Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, the great teacher and story-teller to whose grave in Uman thousands make the pilgrimage every New Year, used to say: ‘Asur Lehitya’esh – It is forbidden to despair.’ To this was added, by him or by subsequent folklore the rhyme: ‘Rak Lismoach Yesh – Only and always be happy’. It won’t come as a surprise that
I pray for the robustness & moral strength of our parliamentary system & democratic processes. History shows how re… https://t.co/HoRv4DAXiAJonathan Wittenberg about 39 minutes ago
RT @HadleyFreeman: Today’s column is about how my neighbours are trying to step in and help those who the government has so desperately fai…Jonathan Wittenberg about 3 days ago
This Shabbat is #mentalhealth Shabbat @JamiPeople #headonuk https://t.co/nd7Q8niNyu 'We must keep faith that we wil… https://t.co/x5ZBexITDDJonathan Wittenberg about 4 days ago
RT @BoardofDeputies: We had a meeting at the @foreignoffice today to relay our concerns about antisemitism and human rights in Hungary. We…Jonathan Wittenberg about 6 days ago
RT @YvetteCooperMP: Very glad that the Commons has voted to support #Amendment7 Shows the determination in Parliament to come together to p…Jonathan Wittenberg about 6 days ago
Our family were lucky enough to spend the last week in a cottage in South Wales. Outside the front door, below a lawn, was a shallow, fast-flowing river. Behind the house stood the oaks and beeches of a thin ridge of forest, above which stretched the stony, heath-covered hills of the Brecon Beacons. I like to pray outside, even when
As it nears its close, few people are talking about 2018 in glowing terms. ‘Hard’, ‘gloomy’, ‘wearying’, ‘frightening’, are some of the adjectives I hear. The big issues, political, economic, environmental remain unresolved; they’ll be back next year. So we need hope, courage and tenacity in large quantities. ‘Spiritual resilience’, said my Sufi friend, which I think of as inner,
The family moved to London in 1963, where he attended University College School, specialising in classical and modern languages. He further developed his love of literature when reading English at King’s College Cambridge (1976-9). After two years teaching and social work in Israel and England he took a PGCE at Goldsmith’s College, London.
Already deeply involved in Jewish life, he trained for the rabbinate at Leo Baeck College London, receiving ordination in 1987, and continued his studies to gain a further rabbinic qualification from his teacher Dr. Aryeh Strikovsky in Israel.
Since then he has worked as rabbi of the New North London Synagogue and has taken a leading role in the development of the Masorti Movement for traditional non-fundamentalist Judaism in England. In 2008 he was appointed Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism in the UK.
He is a President of the Council of Christians and Jews and a member of the Council of Imams and Rabbis. He is a co-founder of Eco-Synagogue and deeply engaged in environmental issues. He is closely involved in supporting refugees. Further interests include pastoral work, hospice care, and literature, especially poetry. He teaches and speaks widely, including on Radio 4’s Prayer for the Day.
His publications include: ‘The Three Pillars of Judaism: A Search for Faith And Values’ (SCM Press, 1996); ‘The Laws of Life: A Guide to Traditional Jewish Practice at Times of Bereavement’ (Masorti Publications 1997) and ‘The Eternal Journey; Meditations on the Jewish Year’ (Joseph’s Bookstore 2001); The Silence of Dark Water: An Inner Journey (2008); Walking with the Light (2013); My Dear Ones: One family and The Final Solution (2016) and most recently Things my dog has taught me – about being a better human. He has also produced a popular children’s book ‘Shmendrick and the Croc’, beautifully illustrated by Barbara Jackson (Masorti Publications 2010)
Jonathan is married to Nicky Solomon; they have three children and a dog. He loves plants, animals, people, and woodland and mountain walks.
Things My Dog Has Taught Me
About Being A Better Human
Hodder & Stoughton (London, 2017) – ISBN 9781473664371
A dog’s guide to life – how to be a kinder, compassionate, more mindful and wiser human.
Anyone who has ever fallen hopelessly in love with a dog will know dogs have the capacity to love us back unconditionally, welcome us home with unbridled excitement, forgive us endlessly for our impatience, comfort us when we’re feeling low – and then play games with wholehearted contentment – bringing endless joy to our lives.
Dogs’ sheer zest for embracing life in all its fullness is something we humans can only marvel at. But can our dogs teach us to approach life in this full, technicolour way too? How to love and care for one another with unconditional acceptance; how to be fully present in someone’s company; how to be more mindful of the beauty of the natural world around us; how to comfort each other when we’re grieving or afraid; and, how to let excitement and joy bubble over in our hearts.
Dogs do all these things instinctively and more naturally than their human friends – yet they love us just the same. And in this charming and entertaining story of his beloved canine companion, Jonathan Wittenberg shares with dog lovers everwhere his inability to resist the big, brown-eyed look which says, ‘I’ll melt your heart if you even think of going out without me’, to the security he feels on a twenty-mile trek across the bleak Scottish Highlands with not a soul for a friend but his collie – and everything else he’s learned along the way.
‘A heartfelt and perceptive celebrating the unique bond between human and dog.’
- Reader’s Digest
My Dear Ones
One Family and the Final Solution
William Collins (London, 2016) – ISBN 9780008158033
A family’s story of human tenacity, faith and a race for survival in the face of unspeakable horror and cruelty perpetrated by the Nazi regime against the Jewish people.
Growing up in the safety of England, far away from his family’s past, Jonathan Wittenberg had never asked too many questions about his ancestors, although his father had told him Hitler murdered millions of people and ‘turned thousands of them into bars of soap, including several of your relatives.’
On a burning June day in Jerusalem, Jonathan, now a rabbi, and his family, bury his aunt Steffi in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Afterwards, Jonathan discovers a plain linen bag, nestled for years in a suitcase on her balcony, which delves him into his family history.
Through the war-time correspondence of his great-grandmother Regina, his great aunts and uncles Sophie, Trude and Alfred, Jonathan weaves together the strands of an ancient rabbinical family with the history of Europe during the Second World War.
My Dear Ones takes us on a tumultuous journey throughout Europe and the United States and tells the moving story of a family whose lives hang by a silken thread but whose faith in God remains unshakeable throughout.
‘One of Britain’s greatest religious thinkers – asking the toughest, and most enduring, questions. It’s time Britain got the chance to hear him in his own voice, telling his own story.’
- Jonathan Freedland
‘A powerful and illuminating book.’
- Edward Stourton
‘Moving – at times almost unbearably so – and fascinating.’
- Antonia Fraser
‘My Dear Ones evokes a whole lost world… heartrending and unputdownable.’
- Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger
- Times of Israel
‘A tour de force, and a subject very close to the hearts of so many.’
- Anne Sebba —
Walking with the Light
From Frankfurt to Finchley
Quartet Books Ltd. (London, 2013) – ISBN 978-0704372795
In 2010, with his dog Mitzpah by his side, Rabbi Wittenberg walked from his grandfather’s Frankfurt synagogue to his own, in Finchley, carrying the Ner Tamid – its Eternal Light – to co-shine forever in the newly built synagogue in North London. A film crew covered most of the trip and even Mitzpah wrote a blog, describing his experiences on the epic journey. Colleagues and friends accompanied them for some of the route and their discussions also contributed insights into the spiritual, social and political concerns that occupied the Rabbi’s thoughts as he continued More
“His erudition and humanity are admirable” – David Herman, TLS (full review)
“Armed with a battery-powered new tamid and accompanied by his faithful dog, Mitzpah, who allegedly wrote his own blog on his journey, Rabbi Wittenberg walks from Frankfurt to the Hook of Holland, musing along the way on the history of German Jewry” – Doreen Wachmann, Jewish Telegraph (full article)
The Silence of Dark Water
An Inner Journey
Robin Clark Ltd. and Joseph’s Bookstore (London, 2013) - ISBN 978 0 7043 7133 0
“It has been told you what is good, and what God seeks of you: only to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
The problems, responsibilities and, ultimately, the meaning of our lives have long been concerns of philosophers, poets, artists – indeed all thinkers, whether their religion informs their opinion or their disbelief challenges conventional wisdom. Jonathan Wittenberg writes from the Front Line.More
“The tone is that of a gentle friend, and listening to him makes one want to go away for a few days and reflect seriously on one’s own life.” Richard Harries, The Guardian (full review)
“he links traditional practice with modern thought, a critical approach with a deep love of midrash, profound knowledge of rabbinic sources with a sweeping familiarity with English literature.” Julia Neuberger, The JC (full review)
The Eternal Journey
Meditations on the Jewish Year
Aviv Press (New York, 2003) - ISBN 0-916219-25-9
A rigorous and compassionate approach to tradition, innovation and change is notable in this searching and lyrical celebration of the Jewish faith.
Though written with obvious pride in his faith, the issues Jonathon Wittenberg addresses affect us all. The result is a poetic, often moving, but above all profound work. This book is a guide to the way people can find meaning and purpose in a life seeking to reconcile the spiritual, the practical and the downright miserable within a tradition which has had a huge impact on Western intellectual thought. More
“The philosopher S. R. Hirsch referred to the calendar as the catechism of the Jews. Jonathan Wittenberg, in his remarkable book, has opened the Jewish calendar without dogma, but with a poetic sensibility that reveals the personal and collective wisdom and life force of an old-new people. This is a book for the heart, mind and soul of every reader.” -Harold M. Schulweis, author of For Those Who Can’t Believe and In God’s Mirror
Shmendrick and the Croc
Stories by Jonathan Wittenberg. Illustrated by Barbara Jackson
Masorti Press (London 2010)
“For years, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg has been regaling the children of New North London Synagogue with his tales of Shmendrick the mouse and his friend, Croc.
Now, others can enjoy the antics of the chocolate-loving rodent, with the arrival of Shmendrick and the Croc (Masorti Publications, £5.99), in which our hero takes us though the Jewish year and Jewish life, searching for meaning.
Shmendrick (the original puppet) arrived in a parcel More
The stories came into their own when his children became interested. “It became a Friday-night feature at our table that we’d do a very short Shmendrick incident, either related to a festival or not related to anything in particular.” From there, the adventures of Shmendrick travelled to children attending Gan Alon, NNLS’s nursery. Years later, when the synagogue began sending out weekly emails to the community, its rabbi began to write down the stories.”
(from a review in The JC by Anne Joseph. Full review)
With Healing on Its Wings
Contemplations in Times of Illness
Compiled by Jonathan Wittenberg and other members of NNLS. Illustrated by Barbara Jackson
Masorti Publications; PrintHouse Corporation - ISBN 0-9518002-13
“But to you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing on its wings.” (Malachi 3:20)
A booklet of prayers, psalms and images, compiled to give the reader company during periods of illness and recovery, and to lead the reader to his or her own reflections.
In traditional Jewish fashion the arrangement follows More
A Pesach Companion
Edited by Jonathan Wittenberg
Masorti Publications (London, 1997)
ISBN 0 9518802 3X
There are far more than four, or forty, questions that people ask about Pesach. This book is a response to some of them, from the practical—“Can I use my pots over Pesach or do I have to douse them in hot water?”—to the spiritual issues raised by the Festival of Freedom. It is intended to be a companion in those awful moments when the slavery of the preparation for Pesach seems overwhelming, and when one feels one will never know enough to lead one’s own seder.
Not just somewhere else’s concern (The Jewish Week 03/07/18)
Passover celebrates freedom for the people to serve (The Times 7/04/18)
Why dog owners are kinder, compassionate, more mindful and wiser humans (The Mirror 7/03/18)
Eco shul must be start of urgent, radical shift (The Jewish News 15/02/18)
Eco synagogues on recruiting drive for green project (The Jewish Chronicle 22/12/17)
Review: Things my dog has taught me (The Jewish News 30/11/17)
Animal Sentience – Do animals suffer (The Huffington Post 29/11/17)
How a pet changed a Rabbi’s life (The Guardian 11/11/17)
What the Rabbi learned from his dogs (The Jewish Chronicle – 9/10/17)
God does not inscribe our fate in a vast celestial tome (The Times – 9/9/17)
Balancing Tradition and Modernity, UK Masorti Judaism Allows Same-Sex Ceremonies (Jewish Philanthropy – 24/11/14)
Mitzvah Day is for everyone so get busy giving (The Times – 15/11/14)
We will let our congregations decide on gay union ceremonies (Jewish News – 13/11/14)