Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, Chair of the Assembly of Rabbis reflects on the funeral of Baroness Thatcher where he represented the Movement for Reform Judaism.
The verse at the centre of last shabbat’s Torah portion, ‘Acharei Mot’ – Kedoshim is v’ahavta l’re’achah camocha, love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). It means that to hope something for yourself that you are not willing to grant to others is not good Judaism. Democratic politics is the way in which we aim to vote into action our hopes and dreams for a good future. When a Jew votes for or supports a political cause they need to do so not only for their own benefit but because they are pretty sure that it will be for the benefit of all who will be subject to the actions of the politicians they elect – love your neighbour as yourself.
Last Wednesday I was granted the honour of representing Reform and thereby all but Orthodox Judaism at the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. The solemnity and dignity of Lady Thatcher’s funeral was maybe at odds with the political passions she stirred in life. It was a farewell exercised in pure British tradition to a woman who had yet brought about so much change. Only the participation of women priests hinted that Britain had moved such a great distance since the 1970s under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership and thereafter. The memory of such a passionate and epoch making politician will be part of our national story for many years to come.
Few can argue that Britain in 1979 was not in need of a leader passionate for change. Exactly what that change should have been though is a paradigmatic source of arguments for the sake of heaven.
Our Torah portion commands us to care materially and emotionally for the orphan, the widow and the stranger as metaphors for the vulnerable in society. It commands us to be honest in business and in our personal relationships. It commands us to see and consider the needs of anyone who could otherwise be taken advantage of, the day labourer, people who are physically disabled.
There will be many who will argue that Margaret Thatcher’s policies and achievements met the standards commanded in ‘Kedoshim’ and there will be many who will argue that they did not. That is a fair issue to debate as Jews and indeed our Torah portion also tells us to spend time and effort reasoning with one another when we disagree (Leviticus 19:17).
Judaism’s argument, though, is that each of us needs to find our most effective way to make the world better for ourselves and our neighbours, very broadly defined. It means that we cannot avoid politics and still be good Jews and also that we must not fail to put hope into action. If we do so with passion then all the better.