The Chief Rabbi on the importance of Christian faith
Right now the Jewish community is in the midst of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Each night for eight days we light a candelabrum, a menorah, in memory of the one that stood in the temple in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago.
The festival commemorates one of the world's first and most fateful clashes of civilisations, between the two cultures that shaped the entire heritage of the west: ancient Greece and ancient Israel.
Israel had been conquered by Greece in the days of the Alexander the Great. For more than a century there was peace. Then one Hellenistic ruler, Antiochus 4th, decided to ban the practice of Judaism and placed a pagan statue in the temple. Jews fought back, won their freedom, and rededicated the temple. Hanukkah means rededication.
What I find fascinating, though, is how this victory was understood. At first it was seen as a military victory. But it didn't last for long. Within a century Israel was again under foreign rule, this time the Romans. And it was then that people began to realise that the real meaning of Hanukkah wasn't military, it was spiritual. Though they lost their land, Jews didn't lose their faith. Had they done so, not only would there be no Judaism today; but also no Christianity or Islam.
Which brings us to today. Two days ago there was a debate in Parliament about the future of Christianity in Britain. The community cohesion minister argued that Britain should celebrate its Christian heritage and all it has meant to British identity and culture. The odd thing was that the minister, Parmjit Dhanda, is a Sikh. And I as a Jew want to echo his words.
What Hanukkah tells us is that the real victories, the ones that last, are spiritual. They rarely make the news; they happen quietly, almost imperceptibly. But what sustains a nation is its culture and its faith and the way it hands them on across the generations.
Lose that and neither politics nor economics will do as a substitute. Empires have come and gone. In their day they seemed impregnable but each exists now only in history books and museums. Faith survives; and the only societies that have endured for long have been held together by a sense of the sacred.
Today Britain is home to many faiths, but I hope it doesn't lose its own, the Christian faith that inspired its greatest poetry, its finest architecture, and its bravest battles in defence of freedom. Happy Hanukkah.