*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Rabbinical work

13 February 2015

iStock

THE struggles of the Church of England to achieve the ordination of women were placed in sobering perspective by Regina: The first woman rabbi (BBC4, Monday of last week). Regina Jonas was born in Berlin, in 1902, of an itinerant pedlar, who was determined that his daughter should study as well as his son, and considered this entirely congruent with his strictly observant orthodoxy.

From her earliest years, she displayed precocious spiritual depth - and formed her ambition to become a rabbi. The programme traced a complex person who transcended what might seem irreconcilable opposites: she was Orthodox in the practice and understanding of her faith, and, although what she longed for was revolutionary, she did not see herself as a reformer; and yet she was a key member of the suffragist movement, her vocation was taken up by Liberal Jewry, and she united traditional religious observance with modernist aspirations.

Eventually, a Liberal rabbi ordained her, causing outrage from the Orthodox and Traditional. But this story played out against the Nazis' growing persecution of all Jews. As more and more were transported to the camps, the diminishing congregations came to appreciate and value her ministry.

We heard testimony to the luminous quality of her teaching, her example, her compassion, and her encouragement to all, in the face of unimaginable suffering, to find hope in the unshakeable faithfulness of God to his people. In other words, she displayed what we unthinkingly like to claim as Christian values. Her ministry, especially to children, flourished even in the concentration camps. She was murdered at Auschwitz.

This was a remarkable film. It had none of the usual interviews and reconstructions. Far more powerfully and effectively, every visual image was archive film or photographs, vividly conjuring up Jones's world of Berlin, its Jewish communities, and the gathering darkness of the Holocaust.

Inside the Commons (BBC2, Tuesdays), the new fly-on-the-wall series about the Lower House of Parliament, opened last week. For us, in the Church of England, there is a particular frisson: are not we, too, an ancient institution, half in love with our ceremonial and archaic tradition, yet half eager to embrace the latest engagement with the contemporary world, beset with the struggle to maintain a historic building that is at once our greatest icon and our crushing millstone?

I had hoped for something a bit sharper than this first episode; but it was good to follow the fortunes of two new MPs, both women, as they struggled to assimilate the rituals of what still seems like a 19th-century gentlemen's club, while at the same time promoting the better governance of our nation - the very thing that impelled them to seek election.

It was followed immediately by Rory Bremner's Coalition Report (BBC2), a satirical skewing of the politicos we had just seen preening themselves on their home territory. Bremner's edge seemed blunter than I recall; but perhaps today's politicians make such a good job of self-parody as to leave neither space nor necessity for comedians to reveal their feet of clay - they are on show for all to see.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)