Interview with Rabbi Neuberger
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Judaism and Debt
"We believe [this] is how Almighty God commands us to order our society: to help the poor, to reach out a hand to the needy - to give them hope, dignity and self-esteem. And to that end today, I repeat the Jewish commandment here, and say - in the Name of Almighty God - let the rich nations help the poor and needy nations. No one needs to starve, no one needs to be hungry, desperate and without hope. It is for man to organize the resources that God gives us. Let us declare a jubilee - and full stop to debt. Almighty God the creator of us all, places this responsibility on us. If we fail to give voice, we fail the moral & ethical teachings He has given us. We cry out - LET THERE BE A JUBILEE NOW."
The full version of the Jewish contribution to the JDC Multifaith documentary - Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi
The following sermon was given on Yom Kippur Morning 5771, 18th September 2010 by Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi.
Whilst we are secluded here in the Synagogue on this day, feeling a sense of quiet and peace, just down the road outside St. Martin’s in the Bullring, people will shortly be encouraged to be as noisy as possible. But far from being a rowdy crowd, they are people deeply concerned about our world, including religious leaders of all faiths. They will be making a noise to draw people’s attention to the Millennium Development Goals, in anticipation of next week’s summit of world leaders on this subject. Normally, we would encourage our members to attend, but Yom Kippur is a special and unique day and it is important for us to be together here as a community, gathered together in prayer and contemplation together with Jews across the whole world. But that does not absolve us from our responsibilities. Rather, it gives us a particular opportunity to consider our responsibilities together, as a community, and think about how we might undertake them in the year ahead. There are some of our members, I know, who wonder what place politics might have on this day. But it seems to me that Yom Kippur does nothing if it does not force us to think about our responsibilities to the world outside.
This day is paradoxical. It is the most inward of all the days of our Jewish year. We look inside ourselves, to think about our thoughts, our words and our deeds, what we have done wrong and what we should have done better. Our thoughts are private, about the deepest aspects of ourselves, which we would share only with God and with no other. Yet, even as we do so, our prayers and especially our Torah and Haftarah readings, remind us that we have a duty to the world outside, that to be truly human and truly Jewish is to look beyond ourselves at the world and its inhabitants.
This is most clear in our Haftarah for this morning. Isaiah tells us in no uncertain terms that our fast is meaningless unless we end injustice and poverty, as he says, “Is not this the fast I look for: to release the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked, to clothe them, and never to hide yourself from your own kin?’
Our Haftarah for this afternoon also gives us a powerful, though more subtle, message that we cannot be for ourselves alone. Jonah is called upon to prophesy to the people of Nineveh. But he is reluctant to go. Perhaps he is, understandably, afraid that he will not be heard. After all, the people of Nineveh are Assyrian, the enemies of Israel. Why would they listen to him? And perhaps Jonah asks: ‘Why should I be bothered on behalf of an enemy people?’ But the message of the book is that he will be heard, and that he should indeed be bothered. The people of Nineveh prove capable of profound repentance, and Jonah learns that God does care about them, all 120,00 of them, ‘and also much cattle.’ The book of Jonah teaches us that we cannot look to the welfare of our own people alone, but that we must care, as God does, for all the people of the world. And our Torah reading this afternoon affirms that message. It reminds us that holiness means not only ritual but also day to day acts of kindness and honesty and loving not only our neighbour but also the stranger.
So we cannot ignore the state of our world or evade our responsibilities. For if we look at the situation which the Millenium Development Goals set out to address, it is truly appalling. We live in a world where an estimated billion people live on less than a dollar a day; nearly 1.5 million children die every year from diarrhoea due to lack of clean drinking water and sanitation; 8.8 million children die before the age of five due to preventable diseases such as measles and malaria; half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year, a tragedy not only for their lost lives but for the children left motherless. Millions of children have no access to primary education, with girls faring far worse than boys - indeed in some countries, girls have more chance of dying in childbirth than completing their primary education. Billions of men, women and children across the globe live without the basic necessities of food, shelter, drinking water and access to education, which we take for granted.
In the year 2000, 150 world leaders gathered to consider the world situation and what could be done about it. They formulated the millennium development goals, targets to be reached by the year 2015 in seven areas: to end poverty and hunger, to create access to universal education, to facilitate gender equality, improve child and maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and work towards environmental sustainability and global partnership. It was a remarkable venture, perhaps the first in the history of the world which attempted to end the terrible divisions between haves and have-nots in our world. And progress has indeed been made. In some countries, there has been real success - for example, in Tanzania, school enrolment has increased from 52% in 1991 to 98% in 2007 and in Peru infant morality has fallen from 78 per thousand to 20 per thousand. Some targets, for example access to clean water and eradication of malaria, are likely to be met. But in some countries, there has been a worsening rather than an improvement and in other targets, such as maternal mortality, very little progress has been made. Of course, sometimes, the situations are very complex. Progress is unlikely to be made in the Democratic Republic of Congo until some sort of solution has been reached to the conflict raging there. It is not simply a matter of pouring in aid, but of seriously addressing the causes. But the progress that has been made shows what is possible if world leaders work seriously towards achieving a solution.
Isaiah tells us: Cry aloud, do not hold back. Just up the road, people will be shortly crying aloud, making a noise to warn of what is going on in our world and the urgent needs to be addressed. When we return to our homes, let us add our voices, to make known to the leaders of the world who attend next week’s summit that we really do care about the poorest our of world and their terrible suffering. This day demands no less of us. If our prayers and meditations are to mean anything today, they must help us to look beyond ourselves to the world outside and answer the cries for help that we hear. If we do so, then we may hope for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s promise, for us and for all the world: ‘If you make sacrifices for the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted; then your light will shine in the darkness and your night become bright as noon; the Eternal one will guide you always, quenching your thirst in times of drought and renewing your bodies strength; you will be a like a well-watered garden, and like a spring whose waters never fail.’