Two big stories here in the UK were the confirmation of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III and the horse meat scandal where several major food retailers have been found to have horse meat in their beef products, including lasagne.
If you are about to correct my Italian in the title – don’t. Lasagne is the plural of lasagna and in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III called for just one horse, not several.
A further disgusting discovery was that Halal meat provided to prisons was found to contain pork.
As a vegetarian, I can say this is a subject to keep well away from.
But as a blogger thinking very hard about how to link my ‘clever’ blog title to my usual theme of Israel. the Jews and the media, I’ll plunge straight in.
‘As a Jew’ (I always wanted to say that) – as a Jew, I am aware that the Jewish dietary laws have kept Jews extremely fastidious about their food over the centuries. Kashrut, the laws governing what is kosher, not only stipulate what we eat, but how it is to be killed and how it is to be processed.
Most Jews, observant or not, would also source their meat from a kosher butcher. Even those that might stray and eat out at non-kosher restaurants, would not bring non-kosher meat into the home. Keeping kosher is a cornerstone of Jewish life. It is what helps us define ourselves as Jews. And it doesn’t just apply to meat.
Kosher meat is supervised from the point of slaughter to the butcher or the kosher food outlet. It has to have a ‘hechsher’ an endorsement from a rabbinical court that this food is strictly in accordance with the laws of kashrut.
This system of supervision makes it very difficult indeed for any contamination by non-kosher products to take place.
A recent case in the US caused huge controversy when an orthodox butcher was found to be selling non-kosher meat as kosher. He received a severe prison sentence. But as far as I know the meat he was purveying was still from kosher animals, it just had not been slaughtered or supervised according to kashrut. I don’t believe any horses or pigs were involved.
Another practice Jews go in for is washing. Orthodox Jews wash their hands a lot; before praying, before eating.
These days, most people observe a level of hygiene that is relatively recent. Jews have been doing this for millennia.
In the middle ages, as plague and disease devastated Europe, Jews were noticeably less affected. The reason: food and personal hygiene. As the reasons for this were poorly understood, Jews were accused of poisoning wells and being the agents of plague whilst remaining untouched. Thus, in return for showing the way to reducing contagion, the Jews brought ever greater calumny upon themselves.
So, during the current horse meat controversy, which I am sure will lead to more regulation and more expensive food, Jews have quietly and, yes, smugly, whistled to themselves knowingly.
Jews often complain about the cost of kosher meat. It is more expense because it is supervised. That supervision costs money and the supervisors have to earn a living. Result: kosher meat is much more expensive than non-kosher. That may be about to change.
And what about dear Richard III scion of the House of York?
I watched the Channel 4 programme “The King in the Car Park’. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen and I urge all of you who can see this on the Channel 4 Catch Up.
I guess you have to have a certain interest in history, and maybe Shakespeare as well, to understand just how incredible the discovery of Richard III is.
Since the Norman Conquest, only one monarch’s whereabouts was unknown; only one king died in battle: Richard III.
The story of how one middle-aged woman’s obsession with rehabilitating Richard’s reputation, and finding him, led to the discovery is one I will leave to the documentary makers.
The question for me was why I, too, found this story so moving. It was truly like a film script designed to be sensational and completely unlikely. Yet, it is true, due to luck, determination and amazing forensic archaeology we are as sure as we can be that the bones are those of Richard and they tell a gruesome story of his last moments.
I was always pro Richard. When politicians of the 15th and 16th centuries needed to confirm the legitimacy of the new king, Henry VII, they did so by attacking Richard’s reputation, turning him into a monster and exaggerating his physical characteristics to support their demonisation of the man.
Although his involvement with the Princes in the Tower and their disappearance is problematical, nothing is proved. We just don’t know if they were killed or by who and by whose orders if they were. Certainly Richard was no worse than many a late mediaeval prince.
We also now know that he was disabled with scoliosis hence his reputation as a ‘hunchback’ and was somewhat feminine in appearance. Yet, he was a warrior king who recklessly imperilled his own life and fought bravely to the last.
The portrait we have of him shows quite a handsome man. The reconstruction of his face I believe is too youthful and too fleshy but is even more handsome.
The romance of finding the much-maligned king under a municipal car park in Leicester, and for his remains to confirm so much we know only from history, makes this king, for me, one of our greatest. He reigned for two years only. The people of Yorkshire are documented as believing him to be a good prince who cared for his people. His local reputation has remained intact across the centuries.
So how can I relate good King Richard to my usual subject?
The idea of an individual being demonised across the centuries, his physical features exaggerated to a grotesque caricature, his motives questioned, his becoming the personification of evil, all has resonance with what is happening and has happened to Jews and Israel. Far-fetched linkage? Maybe.
The Tudors were politically motivated to paint Richard as black and as dastardly as possible. The more negatively he was portrayed to a gullible public and subsequent generations, the more noble and legitimate they appeared
Yet Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was tenuous compared to Richard. Who was the usurper? The Tudor dynasty lasted a hundred years or so, and what an assortment they turned out to be. Once you get the people to believe the Big Lie, it is very hard to overturn it or to persuade anyone of the opposing view. Such is human nature that we quite like our demons and our hate-objects.
So a warning from history; be careful who you hate and examine your motives. No person or group is perfect, but no person or group is totally irredeemably evil either. With some rare exceptions.
I hope that the discovery of Richard will lead to a better understanding and a fairer assessment of his reign. If he does prove to be a murderer, I fear I shall still find him a much more attractive figure than many who succeeded him.