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Why the Messiah Has Not Come

Liturgy and the Limits of Language

Jeremy Schonfield

BT Baba Metziah 85b contains a little-understood aggadah which is here interpreted as part of an early commentary on the Amidah. The narrative is designed to explain that the coming of the Messiah is delayed by the near impossibility of attaining closeness to God by means of study, or of obeying the command cited in the Shema to adhere closely to Torah. It comments on the nature of study and prayer, showing how language is both a help and a hindrance in any discourse relating to spiritual matters.

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Psalms 113–118

Qualified Praise?

Jeremy Schonfield

Abstract

Psalms 113–118, known collectively as ‘Hallel’, are recited by Jews on New Moons and festivals and are thought to have formed part of Temple practice. I outline the historical development of this unit from two psalms to its full complement of six. Although its rabbinic title suggests that it expresses praise, other more complex associations of the word are explored in the context of reviewing the underlining ‘narrative’ traced by the texts. This spans episodes from patriarchal times to exile, ending with the eventual messianic advent. I propose here that the practice of occasionally abbreviating two of the psalms reflects sympathy for the Egyptian foe, based on rabbinic views concerning the sanctity of human life.

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A Totem and a Taboo

Germans and Jews Re-enacting Aspects of the Holocaust

Jeremy Schonfield

Abstract

This article discusses two academic events devoted to Holocaust studies in which participants became unconsciously involved in re-enacting the behaviour respectively of Holocaust perpetrators, and of victims turning aggressively on each other in a manner reminiscent of ghetto life. In one conference an out-group was created and silenced, while in another an individual became the object of projected guilt and was victimized. These projections were mediated by implied competition between film, sculpture and literature as the medium best suited to Holocaust memorialization. A description of each event is followed by analyses of the dynamics involved, with the support of psychoanalytic literature. Factors which led to the author’s twenty-year delay in publishing the article, which was drafted in 1995, are also examined psychologically.

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Esther

Beyond Murder

Jeremy Schonfield

The book of Esther, a popular tale of group loyalty in the face of hostility, is read on Purim, the spring-time carnival feast of revelry, fancy-dress, role reversal, charity and drinking. The purpose of this paper is to ask whether the book would be as popular if we thought carefully about its depiction of Jewish relations with host cultures. Should we discount this as an historical curiosity? Or is it essential to what the book and the feast have to offer?

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Zion

The Fundamentals of a Misreading

Jeremy Schonfield

It is perhaps because the greatest unifier of Jews during the past half-century has been the idea that Israel is the Jewish homeland, that one of the least doubted notions is that the State and the land are integrally tied up with Jewishness. Jewish attachment to Israel is based on two themes: the physical need for a country – which is indisputable so will not be discussed here – and a literal reading of Scripture that, although it seems to reflect the plain meaning of the text reasonably enough, may well be a misreading and require careful reconsideration. This paper describes how one early rabbinic author critically analyses the effects of mistaking the ideas associated with Zion and the Holy Land with the places to which the names refer. For him these names refer to internal spaces rather than real locations, and he argues that confusing ideas with geography is profoundly damaging to religious life and no less than idolatrous. This paper outlines his views and their background.

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Jeremy Schonfield

Progressive liturgists seek to introduce gender parity into the first paragraph of the Amidah by adding the names of the Matriarchs immediately after those of the Patriarchs. I argue that this misrepresents their marriages and the role played by the concubines. A more balanced understanding is made possible by distancing the names of the Matriarchs from those of their husbands, and inserting them in the form of a brief piyyut, composed of biblical citations, just before the concluding blessing formula. The proposed insertion reflects the agency displayed by the Matriarchs and alludes obliquely to the concubines. Account is taken of the appropriateness of the piyyut for use in traditional settings.

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Kaddish for Gaza

Some Liturgical Ground Clearing

Jeremy Schonfield

Controversy over the recital by young Jews in Parliament Square during May 2018 of Mourners’ Kaddish for Palestinians shot while trying to break through the border reflected a misunderstanding about the different ways Kaddish is used in Traditional and Progressive contexts. Mourners’ Kaddish is recited in Traditional settings to commemorate deceased relatives and more rarely other Jews. In Progressive circles it is read communally in unison, very occasionally also for non-Jews. This article questions the appropriateness of reciting Mourners’ Kaddish for the Gaza victims, none of whom were Jewish and whose intentions were uncertain. Instead, an act of text study could have been used to highlight moral ambiguity, followed by Kaddish de-Rabbanan, the traditional coda to a study session. This would have avoided offence to Muslims and to Jews, and have ensured that the act of reciting Kaddish refers in this case not to the dead but to the moral problems raised by their killing.

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Khayke Beruriah and Jeremy Schonfield

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Jeremy Schonfield, Alinda Damsma and Marc Saperstein