On Choice

Feb 9, 2016 by

oxford chabad society
Colin Hannaford
Oxford, England

If ever you are in Oxford in term time, and if you are not a student, or an even more important member of the University, a happy way to spend a Friday evening is with the Oxford Students Chabad Society.

Wikimedia explains: ‘Founded in 1775 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “Chabad” is Hebrew acronym for “Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge”, which represents the intellectual underpinnings of the movement. The name “Lubavitch” is the Yiddish name for the originally Belorussian village Lyubavichi, where the movement’s leaders lived for over 100 years.’

The movement is now the largest Hasidic Jewish organisation in the world. It is also the world’s largest employer of Hasidic rabbis. The Oxford society is run by a truly remarkably diligent and energetic rabbi, Eli Brackman, with his wife, Freidy. I once told him, “If every Anglican priest was as a industrious as you are, our English churches would be still full, not failing.”

The evening begins with a service at seven: which requires a certain number of Jewish males, of course only men: but after this the evening is usually centered around a speech by visiting Jewish luminary and truly sumptuous meal, all cooked by Freidy. This often last until midnight, sometimes later, and is very orthodox, and  very jolly.

I began to go purely out of interest, and a need for some cheerful social contact, and have always been welcomed in the most friendly manner: note this, as a Gentile.

Because I confessed early on that I need to lip-read, I was usually given the additional real privilege of being seated in front of the invited speaker.

One evening, some years ago, this was a distinguished retired Israeli diplomat. On his left sat the rabbi; on my side of the table, on my right, was an eminent Jewish historian, well known in Oxford.

During the evening, and after his speech, I exchange a few words with the diplomat, until he finally asked my name.

“It’s Hannaford,” I told him.

He looked puzzled. He was clearly trying to turn this meaningless hubbub into an identifiable Jewish patronymic.

“It’s a purely English name,” I explained. “It’s actually unusual in that it was once only found in Devon. My father was a Devonshire man.”

But then, both to save his embarrassment and mine, I added, “But there is a belief in my family that my mother’s mother was a Jewess.”

Instantly, the rabbi, the diplomat, and the historian, pointed their fingers at me dramatically, and declared, “THEN YOU’RE A JEW!”

I have occasionally invited to make up the necessary number for prayers since then, and rather than refuse have done my best to appear suitably respectful, without understanding a word of Hebrew.

But I have never wished to confirm that my mother’s mother was a Jewess. As Richard Feynman once explained: “racial identities open the doors all kinds of nonsense.”

I stopped attending three years ago in disgust after the massively destructive and totally shameful IDF attack on Gaza. And then Amadeus ( my dog ) was given to me, which made it impossible anyway. I was only attracted back one evening last week to listen to an interesting man called Sir Adam Roberts (q.v.), who may also be a  Jew with an English name, and who is the President of the British Academy, and who is also charming, who expressed some unusual ideas, and even unusually sympathetic ideas about ISIS.

So now, my dears, you know why I may be a Jew myself.

I do think racial identities are absolute nonsense. Almost all of the Jewish OT history that they still repeat to each other with fervid intensity is pure fantasy.

But it is very dangerous, because it is believed. And even more dangerous it can be imitated in the most evil and destructive form, as Hitler did in inventing the whole notion of the Aryan race, the need to defend and improve its racial purity, the need for more ‘Lebensraum’, the necessity to destroy the impure, totally.

Now where did this little corporal get such outrageous ideas?

‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites,  the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you, you must destroy them totally.’

He may just have read it in a book. All good church-going Germans would know the story. Perhaps it would appeal to them?

O vey! There is apparently no historical evidence that the early Israelites, in any significant number, ever left Palestine. No Egyptian slaves. No army, six hundred thousand strong, that followed Moses out of Egypt, ‘with their wives and their children, and a large number of other people with their animals who followed them’, thus  wrecking the Egyptian economy for years and years.

No mention. No mention of building pyramids either. How odd.

My hero – this hero of the army of six hundred thousand: Moses – seems not to have existed at all. No babe found in the rushes. No royal prince. No outlawed  royal prince. No burning bush.

But SOMETHING happened. I am convinced that SOMETHING happened. Something epochal.

All this invention: ALL OF IT, from the beginning, known to be invention, covers something important. Something we need now to know.

But see what mischief can follow such spectacular invention, and such dishonesty. What a terrible, awful tragedy. And now the tragedy is being repeated.

I may be a Jew. I may not be a Jew. I do like to argue. Isn’t that enough?

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