Shul row over ban on ‘racist’ study text

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY SI­MON ROCKER

A SYN­A­GOGUE’S de­ci­sion to aban­don a study course af­ter a re­li­gious com­men­tary was de­nounced as “racist” has been crit­i­cised as “ou­tra­geous” and “spine­less” in the lat­est edi­tion of the shul mag­a­zine.

Lon­don’s Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb United Syn­a­gogue, one of Bri­tain’s big­gest syn­a­gogues, dis­con­tin­ued an adult-ed­u­ca­tion class on the Tanya ear­lier this year, fol­low­ing ob­jec­tions by three se­nior con­gre­gants. The Tanya is an 18th-cen­tury philo­soph­i­cal text writ­ten by the founder of Lubav­itch Cha­sidism, Rabbi Sh­neur Zal­man of Liadi ( be­low).

In the cur­rent edi­tion of the syn­a­gogue mag­a­zine, colum­nist David Lew de­nounces the de­ci­sion. “We Jews have suf­fered con­tin­u­ously from cen­sor­ship and book-burn­ing, usu­ally by the Chris­tians and oc­ca­sion­ally self-in­flicted,” Mr Lew writes in his “Moans and Groans” col­umn. “But to find it go­ing on in our own com­mu­nity is truly ou­tra­geous, and the victory of the gang of three is bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing. The shul’s re­ac­tion to the ob­jec­tions of those mem­bers was, to say the least, spine­less.”

The protests had come from Pro­fes­sor Steve Miller, a for­mer vice-chair­man of the syn­a­gogue, Vi­vian Wine­man, the se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of the Board of Deputies, and mem­ber Dan Rick­man.

Mr Wine­man said: “The text con­tains com­ments about Jewish su­pe­ri­or­ity which we re­gard as racist and un­ac­cept­able. If the lo­cal church were run­ning a course which said that gen­tiles were su­pe­rior spir­i­tu­ally to Jews, we would think that should not be tol­er­ated.”

He added: “The Board of Deputies’ slo­gan is ‘racism isn’t kosher.’ Do we mean that racism isn’t kosher for nonJews, but all right for Jews?”

The syn­a­gogue had “done well”, he said, “to take a stand and say no. Lubav­itch­ers are nice peo­ple, but Lubav­itch phi­los­o­phy has el­e­ments which are un­ac­cept­able.”

Prof Miller ex­plained that he felt a “small sec­tion” of the Tanya which talks about non-Jews is “frankly racist and morally ob­jec­tion­able. Whilst I wouldn’t dream of cen­sor­ing what in­di­vid­ual mem­bers do, I did feel that the shul should not be spon­sor­ing a course which dis­sem­i­nated the Tanya.”

But Mr Lew hit out: “The shul was re­cently lit­tered with posters ad­ver­tis­ing a com­mu­nal lunch which de­picted Je­sus, and I have dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing the hashkafah [loosely trans­lated as phi­los­o­phy] which al­lows im­ages of a founder of a re­li­gion which has caused us con­stant mis­ery for 2,000 years to be plas­tered around our premises, yet finds the teach­ing of a ma­jor work of Cha­sidic phi­los­o­phy to be of­fen­sive.”

Bernard Taub, the chair­man of HGS, would not en­ter into a dis­cus­sion of the is­sue. “The whole thing is dead and buried,” he said.

Rabbi Sh­neur Zal­man of Liadi, au­thor of the Tanya

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