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    The thigh as a symbol – Vayyishlach

    Jacob wrestles with the angel, from the 1728 Figures de la Bible

    Jacob wrestles with the angel, from the 1728 Figures de la Bible

    In his Guide (2:42), Maimonides says the contest between the patriarch and the assailant was a dream. It can also be seen (as some scholars say) as a prophecy.

    Our Father Jacob was smitten on the thigh. The Hebrew for “thigh” is yarech, which Jewish usage has turned into a symbol for one’s issue.

    Not only was Jacob attacked, but so were and are his children in every generation.

    Being Jewish was never easy, and it doesn’t become any easier.

    Like every one of us I always say, “It’s hard to be a Jew”, quoting a well-known Yiddish saying, but I add, “And it’s good!”

    Who makes life difficult for us? Those who blame us for all the ills of the world.

    In the Middle Ages, the slogan was that the Jews had poisoned the wells, and that’s why there was so much disease and sickness in the environment.

    It’s possible that the poisoning-the-wells allegation arose out of early Christian accusations that the Jews had desecrated the “host”, i.e. the communion bread.

    Antisemites, however, never need an excuse for attacking Jews – especially when they see that Jewish ideas and inventions have enriched the world, and outsiders often feel jealous.

    Our children – Jacob’s descendants – are never going to be free of being traduced, and the best thing they and all of us can do is to take to heart the words of Chief Rabbi JH Hertz, who said that the answer to more antisemitism is more Semitism.

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