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
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.