites who want to prove that it advocates the mixing of Gentile blood with Passover matzah, paedophilia and a whole host of unsavoury practices. Before making any pronouncement about what ‘the Talmud says’, it is wise to remind yourself that the Talmud is a record of rabbinic discussions on legal matters and that there is much contradictory material in its pages. Also, the sentences are often so convoluted that they have to be read and reread in order to understand the meaning.

Nevertheless, even though the Mishnah and Gemara that comprise the Talmud are considered to be as much the Word of God as the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures, there are elements in that cause concern and fall far below the high morality and ethics of the Jewish Bible.

For example, even though some of the Bible’ greatest men – for example, Abel, Jacob, Moses, King David and the prophet Amos – were shepherds, there are passages in the Talmud that show the rabbis took a dim view of the profession. It seems that some rabbis regarded shepherds as so disreputable they could not keep the Torah.

Bava Metzia 5b says one should not entrust animals to a shepherd, if there is a strong possibility the shepherd will allow them to graze on other people's property, thus breaking the commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal’.

In Bava Kama 118b, purchasing milk, wool, or kids from shepherds was prohibited since they might have stolen these items from the cattle under their care.
Yet it was to shepherds, those whom later rabbis regarded as untrustworthy, to whom the birth of Messiah was first announced.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of Adonai stood before them, and the glory of Adonai shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Messiah Adonai. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which Adonai has made known to us.’

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

(Gospel According to Luke 2:8-16)

If ‘Luke’ was making up this story, as some believe, at the end of the first century, long after the event he claimed to be recording, why didn’t he have the angel of the Lord appearing to rabbis or to scribes or to the priests? After all, who could check the facts. That would give the persecuted Christian movement a bit of a boost. Luke tells his reader in the opening sentences that he had checked out the facts with eyewitnesses (one of them no doubt the mother of Jesus).

He records that the angels appeared not to the great and the good but to the poor and mean and lowly. And so has it ever been. The King of the universe revealing himself to sinners and the dregs of society.

A few years later, another Jewish baby was born in different surroundings who would grow up to be, as far as Torah was concerned, blameless. But he would later write: ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Messiah Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I (not shepherds) am the chief.’

I know it's true cos I read it in the papers

Media watchdog Honest Reporting has just announced its 'Dishonest Reporter Award 2009', its 'annual recognition of the most skewed and biased coverage of the Mideast conflict'.

Awards this year go to the talented cartoonist Pat Oliphant for the cartoon above; to former London mayor Ken Livingstone for his New Statesman interview with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal; to Peter Oborne for his Channel 4 documentary on the shadowy UK 'Israel lobby'; to the Guardian's Michael White who managed in a brief interview about the assault on Sylvio Berlusconi to charge Israelis with murdering each other 'a great deal' (see Big White Lies, 15 December).

If you think the great British media is a paragon of unbiassed reportage, think again.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

'Messiah' is dead. Long live Messiah!

Orthodox Jews claim they don't believe in proselytising, or converting others to their religion. Furthermore, they accuse Christians of idolatry because we believe Jesus is the Messiah.

However, the Hasidic sect Lubavitch Chabad believes that their leader Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who has been dead for fifteen years, is the Messiah and they have begun trying to convert non-Orthodox Jews and Gentiles to their brand of messianic Judaism as the following video clearly shows.

The picture on the poster in the picture above is of Rebbe Schneerson and the Hebrew text reads: Yechi adoneinu moreinu v’raveinu melech ha’moshiach le’olam va’ed; ‘Long live our Lord, teacher and rabbi, King Messiah, forever and ever’!
In Israel, Chabad’s state-sponsored anti-missionary offspring Yad L’Achim has been persecuting Messianic Jews because they believe Jesus is the Messiah and try to persuade other Jews from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. But here is Chabad engaging in a Jews for Jesus type outreach.

However, Rebbe Schneerson cannot be the Messiah for two very good reasons (there are many more reasons but, as this is Christmas, I’ll restrict my self to two of the more festive):not only is the Rebbe dead but he was also born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born in 1902 in the Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv but the Hebrew prophet Micah, who lived 2,700 years ago, wrote:

And you, O Bethlehem of Ephrath,
Least among the clans of Judah,
From you shall one come forth
To rule Israel for me...

Micah 5:1 Tanakh - The Holy Scriptures: New Jewish Publication Society Translation ©1985)

The highly esteemed Jewish commentator Rashi says of this verse:

And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah – whence David emanated, as it is stated (I Sam. 17:58): ‘The son of your bondsman, Jesse the Bethlehemite.’ And Bethlehem is called Ephrath, as it is said (Gen. 48:7): ‘On the road to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.’ you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah – You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you. from you shall emerge for Me – the Messiah, son of David…

According to The Babylonian Talmud, in Sanhedrin 97a, the Tanna debe Eliyyahu taught:

The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era, but through our many iniquities all these years have been lost.

As the current Jewish year is 5770, Messiah should have come 1,770 years ago. In a footnote to Sanhedrin 97b, the Soncino edition of The Talmud admits Messiah 'should have come at the beginning of the last two thousand years.

Watch Chabad handing out flyers and proselytising Gentiles. You can even hear a Lubavitcher Hasid cry out 'Moshiach Wakba!'.

Did I hear right! A Hasidic Jewish group adopting a Muslim chant to proclaim the greatness of their 'messiah' who was born 2,000 years too late in a town more than 2,000 miles from where God said the real Messiah would be born!

Where’s the beef?

Israel has been harshly criticized by the international community for constructing a security fence to keep out suicide bombers. Since the wall was constructed attacks on Israeli citizens and subsequent deaths have declined. I find it interesting that no one is beefing about the wall the Egyptians are building to keep out their fellow Muslims.

Egypt Building Iron Wall on Gaza Border to Stop Smuggling

Egypt has begun the construction of a massive iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip, in a bid to shut down smuggling tunnels into the territory. The wall will be nine to 10 kilometers long, and will go 20 to 30 meters into the ground, Egyptian sources said. It will be impossible to cut or melt.

The new plan is the latest move by Egypt to step up its counter-smuggling efforts. Although some progress had been made, the smuggling market in Gaza still flourishes. Egyptian forces demolish tunnels or fill them with gas almost every week, often with people still inside them, and Palestinian casualties in the tunnels have been steadily rising.

Read the full article by Avi Issacharoff.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Israelis View Foreign Media as ‘Anti-Semitic’

According to Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu on the Arutz Sheva website:

Nearly three-quarters of Israelis view the foreign media as being negative towards Israel, according to a recent poll revealed by Professor Avraham Tzion of Ariel University Centre, located in Samaria. Speaking at the annual conference on media and communications held there, he said the survey also showed that 88 percent of the respondents cited anti-Semitism as the main reason for Israel's negative image.

The Palestinian Authority’s information campaign and poor public relations by the Israeli government were close behind as reasons for the bad image.

The poll of 500 Jews from all sectors of society also revealed that about two-thirds view foreign reports in Judea and Samaria as being unfair and unreasonable.

Left-wing groups, such as Peace Now and B’Tselem, were viewed as contributing to Israel’s negative image by 64 percent of the respondents, while residents of Judea and Samaria (“settlers”) and nationalists, known as the “right wing,” were blamed by 58 percent.

U.S. President Barack Obama ranked relatively low as being a cause of the negative impression, with half of the respondents blaming him.

A breakdown of the statistics disclosed that anti-Semitism was cited more often as the main reason for Israel's image problem among female respondents and people under the age of 35. Respondents who defined themselves as on the right side of the political spectrum were inclined to point the finger left-wing groups and President Obama, besides anti-Semitism.

Those on the left end of the spectrum blamed the government’s information campaign and “settlers” as the main negative influences.

One surprising result of the poll was that 18 percent of Israelis are not aware of the legal standing of Judea and Samaria.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Big White Lies

Did you hear The Guardian's Assistant Editor on BBC Radio London's Breakfast Show on Monday 14 December. He was being interviewed about the maniac who assaulted the Italian Prime Minister, Sylvio Berlusconi at the weekend. Somehow Michael White managed to squeeze in what sounds like a schoolboy howler:

In Israel they murder each other a great deal. The Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don't like their political style and what they've got to say and it only means that people more extreme come in and take their place.

Don't take my word for it, listen to the entire interview here.

I wrote the following to Radio London:

What on earth does the Israel Defence Force have to do with the assault on Sylvio Berlusconi?

I was appalled hear Michael White’s out-of-the-blue scurrilous and libellous attack on the state of Israel when being interviewed by Joanne Good on BBC Radio London's Breakfast Show yesterday morning about the attack on the Italian Prime Minister.

“In Israel they murder each other a great deal”, claimed White, “The Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don't like their political style and what they've got to say.”

White’s comment was scandalous and irresponsible and I trust his opinions will not be sought in future.

I also wrote to The Guardian:

I was appalled to hear The Guardian’s Associate Editor Michael White’s ridiculous and libellous attack on the state of Israel while being interviewed on BBC Radio London's Breakfast Show on 14 December about the vicious assault on the Italian Prime Minister.

In the interview, Mr White claimed, “In Israel they murder each other a great deal. The Israeli Defence Forces murder people because they don't like their political style and what they've got to say.”

Michael White’s comment was scandalous and irresponsible, and demonstrated that he is unfit to be the Associate Editor of a quality newspaper. I trust that The Guardian will take appropriate action against him for broadcasting such patent untruths.

I'll let you know what response I get apart from the usual automatically generated e-mails.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers!

Hanukkah begins tonight, so here’s a question to see how much you know about the festival.

Where in the Bible is Hanukkah mentioned?

Deduct ten points if you said the Books of Maccabees. Maccabees is not officially in the Bible. It is part of what is known as the apocryphal, or “hidden” books, those books that didn’t make it into the Hebrew Scriptures.

It’s no use looking for it in the first 39 books of Scripture. The only reference to Hanukkah is in the Gospel According to Johanan (better known to you and me as John) in the last twenty verses of chapter 10:

At that time the Feast of Dedication [Hanukkah] took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jewish religious leaders gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

The religious leaders picked up stones again to stone him.

Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?"

The Jewish leaders answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Torah, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came - and Scripture cannot be broken - do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him.

And they said, "John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true."

And many believed in him there.

(Gospel According to John 10:22-42)

Now there’s something to think about!

Hag Sameach

An Alternative Christmas

The Palestine Solidarity Carol concert at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, so far as I can tell, did not attempt to tamper with the carols and lessons but last Tuesday night, The Actors Church in London (St Paul's, Covent Garden) hosted Bethlehem Now, with “alternative lessons and songs of protest [carols] for Palestine”.

The event was organised by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-Big) and it seems the BBC wanted to record the event but the vicar, Father Simon Grigg, would not allow the BBC to record any of the carol service. There’s a turn up for the books. Most ministers would give their eye teeth to have a service, or even parts of it, broadcast on the Beeb but an actor turned vicar apparently didn’t want the publicity.

Garth Hewitt, Canon, St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem and Director of the Amos Trust thought the event was a Good Thing: “As we look at the horror of what is being done to Gaza and the West Bank, including Bethlehem, I welcome these alternative carols of protest with their humour, poignancy and prophetic voice.”

Here’s a humourous poignant, prophetic snippet from the carol sheet: The Olive and the Army. I don’t expect it to make the Christmas Number 1:

O the rampaging of settlers
And the rolling of the tanks,
The grinding of bulldozers
As the olives fall in ranks.

I was part of what one congregant described as “a small and rowdy crowd of Zionists shouting abuse at the entrance.” There were about 60 in the crowd, far more, I gather, than attended the service. Some were a bit rowdy but we had been warned by Jonathan Hoffman not to “chant or say anything that your mum/partner/husband/wife/rabbi/vicar/imam would be embarrassed to hear you say…!!”
I wrote to Father Griggs to express my concern:

Dear Simon,

Last Tuesday (8 December) I joined a good-natured protest against the Bethlehem Now event outside St Paul’s Covent Garden.

I did so first of all because, as a Christian, I believe it is idolatrous for a Christian place of worship to allow anyone or anything but Jesus Christ to take “centre stage” (as your Programme put it) in church. The Jewish people I stood with outside were appalled that a Christian church would allow one of the the holiest events in its calendar to be so blatantly politicised. Looking at the “alternative” carols and lessons, I was genuinely shocked to see the church allowing people who are not Christians to vandalise songs of Christian worship and transform them into crude vehicles of political propaganda.

I joined the protesters, secondly, because I oppose the vilification and demonisation of the only democracy in the Middle East. I gained some insight into the nature of the event when I spoke to one or two of the organisers beforehand. According to them, Israel is a non-democratic apartheid state where Arabs can’t own land or houses and can’t marry Jews (at least not “legally” but how Jews and Arabs “marry illegally” was not explained). So uninformed was the person I spoke to that I almost expected to hear that Jews kidnap Christian children and mix their blood with their Passover matzah.

It was truly horrifying to see that Jenny Tonge and Lauren Booth were taking part. Baroness Tonge refuses to condemn the killing of Israeli civilians by suicide bombers and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has condemned her remarks about the “Jewish Lobby”, which evoked classic Jewish conspiracy theories, as "irresponsible and inappropriate". Last year, Lauren Booth assured us that Gaza was the world’s biggest concentration and that the humanitarian crisis there was on the scale of Darfur and, to prove it, posed while shopping in a very well-stocked Gaza supermarket.

I am the General Secretary of Christian Witness to Israel, a mission dedicated to sharing the gospel with Jewish people. Although more Jews are turning to Jesus than at any time in history, with the possible exception of the apostolic period, Christian demonization of Israel and, by implication, the Jewish people, is one of the greatest barriers that keeps them from their Messiah. Events such as the alternative carol concert serve only hinder the work of the gospel among Jewish people.

The Jewish people I stood with were genuinely distressed and angered by the patently false charges they suspected were being hurled against Israel in the service. One Jewish man approached me to ask if I and the other Christians would lead them in singing some “real” carols. Ironically, while Israel was being vilified in St Paul’s, named after the man who would was willing to be eternally damned if that would serve to save his own people (Romans 9:1-5), outside the church Jews and Christians were singing praise to the “heaven-born Prince of Peace”.

I sincerely hope that in future St Paul’s will not be naive enough to permit Christian festivals to be hijacked for malign purposes.

Yours in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The Rev Slams His Critics

Rev Dr Simon Perry responded to those who criticised his church’s decision to go ahead on 1 December with a Carol Service in aid of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. You can read the full text of his response to the too-many-to-answer-personally critics here

This week has been extremely busy so there have been no musings for a few days. Still, I could not let Simon Perry’s response go unanswered. So, here is my letter to him.

Dear Simon,

Like you, I receive many e-mails and due to this week being extremely busy, this is the first opportunity I have had to address the post on your blog relating to last week’s PSC Carol concert. I hope my e-mail was one of the “polite” ones so, in the same spirit, I would like to respond to the “distinctions” you draw, all of which appear to me superficial and inadequate. I will [set your “distinctions” in bold] and respond to them. You state:

According to the Israeli Government, the fatalities on either side were as follows: 1166 Palestinians.13 Israelis (including 3 civilians, and 4 victims of ‘friendly fire’.)

This is a disparity of roughly 100:1. If, from a humanitarian perspective, we invest our solidarity with the victims of such violence in an even-handed way, then Palestinians deserve roughly 100 times as much support as Israel.

If my figures or calculations are incorrect, or if this is not a fair reflection of recent conflicts, I would be grateful to hear more from you. Otherwise, I ask you that you respect our right to show support for the victims of violence, which we try to do, regardless of their nation, race or religion, regardless of the root cause of that violence.

I find this over-simplistic canon of determining right and wrong bizarre, especially coming from a Christian minister. Does it not matter that a systematic assault on Israel had been taking place for the three years after Israel ethnically cleansed Gaza of Jews until Israel lost patience and decided to take out Hamas? Before the events of last December and January, 8,000 rockets had been launched from Gaza on the towns of southern Israel. Did Bloomsbury Baptist Church show support for the victims of violence in the southern Israel municipality of Sderot, which was at that time the most bombed town in the world?

To charge the protestors with denying BCBC’s “right to show support for the victims of violence … regardless of the root cause of that violence” suggests your critics have no concern for human suffering. Your “humanitarian concern” was not what generated the demonstration. Jewish people and many Christians were concerned that BCBC hosted an event that hijacked what many people see as the holiest event in the Christian calendar for the purpose of demonising the Jewish state and calling for a boycott of Israeli goods.

The assault on Gaza in 2008 came after three years of extreme provocation. After Israel ethnically cleansed Gaza of its Jewish residents, Hamas rewarded Israel for that costly withdrawal by waging a murderous three-year campaign of firing missiles at the towns of southern cities of Israel, notably Sderot. The fact that after 8,000 missiles landed on Sderot there was so little loss of life was due to the grace of God and the fact that all homes in Sderot have bomb-proof shelters.

The citizens of Sderot received 15-second warnings of rockets falling on their homes, schools and synagogues (and that was only because they could hear the missiles approaching). Civilians in Gaza received warnings from Israel by SMS messaging and leaflet drops two hours before Israeli struck at areas being used to launch rockets. The reason so many civilian men, women and children in Gaza died was because Hamas used so many as human shields. Col Richard Kemp who was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan has stated that in the history of warfare there has never been a time when an army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the Israel Defence Force did in Gaza.

While you and PSC charge Israel with war crimes, the head of NATO has been studying the tactics and methods of the IDF in order to gain a better understanding of how to deal with the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

The overwhelming majority of those making accusations fail to make at least one of the following very basic distinctions.

1. The distinction between opposing some actions of the state of Israel, and being anti-Semitic.

I think it is more a matter that you fail to distinguish between opposing the state of Israel when it is blameworthy and supporting a group that raises funds for Hamas, a terrorist organisation which in 2007 murdered 31 year-old Rami Ayyad, the manager of the Gaza Bible Bookshop, and is religiously cleansing Gaza of Christians.
The clearly anti-Semitic Hamas Charter states:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it. (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.

After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.

Even more ominously, the Charter states:

Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews." (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign supports Hamas and I can’t believe you were unaware of the links between PSC and Hamas because I understand many people emailed you about the links. But, then, according to you blog, you don’t read all your e-mails.

2. The distinction between supporting the people of Palestine and being active endorsers of all that Hamas stands for.

In the light of the above quote from the Hamas Charter, how can you endorse anything Hamas stands for?

3. The distinction between supporting Palestinian victims and opposing Israeli victims.

You could support non-extremist groups.

4. The distinction between supporting people and being one-sided in our solidarity. (If we are even handed, then even by the State of Israel’s figures, one side deserve a hundred times as much support as the other).

I’ve already dealt with this above.

5. The distinction between a 2 year old girl surrounded by rubble, and a terrorist firing rockets.

Some Hamas operatives would have had no compunction about using that little girl as a human shield to prevent Israel neutralising their rocket installation. Why did Hamas deploy children as shields if they believed the Israelis had no concern for human life? With enemies like that, a Barbie doll would serve just as well.

6. The distinction between one rather racist outsider who apparently turned up to our carol concert, and the spirit of the community that hosted the concert.

A woman told one of the protesters it was a shame Hitler hadn’t killed him and them went into the concert to sing about goodwill toward men (presumably). How can you be so blasé about putting on an event that attracts even one anti-Semite! I would be ashamed to host a church event where such repellent characters would feel comfortable.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Tsuris Man

As everyone knows by now, A Serious Man is the “most Jewish” of Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies. I saw it last night and understood why many Jewish critics have felt offended by it. In the hands of the Coen brothers, the Book of Job turns into Kaballah meets the Theatre of the Absurd.

As the saying goes, “Jews are like everyone else and more so”, even more so in the unrestrained imaginations of two of the greatest film makers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. A Serious Man is peopled by bland, vacant, selfish, foul-mouthed Jews. And that’s just the rabbis. There’s a Talmud Torah teacher who keeps a copy of Playboy hidden in his desk drawer, while other Jews in the film are in various combinations adulterous, lecherous, potheads.

For what it’s worth, the few goys in the movie don’t fare any better. The Japanese father is corrupt and willing to pay handsomely under the table for his son to get a good grade in physics. The non-Jewish neighbour of the principal character is an anti-Semite whose hate for Jews is exceeded only by his dislike of Orientals.

Larry Gopnik, like Job, is a man “perfect in his generation” (well, compared to everyone else) but “born to trouble as the sparks fly upward”. He doesn’t drink, smoke, swear, womanise (though, unlike his counterpart in the Hebrew Scriptures, when the opportunity presents itself he gives in to the temptation to take a peek at his next door neighbour sunbathing au naturale), cheat or lie but his world suddenly begins to fall apart around him. It starts with his wife informing she wants a “get” (no one else, not even the rabbis, seem to know what a “get” is) because she and Larry’s friend Sy have become “close”. From there on Larry is on a downward spiral. As a physicist, the distraught. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle tells him that no one knows what is going on but, like Job, he wants to know what is going on. Why are bad things happening to him? Why does HaShem allow him to suffer?

His three comforters are rabbis. The first two have nothing of substance to say and the third, considered to be the wisest of them all, just has nothing to say; he’s too busy thinking. The wisdom he eventually imparts to Larry’s post Bar Mitzvah son is not from Torah or Talmud but from Jefferson Airplane: "When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies… what then?"

The lesson? “Be a good boy.”

Larry's Satan/Adversary/Accuser is the Barry White soundalike Sy Adelman who takes away Larry's wife and home, and attempts to sabotage Larry’s tenure as a teacher through a series of anonymous letters to the school where Larry teaches.

In the closing scene of the movie, Larry’s doctor calls to tell him he wants to see him about some X-rays he took at the beginning of the film while, simultaneously, a tornado heads for Larry's son’s school. Was this the point, I wondered, when God would speak to Larry out of the whirlwind as he did to Job? In other words, was this the beginning of a turn around in Larry's fortunes? Or was the whirlwind an ominous portent that Larry's woes were only just beginning, as at the beginning of Job when a whirlwind kills Job's children?

A Serious Man is, like so many Coen brothers’ films, extremely clever. It is at one and the same time hilarious but tragic and serious. And, like their No Country for Old Men, it is bleak and without redemption. Not even Rashi is of any help; “Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you” is the quote at the start of the film.

The Coens paint a bleak picture of the inability of Judaism, or physics for that matter (no pun intended), to answer the deep questions of life. The answers to the questions asked by Larry, and Job before him, are found not even in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings but in the one of whom they spoke, the one who said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Kool in a Keffiyeh?

Last week in church (not my own congregation) my blood ran cold when I saw a young guitarist leading church worship with a keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian black and white checked headcovering, draped round his neck.

Why should I have been shocked? After all, the keffiyeh has a long and innocuous history. But in the twentieth century, notably in the 1960s with the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, it became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and became the trademark symbol Yasser Arafat, the head of the PLO.

Leila Khaled, a female member of the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, adopted the keffiyeh which had been traditionally associated with Arab masculinity to declare her equality with men in the armed struggle for the liberation of “Palestine”.

More recently, the colours in the keffiyeh have become associated with Palestinian political sympathies. The traditional black and white keffiyeh is symbolic of Fatah, while the red and white keffiyeh that once marked Palestinian Marxists is now identified with Hamas. Outside the Middle East, the keffiyeh became popular among those who supported the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

Rhoda Koenig of the British newspaper The Independent declared in 2006 that the keffiyeh had become “a symbol of Islamic militancy”, while Caroline Glick, deputy editor of The Jerusalem Post, has equated the keffiyeh with the Fascist brown shirt. Following complaints in 2007, the American clothing chain Urban Outfitters stopped selling keffiyehs and issued a statement that the company had not intended “to imply any sympathy for or support of terrorists or terrorism”.

So when I saw a young man leading the worship of God with a symbol of terrorism draped round his shoulders, a chill ran down my spine. For a second I saw a gun, not a guitar, in his arms. It may well be that he had no idea that he was wrapped in a potent symbol of terrorism and was simply making a fashion statement but can anyone in their mid-to-late twenties not be aware that this article of clothing was the trademark of probably the greatest terrorist of the second half of the twentieth century.

Am I being a little over the top here? Is the keffiyeh not just a chic fashion item that can easily be divorced from its terrorist associations? Let’s suppose our worship leader had been wearing a sweatshirt blazoned with a fetching portrait of Adolph Hitler… Or Sadam Hussein. Or Osama bin Laden...

All of which raises another question. Should church leaders instruct those who lead the worship to abstain from wearing clothing that symbolises godless ideas, flags up political loyalties, glorifies celebrities or is immodest? In short, should anyone standing in front of a congregation to preach, pray or wear anything that serves to ideologically or morally contradict the words they speak or sing? I think the answer is self evident.

Friday, 4 December 2009

An Appeal to Rev Slammer

For reasons known only to himself, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Minister Simon Perry’s e-mail address is ''. In view of the fact that I have had no acknowledgement of my e-mails to him and his ministerial colleagues about their decision to allow the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to hold a Carol Service in the church, I wrote to Rev Slammer again and copied the letter to his fellow ministers.

Dear Simon,

I wrote to you and your colleagues on Tuesday about the PSC Carol service at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.

I wonder if you have seen the You Tube film and comments on the protest outside the church (

One of my colleagues was present and, as I feared, the event attracted anti-Semites such as John Sullivan who, in an interview outside the church said, amongst other things:

“Everybody in Britain can see what a nasty unpleasant type of people the Jewish people are in England…”

“English people are basically Christian… and you should be abiding to the type of life we live in England…”

When the interviewer tried to correct his seriously skewed opinion, Sullivan interrupted him: “I’m doing the talking, not you. You cannot discuss with Jewish people… that is your philosophy… You’re not part of my country, and I’m British…. You’re Jewish and you’re prey to the Israeli Zionists…”

“Do you know anything about the Christian religion? It’s ‘love thy neighbour’. Have you got anything similar? It’s ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ … it tells you you’re a cruel and unpleasant people in this respect…”

“If you look through history, Jewish people are vindicative [sic] and probably evil and probably very unpleasant…Israeli zealots and Zionists …”

Most English people would tell you to f*** off back to Israel … if you’re in England you should be more English than I am…”

“I hope I’m a little bit more educated than you are… To everyone in England, if you’re Jewish please adhere to the English way of life”

When the interviewer wished Mr Sullivan a happy Christmas he angrily rejected the good wish and went into the Carol service, presumably to sing about peace and goodwill to all men. If Mr Sullivan’s comments had been addressed to a Muslim or a homosexual, he would have been arrested on the spot.

But worse than John Sullivan in another respect was your Church Secretary, John Beynon. Mr Beynon is an educated man and a former principal of King’s College. His ignorance of the situation in the Middle East was astonishing. His limp, “when you put it like that [that Hamas is a terrorist organization that kills Jews and Christians] it is unreasonable” was inexcusable.

It is not a case of “putting it like that”. The Hamas Charter states unequivocally: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews."

One of the protesters outside the church pointed out that “there are no Baptist churches in Gaza”. The demonstrators recognised Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church as a “House of God”, which was why they considered it shameful that a hatefest such as Tuesday’s Carol Service should take place within the hallowed walls of BCBC.

At the top of your personal page on the BCBC web site, you quote Romans 12:2: “Don't let this era squeeze you into its own mould, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Simon, I urge you to consider whether you and your colleagues have been squeezed into this world’s mould and by so doing have brought the Christian faith into disrepute.

Yours in the service of Messiah Jesus,

Thursday, 3 December 2009

More on that Blooming Baptist Carol Service!

In case any of you thought I was getting hot under the collar about nothing, have a look at the report on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Carol service at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church on Tuesday night.

A group of Jews and Christians, including one of CWI’s field workers protested outside the church. You Tube has a short film of the event, which includes interviews with a John Sullivan, an anti-Zionist who thinks Jews are evil and should “%@&$ off back to Israel”, and John Beynon, the Church Secretary of BCBC and former Principal of King’s College London. On the BCBC web site, Beynon says that, among other things, what he most admires about the church is its “commitment to practising as well as preaching Christianity” ( Hmmm.

Simon Perry, one of the ministers at BCBC, has Romans 12:2 at the top of his personal page on the BCBC web site: “Don't let this era squeeze you into its own mould, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (

Perry supported the event and believed his church would endorse the PSC event. Perry supports a boycott of Israeli goods and fails to see anything anti-Semitic about Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children. I wonder if he feels the same about John Sullivan’s comments. It looks as though this era (or at least the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) has squeezed Simon Perry into its own mould.

None of the ministers have so far responded to my letter to them.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Once in Royal London City…

Last night the prestigious Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church on Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End hosted an event in aid of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Holy Land Trust.

Although the service was not advertised on the church’s website it was listed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign site ( The event included seasonal readings from the controversial playwright Caryl Churchill and other pro-Palestinian figures.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign calls for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel” and Jewish activists accused the service of being “one-sided” and “politically motivated”. David Gifford, chief executive of the Council for Christians and Jews, criticised the church for “politicising the Christmas message.”

Martin Sugarman, chairman of the Hackney Anglo-Israel Friendship Association, believed the BCBC was “being used and manipulated by the PSC.”

Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation, said it was “completely wrong for a church to host an organisation which disseminates the racist apartheid lie about Israel and which has Caryl Churchill – the author of the play Seven Jewish Children – as one of its patrons… Many right-thinking Christians will be horrified at this latest cynical hijacking of what is supposed to be a time of goodwill to all men.”

Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children is a truly shocking play. In much the same way as George Orwell transformed oppressed animals into the zoological equivalent of their human masters, Churchill transforms Holocaust survivors into Nazis. All in the space of less than ten minutes. You can see the play and read the script here:

At a similar event at St James’s, Piccadilly, last year, the organisers rewrote The Twelve Days of Christmas. Amongst other things, “On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ehud Olmert sent to me twelve assassinations … nine sniper towers…” and so on but BCBC assured the Jewish Chronicle that there would be no rewriting of carols.

Reverend Dr Simon Perry of Bloomsbury Baptist said that although the church had received numerous complaints, he nevertheless supported the event.

Yesterday I wrote to Simon Perry and other leaders at BCBC:

I understand that Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church is tonight hosting a fundraising event for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Holy Land Trust, featuring carols by the “Adhoc Humanitarians Brass Band and Choir”, and readings by playwright Caryl Churchill, Karl Sabbagh and Samira Hassassian.

As the General Secretary of a Christian Mission to the Jewish people, I have grave misgivings about a church, especially one as respected as BCBC, hosting an event designed to politicise the birth of the Messiah and thereby distort the message of the Gospel.

The fact that this year the carols are not being rewritten is to be welcomed but in view of the choice of participants, Jewish people are already seeing the event as not only anti-Zionistic but also anti-Semitic. This is hardly surprising in view of the fact that playwright Caryl Churchill – whose play Seven Jewish Children in the space of ten minutes skilfully manages to verbally morph Jewish people from victims of the Holocaust into Nazis – will be participating.

We live at a time when, according to Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “a tsunami of anti-Semitism is sweeping over Europe”; a time when many Jewish people in London have been physically and verbally attacked simply because they are Jews. Though I understand the concern for the suffering of the Palestinian people, equally I cannot understand the lack of compassion for Israeli and Jewish suffering.

By hosting an event that demonises the only democracy in the Middle East as a racist, apartheid, pariah state that must be brought down like Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, Bloomsbury Baptist is sending a signal to the Jewish community that Christians are against them. That, in turn, will reinforce Jewish resistance to the gospel of Jesus and make our ministry of persuading Jewish people to turn to Jesus that much harder. Even if you do not feel called to support gospel ministry among Jewish people, at least do not make the work harder for us.

The way of peace is not through thinly-veiled tendentious political events that distort or obliterate the message of the Messiah. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh...” Whatever our political opinions on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, as followers of the Prince of Peace we must proclaim the gospel of peace, which is for both Jew and Gentile, Israeli and Palestinian. Anything other will be destructive of peace.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Welcome to the new improved CWI website.

First of all, a confession. It’s getting to the point where technology is beginning to scare me. To paraphrase Jackson Browne: “I can't keep up with what's been going down. I think my brain must just be slowing down”.

Many, many years ago I enthusiastically got to grips with a steam-driven, DOS based computer. Then along came Windows which both surprised and excited me as I discovered it was easier to use than DOS (what wasn’t!). Then I discovered e-mail and the world-wide-web, and today... I begin to blog!

I’ve also been trying to understand tweeting and I’m getting hundreds of requests from complete strangers who want me to be their friend on Twitter. Goodness knows what's going to come up in the years ahead or even the weeks ahead.

Don't get me wrong. I’m not techno phobic. It’s just that the thought of having to keep up with the thousands of cybermates who want to chat with me. And anyway, I’m beginning to get blisters on my index fingers.

But I’m determined to blog because I’ve seen the power of blogging. This first posting is all a bit lightweight but in the days, weeks, months and years ahead I hope to bring to your attention important information. There will be some laughs (I hope) and I'll be sharing biblical teaching, telling you where I’m preaching and teaching, informing you of the work I’m involved with and much more. Be sure to check this blog each day and let me know what you think because I need to know someone is reading this.

Have a look around the site. If you have suggestions for things you’d like to see, let us know.

So, from the ridiculous to the sublime, let me on my first blog share a devotional thought for 1st December from the inimitable Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

…begin this wintry month with your God. The cold snows and the piercing winds all remind you that he keeps his covenant with day and night, and assure you that he will also keep the glorious covenant which he has made with you in Christ Jesus. He who is true to his Word in the revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will prove faithful in his dealings with his own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means comfortable and if a winter season is upon you just now it will be very painful: but there is this comfort: the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation; he scatters the hoarfrost like ashes over the once green meadows of our joy; he casts forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He ... is the great Winter King who rules the frost and therefore you must not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty and a thousand other ills are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us by his wise design.

How we prize the fire at this time of the year! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw near to him and in him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of his promises and go forth to labours which befit the season...