Rabbi Danny Rich
2 May 2011
Note: This speech was originally given by Rabbi Danny Rich, the senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism, at Citizen UK’s Day for Civil Society which took place at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster
Friends, members of many faith communities, followers of no religious tradition:
What an inspiring event hosted by Citizens UK which has brought together adherents of many faiths including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Bhuddists together with agnostics, aethists and others, and reminded us all that whatever divides us, it is that which unites us which is of greater importance.
And what unites us is our desire to see a fairer, more equitable society in this life and in this country, and those of us who have been studying religious texts have been reminded that the Godly and human demand for a fairer society is at the very essence of our scriptural traditions whether we find it in the Hebrew Tanach, the Christian Bible or the Muslim Qur’an.
Judaism not only demands of individual Israelites in the Book of Leviticus –in the very portion read last Shabbat in all synagogues – that You shall be holy (19:2) but earlier in the Book of Exodus (19:6) that Israel as a whole is exhorted You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
And what applies to Israelis to be applied to every people, every society and humanity as a whole. In other words the moral quality of a society is dependent both on the private and collective behaviour of individuals and on the public and political policies of government and institutions.
The demand for a Living Wage and the campaign against usury, the levelling of excessive interest, are practical methods to create a society where every individual is valued and secure and where the divergence between the poorest and the richest are not such that any feel excluded.
It is the skill of Citizens UK to capture the oldest of religious values and bring them to bear in the most modern of institutions, and I endorse its – our – work.
Society – and a decent society – is ultimately not created by research papers, government initiatives or by others – it is forged by each one of us acting in accord with the sentiment expressed in the ancient Jewish midrash that ‘Only one human being was created in the beginning… so that no person may be able to say, “My ancestor was greater than your ancestor.”
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