JEWISH CONNECTIONS WITH HUMAN RIGHTS – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah – SJN – 12.18
This year we have been marking several anniversaries, including the 70th birthday of the establishment of the State of Israel (14 May 1948/5th Iyyar 5708) and the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht (9th-10th November 1938/16th Cheshvan 5699).
On 10th December it will be the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although not a date on the Jewish calendar, the UDHR was ratified by the UN in the aftermath of the Sho’ah and has significant Jewish connections.
One of the main architects of the UDHR was the French Jewish lawyer, René Cassin. The Jewish human rights charity, René Cassin, based in Britain has adopted his name to remind us of the Jewish links with the Universal Declaration. Passionate about the Jewish roots of human rights, last year, the charity published Human Rights Thought for the Week. 54 Human Rights Commentaries on the Weekly Parasha, an inspiring collection which includes pieces by a range of rabbis and engaged laypeople (my commentary is on parashat Bo). I’m very proud that one of the young people who grew up at Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, Hannah Swirsky, is now working as Campaigns Officer for René Cassin.
It’s no accident that Jewish input was so central to the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In her book, A Magna Carta for all Humanity, homing in on human rights, published in 2015 to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, Professor Francesca Klug, who played a major role in the creation of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 for which she was awarded an OBE, shows how Jewish teaching informed the Universal Declaration.
So, perhaps 10th December should be added to the Jewish calendar. As it happens, for decades now the Liberal and Reform movements have observed Human Rights Shabbat on the nearest Shabbat to the 10th. Of course, there are other times in the Jewish year, when we can focus on human rights, not least at Pesach, Sukkot and Chanukkah. This year, Chanukkah, the festival of ‘dedication’, begins quite early, and as it happens the eighth and final day falls on 10th December. As we light the Chanukkiyyah each evening, and see the flames accumulating night after night, may our commitment to increasing the light in memory of the Maccabean struggle against Imperial tyranny, inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to the continuing task of protecting human rights here in Britain and extending human rights throughout the world. Chanukkah Samei’ach!