Rembrandt:Moses breaking Tablets
Rembrandt:Moses breaking TabletsMorrison

Q. What would Moses think about Jewish life today?

A. It depends on which Moses.

That’s not meant to be a joke or a cop-out. If you are talking about Moses the administrator, he would probably be reasonably impressed with the way Jewish life is structured and organised, though I don’t think he would like the divisiveness and disunity between groups.

If you have in mind Moses the poet, he would be quite proud of the literary tradition created by centuries of using words.

If you mean Moses the shepherd, he would probably like the way in which – at least in times of difficulty – his flock stick together.

But bear in mind that the best known description of Moses is Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses our Teacher”.

In that capacity he would recognise the quality of Jewish intellectuality in general and the religious intelligentsia in particular.

But he would not like the fact that some of our thinkers and teachers do not enlist their knowledge of the tradition to handle the social, moral and philosophical issues of the time.

Still less would he be happy with the abysmal levels of Jewish knowledge amongst the masses of the Jewish people.

Jews who can’t read alef-bet, who have never heard of Rashi or Maimonides, who have never opened the Tanach, who have literally no Jewish books at home – my readers can finish the sentence for themselves.

And what a paradox when you think that some or even many of this group are actually called “Moshe”.

There is an old saying, “From Moses to Moses there arose none like Moses”. It was meant as a compliment to Moses Maimonides, but it is a reproach to people called Moshe who hardly know what their name means and how to honour their Biblical namesake.