Monthly Archives: January 2020

Jan 29

23 January 2020

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,

We, as committed Jewish people who like to think of ourselves as modern and open-minded, often repeat the idea that Judaism doesn’t have fundamentalism. Most of us say it with relief in our voice– looking at the Christian Evangelical right in America or the fundamentalist Islam of Salafi terrorists in the Middle East. We paint an Abrahamic family portrait in which we are the well-behaved older sibling, avoid the excesses of our two wild younger siblings.

However, that isn’t quite true. We do have fundamentalism, extremism, violence, and abuse in our midst. Like most things we call ‘fundamentalism,’ Jewish fundamentalism has nothing to do with the fundamentals of Judaism. It is an unequivocally modern movement. Not all Charedim are fundamentalist in this way– but most fundamentalists are Charedim– and the results, are bad.

We are guilty of romanticising Charedi life as some lovely-if-quaint relic of the past. It is not. It is a modern invention of a false past, built from nostalgia for something which never existed– and it kills. It hurts communities, hurts Judaism, and hurts people. We should have no qualms about stating clearly and unequivocally that we are opposed to fundamentalism and extremism in the Jewish community.

This past week, two young women, 19 and 24, died by suicide in Israel. Their decision was made for them by a life of sexual abuse, communal isolation, and religious fanaticism. We cannot tolerate this as a valid expression of Judaism– not when it does such damage to our people.

Extremism in our community may seem innocuous because there are not (yet) Charedi militias– but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t kill people. In the memory of those two girls – Hani Solish and Sarah Klapman (may their memories be a blessing) – let us commit to drawing a clear and unquestionable line against fundamentalism in our community.

To see more about people and organisations doing this work, visit:

Jan 10

9 January 2020

By Editor | Blogs

Dear Friends,
Welcome to 2020! The secular new year is of course replete with resolutions– we make these commitments to being better versions of ourselves which more often than not don’t make it to the end of January! However, this year there was a pretty special coincidence with the start of 2020 and the start of something very different– the seven and a half year cycle of studying the Talmud known as Daf Yomi (Daily Page).
The Babylonian Talmud is a massive document- as a running commentary on the full 63 tractates of the Mishnah, the Talmud comes in at 2,711 double-sided pages (daf). Mastery over such a text is impossible, and perhaps even inadvisable– but yet it still provides the basis of our tradition.
More or less the Talmud is a court transcript, a record of hundreds of years of debates, tangents, decisions, and prevarications which occurred in the Academies of Torah study in the Late Antique period (3rd-6th century CE). Like a court report, much of it is written in sloppy vernacular shorthand, with a lot of detail missing, and very poor organisation. All of that, compounded with the fact the the language of the Talmud is an idiosyncratic Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, means that the student has a major challenge ahead of them to access the text.
Thankfully today, it is easier than ever– with translations, glossaries, infographics, and online resources which make learning accessible to anyone. Though the idea started in the 1920s, it was specifically the development of the internet which really spurned on the idea of Daf Yomi– that each day, for seven and a half years, individuals would take the time out of their day to study a page of Talmud. The newest cycle of this has just begun, starting afresh with the first page (Berakhot 2) on 5 January.
All of this is very inspiring– but it is also a bit overwhelming! Right now I’ve probably got 50-100 people who are posting about Daf Yomi on Facebook each day! That’s incredible and I admire their dedication– but I also know that by page 100, and certainly by page 1000, that number will be a handful– if that.
One of the lessons of the Daf Yomi cycle is perhaps that we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves of what it means to be ‘learning Torah.’ You don’t need to spend a half hour every day for years to be ‘religious’ – you can learn in your own way, in whatever time you have. There are lots of great resources which make learning about and participating in Daf Yomi easier, and if you’re at all interested, I encourage you to check them out. You may not think that Talmud has anything to say to you, but I guarantee that in 2,711 pages, there’s something there that speaks to everyone.
If daily Talmud study isn’t your thing– I’d still encourage you to use the excuse of a new year to find ways to create regular routines of Torah learning in your life.
Whether once a day, once a week, or once a year– making time in our lives for learning is an essential part of being Jewish. There is always more to learn, more to know, and more to study– and the first step is to approach the monumental challenge of self-improvement with a healthly dose of humility– as the Talmud itself tells us:
“Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know,’ and then you can begin to learn” (from B’rakhot 4a, yesterday’s Daf Yomi)

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Adam