Friday 18 September 2020

Some insight into the Jews of Manchester

A religion of observances

A few years ago, after walking past the Manchester Jewish Museum on Cheetham Hill Road, I decided to go in for a visit. As I am wont to do, I had seen a plaque celebrating Dr Chaim Weizmann who once lived in Manchester and went on to become the first president of Israel, there was much to the history of the Jews in Manchester, I thought. [Wikipedia: History of the Jews in Manchester]

In my mind, I thought I knew a lot about Jews and Judaism, I was knowledgeable as an outsider but hardly informed. I had learnt from the Christian bible how the feasts of Judaism related to Christian festivals, teachings derived from the customs and traditions of Judaism giving some context of how Christianity is by terms a Middle Eastern religion that just happens to be so radically westernised.

Difference without indifference

In church last Sunday, during the sermon, the preacher said we should consider our relationships with other religions, seeing first the person before their beliefs, accepting we are in the quest for some spirituality and that we should not claim either superiority or inferiority in relation to other belief systems, for we each in our ways are seeking and worshipping God.

As Judaism celebrates Rosh Hashanah which is the Jewish new year from this evening that would culminate in the feast of Yom Kippur, between them in the space of 10 days is Yamim Noraim; the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance, the preacher recommended we visit a website, Judaism 101 to learn more about this root Abrahamic religion.

Through a shop window of Judaism

One could consider it an occasion of propinquity that as I switched on my television and was scanning for something to watch off my Amazon Fire Stick 4K, there was a television programme on Amazon Prime called Jewish Law which happened to be a documentary about Orthodox Jews in Manchester, filmed in 2004. They then numbered about 30,000 living in the Prestwich area of Manchester.

In three episodes which covered families, major feasts, religious practices, the management and regulation of kosher, and mitzvahs or commandments, there was a lot to learn, though this would require second and consequently more viewing to get a better grasp of things, the attention of particularities and details made everything seems so onerous except for within the community itself.

And I never knew

Seeing how meat products should not touch dairy that in some households they had separate cooking sections to handle each, like having two separate cooking hobs, ovens and fridges was an interesting revelation. The ceremony of circumcision, without the whole detail was just as moving.

The commandment that Jews should not eat blood meant that eggs were first cracked into a clear glass and viewed from underneath before use. A boy’s hair was not cut until they were 3 years old, when a ceremony that included prominent people in the community cutting a snip of hair whilst contributing to a piggy bank. The act of mourning a close relation does include renting one’s clothes.

Of intrigue and interest

If you thought Judaism was dull, you need to see the revelling during the feast of Purim that was initiated when Esther in the bible mediated on behalf of her people preventing their total annihilation by the Machiavellian hand of Haman. The mitzvah includes getting drunk.

None of this begins to demonstrate the intricate observances of Judaism, but it should pique one’s interest enough to explore this religion in that is probably close to its fourth Millennium. The building of the Manchester Jewish Museum which is Grade II listed is currently under renovation, but the museum artefacts and documents are in temporary residence at the Manchester Central Library.

To all my Jewish friends, Happy Rosh Hashanah! Shalom!


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