Shabbat in Cambridge – Friday Night Dinner


Keeping Shabbat in a place like Cambridge, is a logistical exercise. I decided not to light candles in the dormitory as I was afraid of the triggering the smoke detector, instead, I made the benediction over the candles on the table at the banquet.

One of the problems with having watched Mama Mia the previous evening, is that sometimes various lyrics popped up in my head, such as Friday night and the lights are low.
On the Shabbat, Jews are prohibited from carrying from one jurisdiction to another. This posed a challenge when sleeping in Murray Edwards but eating in St Edmunds, so near, yet so far. I left my room key in a pigeon hole in Murray Edwards corridor, and took a small bottle of Kosher wine, the challa and a prayer book over to St Edmunds before dusk.
In the summer recess, the Cambridge Synagogue does not have Friday night prayers. As there was a crucifix on the wall in the dining hall, I decided to pray in the gardens.

The 15th Duke of Northfolk

The 15th Duke of Northfolk

This is a portrait of the 15th Duke of Northolk that hangs in the dining hall.

Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun

Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun

As can be seen from the photograph alongside, Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, maverick member of the Gush Emmunim (the block of the Faithful, a Messianic Settler movement), a Bible scholar with interests including Biblical Archaeology, bears an uncanny relationship to the Duke.

Van Hugel, (c) St Edmund's College

Van Hugel, (c) St Edmund’s College

Here is a picture of Von Hügel,

Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Louis Jacobs

and one of the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs (17 July 1920 – 1 July 2006,[1]), perhaps the most brilliant scholar to graduate Gateshead and Manchester Yeshivas.In 1957, Rabbi Jacobs published a controversial book called ‘We Have Reason to Believe’ in which he tried to reconcile modern day Orthodox Jewish faith with the Documentary Hypothesis. Deeming his views heretical, then Chief Rabbi Brodie blocked his becoming the principle of Jews College and his return to the New West End Synagogue, resulting in the community defecting with him and his establishing of what became the Massorti Movement which is roughly equivalent to Conservative Judaism in the US.

The other portraits of College notables on the wall (and the crucifix) looked decidedly Catholic.

One of the most awful sitcoms on British television is about a typically dysfunctional Jewish family and their Friday Night Dinner.

Friday night dinner

I can assure you that the Friday night banquet in Cambridge was nothing like that portrayed in the sitcom. It was also nothing like the Friday night dinner I have (and sometimes enjoy, if the kids aren’t playing up) with my family. Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable.

The tables had name cards. The napkins were folded like Bishop’s mitres. I found myself sitting between Dr Phoebe Li and a barrister called Mark Engleberg.

After a Latin grace, everyone sat down except me. Like Shakespeare, I have small latine and little Greeke, but from what I could follow, the grace didn’t relate to the Exodus from Egypt or God’s creation of the World.

I read the Kiddush (Hebrew Grace) quietly, and Mark answered Amen and told me that it had been a while since he’d heard Kiddush. He is a fellow of St Edmunds and, it turns out, is an ex Hasmo boy. Hasmonean is a Jewish parochial school in London, which I had attended, apparently about a decade after Mark. (It always struck me as rather a Jesuit institution, with teachers having Rabbinic ordination in subjects such as maths and art).

The chief chef apologized that since it was college holiday time, they only had a Kosher main course for me, which was fish. He asked if I’d like something else, and I suggested fruit salad for dessert.

I mated my challa with the (probably Kosher) bread roll for HaMotzi, as breaking bread on Shabbat requires a double portion, reminiscent of the double portion of Manna in the desert (see Exodus 16:23-24) and the double wrapped, Hermolis fried haddock, mashed potato and spinach was perfectly adequate. Indeed, on Roman asking about it, I told him that with two such meals and five bread rolls, I could have fed everyone (see Matthew 14:13-21).

It is not only Jews that have odd dietary laws of course. The following is faithfully copied from the Conference Programme:

Note for Roman Catholic Delegates concerning Friday Dining

Please note that for Roman Catholics who ordinarily are bound by the Friday meat abstinence regulation of the Catholics Bishopss’ Conference of England and Wales, a special dispensation from the regulation has been granted by the local ordinary, the RT Rev Alan Hopes, Bishop of East Anglia, for those attending the Patents on Life conference.

I realized that at a pinch I could have had the bishop sprinkle some holy water over the main course, and baptize it as fish.

I mentioned to Dr Phoebe Li that I felt that like patents, I felt that copyright should be renewable up to 20 years from conception, since I did not see any justification for the ever longer periods of protection. She corrected me, noting that patents were for at least 20 years, quoting the various international treaties. I asked if she had ever practiced, and discovered, as I’d anticipated, that she was an academic who lectured in patent law but did not write or prosecute patents. Dr Li is, of course correct. However, so am I. From the perspective of patentees a patent issues and periodically renewal fees must be paid to keep it in force for up to 20 years (25 for pharmaceutical drugs in certain circumstances).

The dinner that the others were eating looked delicious, and, according to Phoebe, was as good as it looked.

With the candles in front of me, conversation was limited to my two neighbours. The Master, the Honorable Matthew Bullock spoke very well.

I left my prayer book at the porter’s desk, and was chuffed Saturday night to find it adorned with a Post It label stating “left by the Rabbi”. I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make until I open my mouth…

Here is an ecumenical joke about fried fish.

Rabbi Cohen was on his way home in the pouring rain and his path led past a monastry. his friend the Abbott invited him in to get out of the rain and told him that he was just in time for supper in the refectory. Rabbi Cohen demurred but the Abbott informed him that the menu was fish and chips, so it was all perfectly Kosher.
The fish and chips was delicious and Rabbi Cohen wished to complement the chef. Two priests came over. “I am the fish friar” one said. “Let me guess, said Rabbi Cohen to the other, “You must be the chip monk!”   

Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies

  1. Dear Michael,
    I just graduated from Cambridge, studying Law and specifically enjoying the IP class with Dr. Catherine Seville, who is specialized in copyright.

    I enjoyed your recent post about the Murray Edwards Friday night dinner. I was myself at Lucy Cavendish, another all women college, and flu d the Friday night experience

    • Sorry I clicked by mistake-
      I was about to say that I found the Friday night dinner similarly strange.

      I hope you have enjoyed your stay overall in Cambridge nonetheless and that you got to meet Cambridge’s excellent IP academics.


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