Friday Candle Lighting: 5:29 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:25 PM
Churchill and the Jews
“These are the things…” (35:1)
The relationship between Winston Churchill (1874–1965) arguably the greatest Englishman of the twentieth century, and the Jewish People is a subject of debate. Churchill opposed anti-Semitism (as in 1904, when he was fiercely critical of the proposed Aliens Bill severely restricting Jewish immigration from Czarist Russia). However, in “Zionism versus Bolshevism,” an article written by Churchill in the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920, he makes a distinction between “national” Jews — who Churchill said supported Zionism — and “international” Jews — such as Karl Marx, Trotsky, Béla Kun, Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman, who Churchill said supported a Bolshevist “world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality.” The article was criticized by the Jewish Chronicle at the time, calling it “the most reckless and scandalous campaign in which even the most discredited politicians have ever engaged.” The Chronicle said Churchill had adopted “the hoary tactics of hooligan anti-Semites” in his article.
However, Sir Martin Gilbert (1936-2015), himself a Jew and Churchill’s official biographer, argues in “Churchill and the Jews” that Churchill was overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Jews and Jewish causes: In that same 1920 article, Churchill writes, “We owe to the Jews… a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization.”
“These are the things…” In the Torah portion called Vayakhel, the mitzvahs of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, are preceded by yet another injunction to keep Shabbat. And from the juxtaposition of the work of the Mishkan to the next two verses that deal with Shabbat, our Rabbis derive the thirty-nine categories of creative labor that are forbidden on Shabbat.
One of the messages of this juxtaposition is that the same creative labors that build the material world are precisely those that are needed to create an abode for sanctity. If “a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together,” how much more when that system is connected to the spiritual world is it “incomparably the most precious possession of mankind.”