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    August leaders with their knees up

    There was once a music-hall song, “Knees up, Mother Brown”.

    I always meant to find out who the original Mother Brown was (I’m sure it has no connection with GK Chesterton’s detective, Father Brown).

    The implication of the song must have been that stately grandmothers sometimes need to party and to forget their solemn dignity.

    Jews understand that message, except that it is not the stately grandmothers as much as the solemn rabbis who get their knees up, at least on Simchat Torah and sometimes at weddings too.

    On my study wall I have a lively etching of the Simchat Torah scene and it cheers me up at times when I feel pressure weighing down on my shoulders.

    In my younger days I rather scandalised some of my London congregation when I led the way in dancing with the Torah and encouraged others to join in. An august gentleman thereupon strode up to me, announced, “My grandfather would turn in his grave!”, and walked out.

    Personally, I never found that the celebration affects the dignity of the synagogue or those who take part – so long as no-one thinks that the party is an end in itself.

    The real purpose is hinted at in a midrashic notion about why we start the Torah readings again straight after we conclude them.

    Satan, it is said, boasted to God that Israel was tired of the Torah (Tur, Orach Chayyim 669). The Jewish people thereupon instituted an immediate recommencement of the Torah to prove to God that our love for Him and His Torah is unshakable.

    The age-old continuity of Torah reading has been maintained over countless centuries and we all hope to be alive to see the Mashi’ach clasping the Torah scroll to himself and leading in our celebrations.

    When that happens my congregant’s grandfather will indeed turn in his grave but not in the sense that his grandson had in mind.

    Please God he will turn and rise from the grave and he too will join in the dancing, literally fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy of the dry bones coming back to life.

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