at New End Theatre, Hampstead
Reviewed by Percy Gourgey, MBE
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.
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.
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 Isaiahs 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.
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!
play has striking relevance in this age with the Churchs
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 Maccobys 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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