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Jonathan Magonet

Already in 1946 Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck advocated that alongside the rebuilding of congregations in post-war Europe, what he termed ‘little Judaism’, there was a need for a ‘greater Judaism’ – Jewish engagement with the wider issues of society: ‘We are Jews also for the sake of humanity’. In 1949 he also expressed the need for a dialogue with Islam. A variety of events and activities represent early attempts to meet these dual concerns. In 1997 at the first post-war, full-scale conference of the European Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Germany, in Munich, Diana Pinto noted that despite long-standing fears that the European diaspora was doomed to disappear, changes in a European self-understanding had helped create an ‘ever more vibrant Jewish space’. Almost twenty years on from then, particularly with the rise of anti-Semitism and terrorist attacks, the mood amongst European Jews has become less optimistic.

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Jonathan Magonet

The last time I saw Sheila Shulman z’l was in her hospital bed, our conversation frequently interrupted by nursing interventions and closed curtains. It brought back memories of another last encounter with an exceptional and gifted woman who had similarly played a significant role at Leo Baeck College, Dr Ellen Littmann, the college’s lecturer in Bible studies since its inception. Though miles apart in temperament, both shared an intellectual curiosity and integrity; the one the product of pre-war German Bildung, the other of New York Yiddish culture. Both were ‘outsiders’ struggling for recognition in a patriarchal Jewish culture; both, in their very different ways, were nurturers of their students, their spiritual children. Both managed to retain their dignity to the end amidst the indignities of a distressing terminal illness, and both were surrounded at the end by admirers and friends.

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Editorial

European Judaism at 50

Jonathan Magonet

This issue marks the beginning of the fifty-first year of publication of the journal, something to be registered with a degree of pride and not a little wonder. We have been served over this time with a remarkable series of editors, beginning with our founding editor Rabbi Dr Ignaz Maybaum z’l (1897–1976). In those early years the direction of the journal was led by Rabbi Michael Goulston z’l (1931–1972) as Managing Editor before his tragic early death.

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Jonathan Magonet

The radical changes in attitudes of the Catholic Church to the Jewish people brought about by Nostra Aetate can only be welcomed. This latest document, ‘The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable’, continues the process but raises questions as to how far Jews can recognize themselves in these attempts at a new theological interpretation of Judaism. For example, the document argues that for Christians the ‘New Covenant’ ‘can only be understood as the affirmation and fulfilment of the “Old”’. Yet by defining the ‘Old’ as the ‘Abrahamic Covenant’ alone, it fails to recognize that it is the ‘Sinai Covenant’ that is an essential part of Jewish self-understanding. The document indicates how much further the process of mutual understanding needs to be explored by both partners in this dialogue.

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Jonathan Magonet

A memorial tribute to Rabbi Nathan Peter Levinson (23 November 1921–27 October 2016) a leading figure in rebuilding post-war Jewish life in Germany and Jewish-Christian dialogue.

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Jonathan Magonet

With the current refugee crisis affecting Europe, it is timely to publish the proceedings of a conference entitled ‘Welcome to Britain? Refugees Then and Now’, organized by Dr Susan Cohen and timed to mark the seventieth anniversary of the death of Eleanor Rathbone, the so-called ‘MP for Refugees’.

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Editorial

In Memoriam Rabbi Dr Lionel Blue OBE, 6 February 1930–19 December 2016

Jonathan Magonet

The memoirs and tributes to Lionel Blue z’l in this issue reflect the many dimensions of his life and work, yet a common thread runs through them. All who have written testify to his warmth and generosity of spirit, the support and advice that was always readily available, his openness to people of all kinds and persuasions.

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Jonathan Magonet

One of the opportunities that we can offer as a journal is to publish papers delivered at conferences whose subject matter fits our overall remit. They may appear as a section within an issue of the journal which otherwise covers a miscellaneous range of topics. Sometimes, when there are sufficient materials, we invite the organizers to consider providing someone to be a guest editor so that the entire issue can be devoted to the particular conference. Some recent examples are: The State of Ladino Studies 2010/11; German Rabbis Abroad 2012; Writing Jews in Contemporary Britain 2014; Rabbis and the Great War 2015.

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Jonathan Magonet

Gabriel Josipovici first contributed to European Judaism during its third year of publication in the Summer 1968 issue. In his role as Managing Editor, Rabbi Michael Goulston z’l sought to use the journal to provide, among other things, a place for outreach and dialogue between those who represented the religious leadership of the Jewish people, in this case rabbis of his own generation who belonged to ‘progressive’ movements in the UK, and Jewish ‘intellectuals’ perceived as being alienated from, indifferent to or somewhat marginal within their own Jewish tradition. Thus, the same issue includes the proceedings of a symposium on ‘Judaism and Marxism: The First European Dialogue’.

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Jonathan Magonet

Jews were designated as the ‘People of the Book’ in the Qur’an and we have been happy to adopt the title. It meant that, like Muslims, we had been the recipients of a divine revelation cast in the form of the written word. The designation is correct, but we might argue about what precisely that ‘book’ is. In one sense it is the Hebrew Bible, or more specifically, the written Torah, the Five Books of Moses. However from its outset rabbinic Judaism drew its authority from another ‘book’, originally perceived as the ‘oral Torah’, the oral tradition that accompanied the revelation at Mt. Sinai. It found its concrete expression within the Mishnah and Talmud, recording the arguments and decisions of emerging rabbinic Judaism. So the Talmud is the ‘book’ of received tradition that defined what constituted the Hebrew Bible itself, and virtually every aspect of Jewish life.