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Please pray for the Peace of Jerusalem! (Psalm 122:6)
Things are getting uncomfortable for the Jews of Europe
It is fitting that France, the center of the fashion industry, should be the center of a kippa controversy. Halacha famously requires that a Jew must sacrifice his life even over how his shoelaces are tied – if he’s told to change that as part of a public demand to abandon Judaism. Yet the command to save our own lives takes precedence over almost any other commandment. The range of opinions is wide enough to support both the Marseilles community leader who, following a recent stabbing, advised Jews not to wear a kippa and the rabbis who tell him to continue to wear it.
The kippa has recently established itself among Orthodox Jews as a fashion item. Jewish men should cover their head when saying God’s name; but otherwise opinion is divided as to whether it is essential to keep one’s head covered. Many great scholars of the past went bare-headed. However, recent decades have seen the kippa become the ubiquitous symbol of the identifying male Jew. This has only strengthened in the decades after the Six Day War as Jews have grown in confidence, reflecting the growing confidence of the Jewish state itself.
As a London Jew in the 1980s my rabbis advised me that I should not wear a kippa at work in a major law firm, where to do so might damage my career. Having been sacked from one major law firm just for asking to leave early on Fridays for Shabbat, this seemed practical advice. Some clients have asked that I not wear a kippa when appearing in court, lest the judge’s possible dislike for Jews negatively influence my client’s case.
What is important here is not where on the spectrum between fear and self-assurance the individual Jew might stand. Jews must wrestle with the problem. But the fact that the question is raised at all should be a cause of intense concern all for those who value the free open society on which European political ideology is based. As the balance swings from attacking intolerance to tacitly justifying it on grounds of some twisted political correctness, so true freedom ebbs away.
Jews do not necessarily bring prosperity to communities. But their presence is a barometer of the freedoms which have traditionally accompanied open societies, free exchange of ideas and commercial prosperity. Spain’s financial dominance saw a slow decline from the moment it expelled its Jews – a decline from which it has never recovered; London became a financial powerhouse within a century of Jews being readmitted in the 17th century; the USA remains a powerhouse and a center of freedom for people of all faiths; Amsterdam; Livorno; Salonika; Manchester; Riga and Baghdad can all trace a close correlation between their prosperity and the freedoms afforded their Jews.
Jews are famously portable – we are a wandering people. If it starts to get uncomfortable for us we will move elsewhere. My law firm is full of Jews who decided to leave Europe for Israel. When we debate whether we can appear in the street as an identifiable Jew things are getting uncomfortable in Europe. Jews should make their choices; Europeans should worry.
The author is a senior partner of Asserson Law Offices, Israel’s largest foreign law firm, providing UK law advice from its Tel Aviv offices.
Trevor Asserson, Jerusalem Post, January 21, 2016
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