Written by Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield Thursday, 10 July 2008
This editorial is not the usual MANNA editorial. Instead of commenting on important current issues, the 100th editorial is about MANNA itself. It is also an ‘I’ editorial since I personally want to thank all those contributors who have given their talent and time to MANNA absolutely free. So much of my work and the work of the Jewish community depends upon good will. I never cease to be humbled by just how much of it there is. I also want to thank all those who have contributed to the production of MANNA, too many to mention without risking forgetting someone and giving offence. But I must name my deputy editor William Wolff and art editor Charles Front. Without the two of them MANNA would have vanished long ago.
I want to continue in the first person to share something that has long puzzled me. I cannot count the number of times that I have heard someone say that people do not know what Progressive Judaism is and stands for. My first reaction is one of genuine annoyance. After all I have spent a lifetime preaching and lecturing on the subject – not to mention writing pamphlets and a booklet entitled What is Reform Judaism? Whilst I agree with my respected Deputy Editor, elsewhere in this issue, that finding a three or four word slogan would be very helpful indeed, I have come to set aside my irritation and ask what actually lies behind the question.
I suspect that there is no single answer but that prominent are two underlying questions: ‘How do I justify not being Orthodox?’. That reflects British Jewry’s obsession with the supposed authenticity of the way things were done in the synagogue that our parents did not go to. Or, alternatively, help me to find a formulation of religion that makes sense at a time when religious fundamentalism threatens to propel us all into the Richard Dawkins atheist camp.
Which brings me to this centenary issue of MANNA. MANNA 100 is almost double the length of our regular issues and includes contributions from many of our most distinguished contributors over Israel is at the centre of the Progessive Jewish landscape. Rich Kirschen tells us so much in a hilarious yet profound piece of autobiography. Lynn Reid Banks shares for the first time the diary of her first visit to Israel.
MANNA frequently uses reviews to explore a range of topics. In this issue, there is only one review, but a very important one in which Charles Middleburgh introduces us to one of the community’s new, young intellectuals with plenty to say about the European Jewish intelligentsia. Talented young historian David Tilles sheds an amazing but distressing new light on Britain and its political leadership sixty-five years ago.
Almost every issue of MANNA has something to say about Halachah and classical Jewish literature. In this issue the focus is on the British Reform Movement’s new siddur. The article is by Christian theologian and publisher John Bowden who played an important part in the siddur’s development.
There are also articles by Marc Saperstein and Jeffrey Newman on the rabbinate and why an authentic, progressive rabbinate is vital to the development of Judaism in Britain.
MANNA tends to leave contemporary Jewish literature to the admirable Jewish Quarterly. But this has not stopped us publishing the occasional short story which illuminates the Jewish condition. In this issue we pay homage to one of British Jewry’s greats, the late Chaim Bermant.
Theology, philosophy, British Progressive Judaism, Progressive Judaism worldwide, British Jewry, Israel, Shoah, history, culture, ethics, the rabbinate, Halachah, siddur/tefillah, classical Jewish literature, the contemporary Jewish condition – these are the themes that MANNA addresses. Any given issue may appear random or unconsidered but it is far from that. We have always tried to avoid being preachy or didactic – preferring people to dip into topics that interest them and, perhaps, find that those which they might have thought to be of no interest were actually stimulating.
Read MANNA for half a dozen issues and it is pretty hard not to gather what Progressive Judaism is all about, what its concerns are and what it offers. It is Judaism for those who prefer the journey to the blue print. It engages enthusiastically with modernity rather than rejecting it. It is certainly authentic. Although it does not provide all the answers, it not only asks the questions but walks with you along the exploration route that you have chosen. It is a contribution to developing Jewish responses that deepen your personal sense of meaning and purpose. And it gives content to Jewish identity.
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