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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







"The Disputation"

Play at New End Theatre, Hampstead
Reviewed by Percy Gourgey, MBE

The play is based on a book of the same name by Prof Hyam Maccoby, a distinguished scholar and author on Jewish Christian relations (who was a fellow congregant in Richmond Synagogue until his move to Leeds) and it has received wide acclaim in the United States and here.

It concerns a disputation between a renowned Rabbi, Moses ben Nachman, with a Jewish convert to Christianity, Pablo Christiani, in Aragon, Spain in 1263 Barcelona on Jewish and Christian beliefs, held under the authority of King James. The rabbi agreed to take part on condition that he had full freedom of expression which the King accepted.

I found the whole play, and especially the actual debate, of riveting interest, and I asked the organisers of the production for a copy of the script which covers the whole gamut of emotions aroused in a dialogue of this nature. Robert Rietty put in a performance of intense sensitivity to the arguments involved as a Christian monk, Raymond de Penaforte, or ‘Brother Raymond’ as he is called in the play. He asks Nachmanides to be conciliatory and not press his case too forcefully lest he arouse Christian anger, but the former insisted on his right to put his case as he thought fit. One point he made was that if the founder of Christianity was described as the "Prince of Peace" – a phrase used in Isaiah’s prophecies – what peace had the world known, especially with the ongoing crusades at the time, since the start of Christianity. Hence the Jewish belief that the Messiah was still to come.

This put me in mind of the Talmudic view that by the Jewish Year 6000 (in the Tractate Sanhedrin 95a) the Messiah would have come and the Third Temple built in Jerusalem. Perhaps we should start an organisation now to study and act upon the far-reaching implication of this view! For instance, who would have thought that when Herzl convened the First World Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basle, Switzerland, after writing his famous book, "Der Juden Staat", that the State in Israel would come into being just fifty years later to justify his vision!

This play has striking relevance in this age with the Church’s Mission to the Jews, current attempts in Israel to convert Jews made by monks and nuns and, in this country, the "Jews for Jesus" organisation in universities and elsewhere, appealing to vulnerable and ignorant Jews. In a fitting comment on Maccoby’s work, Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks has stated that "God has given us many faiths but only one world in which to live together. On our response to that challenge, much of our future will depend."

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