When it’s enough, al­ready

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - David Rob­son

RE­CENTLY I met a man who told me he was think­ing of con­vert­ing to Ju­daism be­cause when their time came he wanted to be buried next to his Jewish wife. The Duke of Ed­in­burgh is sup­posed to have said that if a man opens a car door for his wife it’s ei­ther be­cause it’s a new wife or a new car. Heaven knows what he’d say about this. As it hap­pens the man in ques­tion is by far the po­litest per­son I know and has doubt­less opened many a car door, but this went far be­yond the bound­aries of po­lite­ness.

I was par­tic­u­larly struck by what he said be­cause of what hap­pened some years ago when I re­signed my mem­ber­ship of a Lib­eral syn­a­gogue. I wasn’t in love with the place any­way but what re­ally drove me away was the mind-numb­ingly bor­ing ba­nal­ity of the new rabbi’s ser­mons. The mem­ber­ship sec­re­tary phoned to try to per­suade me to stay. I said, with­out go­ing into specifics, that my mind was made up. As an in­duce­ment to re­main he pointed out that this was prob­a­bly the only syn­a­gogue that would al­low me and my non-Jewish wife to be buried side by side.

I may have hes­i­tated for a nano-sec­ond but quickly re­as­sured my­self that com­pan­ion­ship in the no­tional hereafter was no com­pen­sa­tion for present tor­ture. But the sub­ject of burial was in­deed press­ingly rel­e­vant. If I had to sit through an­other of those ser­mons I might have had to kill my­self.

In re­turn for all the good com­mu­nal things rab­bis do – teach­ing the chil­dren, vis­it­ing the sick, leading the ser­vice – they are given the right to bang on at their cap­tive au­di­ence un­til musaf seems like a mer­ci­ful re­lief. Ex­cep­tions do ex­ist. There are rab­bis who give mag­nif­i­cent ser­mons, just as there are suc­cess­ful Eng­land foot­ball man­agers.

My grand­fa­ther, who is buried next to his wife and amid his fam­ily in Har­ro­gate’s small Jewish ceme­tery, never ex­posed him­self to death-by­ser­mon. He was a ruth­less ex­po­nent of the EnoughAl­ready school of shul be­hav­iour. At about 11.30 ev­ery Shabbat morn­ing he walked out re­gard­less of what was go­ing on and if a ser­mon went on too long he wouldn’t have any truck with that ei­ther.

It is touch­ing to see life­long com­pan­ions in­terred in ad­ja­cent graves or even to­gether, pre­serv­ing their part­ner­ship for pos­ter­ity (though if you lis­ten very closely you can hear plenty of those cou­ples still bick­er­ing). On the other hand, I’m sure if the Almighty wishes to re­ward people with eter­nal to­geth­er­ness He is ca­pa­ble of find­ing them how­ever far apart they lie.

Eter­nal to­geth­er­ness? That’s look­ing on the bright side. But what if worst comes to worst and I am fin­gered for my many dere­lic­tions and brought to book? “Dovid ben Aryeh, re­mem­ber all those ser­mons you missed be­cause you thought you knew bet­ter? Now there is no es­cape. Come with Me. You shall hear ev­ery one of them, in full. You’ve got all the time in the world. And then some.”

Re­mem­ber those ser­mons? Pay­back...

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