Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Ben Nathan Eybeschuetz’

An 18th Century Rabbi’s Defence of Religious Criticism of the Rich and Powerful

November 23, 2020

Whenever any clergyman or religious figure dares to criticise them, the Tories always issue this refrain: that the reverend gentleman has no business doing so, and if he stuck to promoting his religion, the seats in his place of worship would have more worshippers on them. This has been largely directed at the Tories’ critics in the Anglican Church, especially since the Church’s report published under Archbishop Runcie about the increase in poverty in Britain. I also recall that arch-Thatcherite Norman Tebbitt also made some insinuations, based on the sing-song voice and other mannerisms characteristic of a certain type of Christian clergyman at the time, that Runcie somehow was totally wet and weedy. This was in complete ignorance that Runcie had been an army chaplain and so ferocious that he was known as ‘Killer Runcie’.

But an 18th century German rabbi, Jonathan Ben Nathan/ Nata Eybeschuetz/ Eybeschitz, had an answer to such accusation. He felt that religious people had the right to attack the conduct of public figures and that this made them more popular with ordinary people, not less. I found this stated in the article on him in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. This says that

In his work as a rabbi, he took the view that religion is n ot confined to ‘the religious’, i.e., that teaching and preaching must reach out to affect the conduct of public life. ‘It is regrettable that our preaching is dealing constantly with out duties to God. Let the preacher protest, with a prominent voice, against the malpractices of prominent men, and the people will come to love him and delight in his sermons. (p. 332).

So clearly criticism of the rich and powerful hadn’t driven people away from religion, at least in his experience. I’m aware that explicitly party political statements by people of faith, or statements that may be interpreted as such, can be divisive. There are as many people repelled as attracted when right-wing Christian ministers start attacking gay marriage, for example. But there should be a place for religious criticism of the powerful and their policies, and especially when they harm the poor and defenceless. That’s been a vital element of the Jewish and Christian witness ever since the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, which states very clearly that the Almighty defends the poor, weak and marginalised against the rich and powerful.

Jeremy Corbyn was in no way an anti-Semite, and he had no lack of Jewish supporters because of the depth of his commitment to defending their interests as part of his staunch opposition to every kind of racism. As did Ken Livingstone, who said on an interview with George Galloway on RT’s Sputnik, that Jews greeted him on the street and told him they knew he wasn’t an anti-Semite.

But these Jews were sidelined and deliberately ignored by a political establishment that feared Corbyn as the radical, genuinely socialist leader working Brits of all colours, ethnicities and religious views need. Instead they parroted the smears of him and his supporters as anti-Semites by a true-blue Tory Jewish establishment. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had even sent a message congratulating Theresa May when she became Prime Minister. And the Board then went berserk accusing Corbyn of snubbing the Jewish community when he chose to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing Jews of Jewdas. Well, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate really only represent the United Synagogue, which has taken upon itself to try and present itself as the sole true Jewish community, despite that there has never been a monolithic Jewish community. No rabbi has more authority than any other, and there is the old Jewish saying I’ve found ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. Jewdas are a part of Britain’s diverse Jewish community, and they almost certainly invited him, so his attendance at their Passover Seder definitely wasn’t a snub to the Jewish community. Only the rich, pompous Tory section.

The Tories should stop trying to shut their left-wing critics, both Jews and Christians, up. They have a right and religious duty to defend the poor and meek against the rich and powerful.

And it’s high time that the media dropped the partisan anti-Semitic contempt for left-wing Jews, and allowed them to speak. Because the Thatcherite, Tory policies Ephraim Mirvis appears to approve of are harming working, sick, disabled and elderly Jews and well as gentiles.