Shul row over ban on ‘racist’ study text
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