Rabbi Andrew Shaw
Chief Executive, Mizrachi UK
For the second time in a month I turn to the cricket to inspire us.
Two weeks ago the Ashes series, which is already turning into a classic, exploded into controversy with a seemingly very questionable dismissal.
I will try and explain what happened for those of you who may not understand the intricacies of cricket.
It seemed a very normal situation. On the last ball of the over, the ball went through to the wicket keeper. The batsman, Jonny Bairstow, thinking that it was the end of the over, wandered out of his crease to talk to go and talk to his captain Ben Stokes at the other end.
The Australian wicket keeper, sensing an opportunity, as the umpires had not yet called ‘over’ and threw the ball against the stumps, Bairstow was out of his crease and he was given out!
Cue uproar from the vast majority of the crowd and the England team! Cheats! That’s not cricket! You can’t do that. People were incensed.
However, according to the rules of the game (ie halachically) he was out. He left his ground and Bairstow was stumped. (A way in cricket to be out, not Bairstow’s state of mind – thought it could be both!)
The point made, however, was that the Australian captain should have called him back. It wasn’t really a fair way to be dismissed. The phrase was used that it ‘wasn’t in the spirit of cricket’. Yes, according to the strict letter of the law, he was out, but according to the spirit of the game – he should not have been.
Last Thursday it began again, this time the 3rd test and due to the above incident, the atmosphere was raised up a few notches.
It wasn’t the only thing that began last Thursday which also has a strong link to the Bairstow incident.
Let me explain.
Last Thursday the three weeks, beginning with 17th Tammuz began and which will culminate with Tisha B Av. It is the saddest time of the Jewish year, we have no weddings, live music, haircuts etc
We are mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Not just the physical destruction, but what it led to – two millennia of persecution, wandering the globe and millions of Jews slain. We have been subjected to 2000 years of hate.
We were reminded of this hatred recently when the BBC, reaching a new low, accused Israel of killing children (who were 17-year-old terrorists). Unfortunately, we know that there have and always will be those who hate us. We remember this acutely this time of year.
But why was Jerusalem destroyed? The Gemara informs us (Yoma 9b)
“Why was the first Temple destroyed? Because the three cardinal sins were rampant in society: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder. However, in the Second Temple period, the people were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, so why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was baseless hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of baseless hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.’
Sinat Chinam is the most well known reason for the destruction of Bayit Sheni, but the Gemara gives several other reasons as well. In Bava Metzia 30b it states:
Rav Yochanan said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled in accordance with the strict letter of the law, as opposed to ruling beyond the letter of the law.”
And here we return to the cricket!
We have the same idea in Torah. There is the letter of the law but there is also lifnim mishurat hadin – going beyond – the spirit of the law. According to Rav Yochanan, the Judges were very much mistaken in only relying on the strict letter of the law.
One of the many things I learnt from the Rabbis that have taught me over the years, is that halacha is sensitive, dependent on multiple factors. Our piskei halacha must have heart as well as mind.
Judaism in the 21st century is crying out for an inclusive, sensitive Orthodoxy. I remember my first Rabbi, Rabbi Hool ztl, from Kingsbury, telling us of his exam for the rabbinate. In those days (back in the 1950’s) Rabbis had the job of paskening whether chickens were Kosher or not, and on the exam paper, it described a chicken in terms of various areas and asked the question ‘Is this chicken kosher?’
However, as Rabbi Hool explained to us, there wasn’t just one answer. Underneath it said:
The idea being that the answer could be different for each person.
But how? Either the chicken is kosher or treif?
Rabbi Hool explained that for the poor person, we have to understand that if we tell them the chicken is not kosher, then they may not have a chicken for Shabbat. He said the example in the exam would need many leniencies to allow the chicken to be kosher, leniencies that should be applied in the case of the poor person. Ruling strictly, the chicken is not kosher but by understanding the individual concerned, we can rule in a much more lenient manner and permit.
This is a classic example of ruling lifnim mishurat hadin to understand the differences and the complexities of individuals, and how halacha is applied.
We began last week the three weeks leading up to Tisha B Av, where the Bet Hamikdash ends up in ashes.
Next week we resume the battle for the Ashes.
In both there is the realisation that it is ideal if we combine the letter with the spirit of the law. In cricket’s case, to allow seeming injustices to be righted and in Judaism’s case to allow Torah to speak to everyone and create a Kiddush Hashem.
And excuse me for reframing the Gemara to hope for English cricket that:
“The Ashes were lost only because the Aussies ruled in accordance with the strict letter of the law, as opposed to ruling beyond the letter of the law.”
And much more importantly, may we see the Bet Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days!