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Leap of Faith: Why the apprentice in the Bible never heard the words “You’re fired!”

Ever since 2005 I have enjoyed watching The Apprentice. I sit through the crass initial interviews cringing with the nation at the ridiculous pronouncements of the candidates and then over the weeks feel like I get to know them and come to care for their success. There is always plenty of Jewish interest in the show. Alan Sugar is a philanthropist in the Jewish community, as the Sugar Wing at King Solomon High School tells us, and he is often joined by Claude Littner, also Jewish, as one of his judging sidekicks. Then there are the periodic Jewish candidates who we all hope will do well or even win, whilst not embarrassing us too much by their actions or attitudes, as if they are our own cousin making a cringe worthy speech at a wedding.

The premise of the show is a principle that drives many of the key narratives in the Bible – the young person finding and being guided by a mentor in order to make a success of themselves. Just as Lord Sugar becomes to his eventual protégées so was Moses to Joshua, whom he guided to be his eventual successor from early in the Torah narrative. Joshua first appears in the Book of Exodus Chapter 17, forty years before he will eventually take over from Moses.  The priest Eli guided Samuel to become the king-making prophet of Israel from a very early age. The prophet Elijah calls his successor Elisha to be his own apprentice, finding him originally as a young farm boy (1 Kings Chapter 19). King Solomon of Alan Sugar’s favourite High School was apprenticed by his father King David and they even ruled Israel together for a time (1 Kings 1:32-40).  

The mentor process is very important in recruitment and training for today’s rabbinate.   One of the proudest moments in my life was when Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein placed his hands on my shoulders at my semichah (rabbinic ordination) and used the words of Moses, ‘be strong and of good courage’, to induct me into the Rabbinate.  When I was a teenager he had encouraged and guided me to become a cheder assistant and youth leader and then in my mid-twenties to train at Leo Baeck College.

The Apprentice may be a brutal reality show, which shows no mercy to those who do not measure up, but its principle of mentorship and guidance from our previous generation is the time-honoured way that the Jewish community passes on its skills, values and leadership.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith is Senior Rabbi at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue.

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