Induction Address given by Rabbi Mark Solomon at his induction as Rabbi of Sukkat Shalom, 25th April 2010
Rabbi Rich, Bishop Smith, fellow members of the clergy, distinguished guests and dear friends,
I would like to thank you, Danny, not only for your kind words, and for travelling to be here today, but also for your constant and generous support to me personally and for your visionary and energetic leadership of Liberal Judaism.
In responding to Danny’s words, I would like to take “travelling” as my theme. I am a travelling rabbi, I am rabbi of a travelling community, and we are all members of a travelling religion.
We Jews began as nomads, and while yearning for a promised land, have spent much of our history, and exercised much of our creativity, wandering from country to country, sometimes persecuted but often, as here in Scotland, finding a stable, hospitable home and putting down deep roots. I want to pay tribute to the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation that has for so long been an integral part of the religious fabric of this city, and to Rabbi David Rose, who was prevented by another communal engagement from being here today. Sukkat Shalom and many of its members have close ties with our Orthodox brethren and I hope to foster continuing good relations between the two communities.
As well as travelling physically Judaism has always travelled spiritually, ever changing as society and culture changed. We see this in the Bible and in the massive transition from Temple Judaism to synagogue-based Rabbinic Judaism. In our spiritual journey through time and space we have encountered other religions and cultures, particularly Christian and Muslim, and been challenged and immeasurably enriched by the encounter. Rabbinic Judaism was born with the church and they grew as siblings in a complex, often hostile but mutually influential relationship, reflecting different ways in which the eternal, creative word of God is present in the world to bring salvation.
Then in the Middle Ages, in an extraordinary symbiosis with Islam, Judaism learnt how to interpret and use the language of Scripture and embrace and extend the rationalist tradition of classical Greek philosophy. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by interfaith friendship and dialogue, and I am honoured to have been appointed, last year, as Liberl Judaism’s first Interfaith Consultant.
With the revolution of the Enlightenment, too, Judaism travelled forward once again to embrace the modern world. It was 200 years ago this July that the German town of Seesen saw the first ever Liberal Jewish service, beginning a new tradition of Progressive Judaism that flowered in Britain with the founding of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue 100 year ago next year. While rooted in the ethical teachings of the Bible and Talmud, Liberal Judaism sees our religion as one in constant, dynamic motion, facing the ever-changing world and the diversity of human beings in a spirit of openness and welcome.
Our founder, Claude Montefiore, cautioned against seeing any version of Liberal Judaism as fixed and definitive, since we must always be open to discovering the new or rediscovering the old, and building the bigger Liberal Judaism of the future.
Well, Liberal Judaism certainly got bigger when it finally discovered Scotland! Over the last few years I have been amazed and humbled by the energy and commitment of this community, and especially its council, in building a congregation and a religion school from scratch, and in migrating month by month and week by week between the friendly and hospitable communities who share their space with us: The Friends Meeting House in Victoria Terrace, The Columcille Centre in Morningside, St Columba’s by the Castle, Marchmont St Giles Church, and of course St Mark’s Unitarian Church which we thank very warmly for its welcome today and on many other occasions, including our High Holy Days. Of course, we would like a home of our own and will work towards that goal, but in the meantime we have been, and are being, enriched as a community by our practical links with these and other places and communities – as well by the very process of travel itself, for the Rabbis remind us that travelling to perform a good deed brings its own merit.
Perhaps it’s fitting that a travelling congregation should have a travelling rabbi. That’s what I’ve been for some time, since I started coming up to Edinburgh several times a year on loan from the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, not to mention regular visits to Prague and Milan and other exotic locations in earlier years, since I first travelled from Sydney to study for the rabbinate in London. With today’s ceremony I am now officially a travelling rabbi, on the charming East Coast line every month, and sometimes more often. I won’t be neglecting the western route either, since my recent appointment as the travelling rabbi of the Manchester Liberal community means almost monthly visits there too, and I think they’re slightly envious of Edinburgh inducting me first, since I had a call yesterday asking me to think about a date in the autumn for a Mancunian induction. It is only right that Edinburgh should have the precedence though, since in my many trips north since 2005 I have come to know and love both this city and my congregation. I am immensely grateful to have been accepted as your rabbi, and hope we can continue to share worship and study, so many moments happy and sad, funny and uplifting, as we have in the last four and a half years.
May Judaism, and this community, and I as your rabbi, continue to travel from strength to strength in our journey towards ever greater enlightenment, ever stronger commitment to the best in our tradition, ever deeper engagement with our fellow human beings and ever greater determination to help address the needs of a world in search of justice, love between human beings, and peace. Amen.