And for those who will come to learn in this year
How should they encounter the faith which is theirs?

Handed lovingly down generations untold,
Across ages and continents, thousands of years
Of history, practice, of thought and of law
A people inspired, privileged and awed
By what they’ve encountered, how they’ve endured

And all they have done in the name of their Lord.

There is much to be taught there is much to be learned

To continue the heritage, pass on the faith
But the question is how might this task be achieved

With those who will come to learn in this place?

Shall we teach them the stories we know and we love?

Tales of Jacob and Abraham, often retold
Stories of strange encounters, mystical tales
From a time so unknown to us, distant and old.

Let’s see Abraham standing, knife in his hand

Or Jacob deceiving his brother once more

Maybe Joseph displaying his beautiful coat

Or lying in dust and dirt on the pit floor

To be taken to Egypt and there to excel.
Let’s bring on the old favourites and entertain
With these tales and these stories we so love so well
As we listen and tell them again and again
And again comes the telling of Noah and ark
Or the story of Esther with deaths by the score
Jonah in the whale, Daniel in the den
Or Adam and Eve and so many more.
Should we tell all these tales and recount ancient words
As they’re written and paint them as though they were truth?

Is this how we should face those who’ll learn in this year?
Is this how to inspire and hold onto our youth?

Perhaps we should look to a time not so ancient
A time when our faith was developed and turned
Through the pages of Mishnah, the tractates of Talmud

Which for hundreds of years have been studied and learned.

Read the words of the rabbis who took from the law
They believed had been given to Moses on high
And created new rules and imposed regulations
And claimed that these too had come down from Sinai.
Now to thousand years later the words that they wrote

(Though they said at the time they should not be recorded)

Have been studied, discussed, expanded and argued

Explained and dissected, misused and distorted
And turned into something now called halachah:
A Jew’s way of life, our great code of law
Which tells how to pray, how to study and read,
How to build, how to eat, how to dress – and yet more

Minute details, conditions and customs and laws.
And in yeshivas and classrooms, in studies and shuls
There are those who would teach us and study and tell
That the true way of faith is in following these rules
But that our generation can only accept
Never challenge or question the code we receive

That the work of interpreting has all been done

And our task is to learn and obey and believe.

Believe that God wants us always to ensure
That our dairy and meat dishes never connect

That not driving or switching on lights on Shabbat

Means as much as the charity we should collect

Or that rules which purport to be given by God

Can decree that so many whose wish to be Jews

Is sincere and is recognised only by some

But is spurned and rejected by those who refuse
To acknowledge that faith – our faith, which we hold dear

Should be open and welcoming for those who embrace
It and they and their children belong here with us
And not treat them as dirt. It is a disgrace
That such bigoted attitudes still have a hold
On a faith that is built upon care and compassion.
And those who will come here to learn in this year
What hope for them if we should teach in this fashion?

Let us turn once again to the roots of our faith
To the dawn of our heritage, ancient and proud
To those figures who stood by the walls and the gates
Of Israelite cities, addressing the crowd
With teachings from God whose demands were quite clear

For the ones who’d been chosen to carry that word
‘Seek justice and peace!’ were the words that would fill

The Jerusalem air – and go largely unheard
By the citizens too concerned with their own wealth
Of the children of Israel who neglected their duty
And would not play a part in the vision they shared
With their God of a future that was theirs to shape.
Let us hearken once more to the prophets of old
For here we will find the heart of our religion
And here will discover what has to be told
To all those who will come here to learn in this year
To discover their faith and encounter their past.
For these teachings of justice and ethical truths
Are the true tree of life to which they can hold fast.

Hear the words of Isaiah who comes to explain
The true meaning of worship, of fasting and prayer

Is not to be seen or recite the right words
But acknowledge the needs of the world and to care.

Turn to Amos who tells of the duty we have
To assist and protect and encourage the poor
And Micah saw weapons converted to tools
So that never again would we learn to make war.

These are messages finding their voice in the world

Which fills slowly with hope at the dawn of new ages

Full of visions first dreamt by our prophets of old

And so lovingly held in our own sacred pages.

This is our true tradition, the heart of our faith

Judaism’s true message for us all to hear
These are teachings and lessons we have to pass on

To all those who will come here to learn in this year

It is not to be found in the rulings of those

Who pay more attention to clothing and food
And who base their religion on words which, to us,

Seem strange and archaic or at best misconstrued
Mere attempts to interpret divine inspiration
Revealed in a time and a place far removed
From ourselves. Judaism has never been static
In all lands and ages it strove to improve
And adapt for its people in new situations
To give meaning to life and new strength to the faith.

How can laws made in Poland in seventeen hundred

Based upon words from Babylon twelve hundred before

Be the unchanging rules we are told we must follow
Or else be told we are not Jews any more?
We are Liberal Jews, we are proud of that title
For we carry the flag that our prophets once waved
As they recognised, just like our founders who followed,

That Jewish faith has to adapt to be saved
And the test of religion, the strength of a faith
Lies not in its rules, in its laws or commands
But on whether its heart is filled with the hope
That inspired the prophets and fuelled their demands

That mankind should endeavour to fulfil its task
And so bring to fruition the prophets’ great dreams:

That justice roll down from the hills like great rivers
And righteousness like everflowing streams.

So when we consider how best we shall teach
All of those who will come here to learn in this year
Be it Bible or history, Talmud or codes
Or ethics or Hebrew, such decisions are mere

Demonstration of riches that wait to be found
In the process of learning. What has to be gained
Is a true sense of pride in words that were spoken

Centuries before us and that have since remained
The true source of our faith. Such a pride can be taught

Not by forced repetition of archaic law
Which purports to have come from the mouth of our God

But was made by men and has no place any more

In our world. And so what we have to impart
In whatever we pass on to those who must bear

Our faith in the future is that they are a part

Of the Jewish religion, they too have a share
In this ancient tradition that lives and goes on
It’s not something that stopped at the end of the Bible

Or rules for the rabbis and scholars to learn
In a difficult language once spoken by tribal
Ancestors who lived in a land and a time
Far too hard to imagine. It belongs to each one
Of us: our Jewish heritage, our Jewish faith
We must do with it what our ancestors have done:

Make it fit in our lives, part of all that we are,
Take pride in its message, be true and sincere
In our Liberal faith. This is what must be taught
To all those who will come here to learn in this year.