Dr Annette M. Boeckler



This week's torah portion is a kind of very short introduction into Judaism. It covers all the basic topis, but it is not addressed to giur candidates or interested Non-Jews, but to us ourselves. It is a Jewish self-reflection to remind us of Jewish unity.


Parashat Re'eh starts with the meaning of religious services. In antique times it was about the temple, today it is prayer and studying. Deut. 12 teaches, that all services wherever there may be and what form they may have, should have a common, unifying centre: the one and only God. Chapter 13 warns against false prophets. All teachers in Judaism are to be measured by one and the same criterion: whether their teaching contributes to the fact that we love the one and only God with all our hearts and all our souls. Anyone who is Jewish should not eat animals that live by killing others or eat cadavers. One should ensure that all life, that is blood, is removed from the meat before consuming it. The Jewish way of life is to honour any forms of life. Debts shall be released every seventh year and one should take care for the poor and needy, says chapter 15. Jews shall be united by their ethical values. We should celebrate certain festivals at certain times to remind us that we were all freed out of Egypt, teaches chapter 16.


What seems to be at first glance an arbitrary list of laws is indeed united by a common purpose. These laws bind us together. People who celebrate the same festivals, who have basically the same culinary culture, who share the same social values and have a common religious centre, these people form a unity.


Parashat Re'eh has different names for this unity: am kadosh "holy people" and am segula "people with special distinction" (Deuteronomy 14:2). The laws in this week's parasha remind us of the basics of beeing an am segualah. Even if our interpretations of these different laws differ widely, we are bound together by basic principles. Shabbat itself unites us. We all keep shabbat in so many different ways, but for all of us it is important for our Jewish identity. In our diversity we are a living unity, giving honour to the same torah laws and the same God. Maybe even the theme of unity now needs long and lively debates, but let us celebrate our diversity by discussing our unity.


Dr. Annette M. Boeckler is lecturer for Bible and Liturgy and librarian at Leo Baeck College, London and member of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue, Edgware.