Last week, I was cleaning out one of the drawers in my desk. At the back, I found a long-forgotten door key. As I was about to toss it in the wastebasket something stopped me. My house has many doors, perhaps this key fitted one, perhaps this key was still useful. I wandered from door to door, trying to get a fit but with no luck. This key was a definite misfit.
Again, my hand hovered over the wastebasket but again an invisible force took over; I couldn’t bring myself to release the key. OK, I thought, what is this key trying to tell me? We Jews have had lots of experience with keys; over the centuries, keys have been used to lock us in and to lock us out – in to the ghettos of Europe and out of golf clubs in Britain.
We have a large body of learned rabbinical opinion about the humble key. We cannot carry anything on Shabbat, so what do we do with our keys? Our rabbis have invented all sorts of tricks; you can wear your key on a chain around your neck, make your key part of your belt buckle; the possibilities are endless just as long as you don’t put your key in your pocket.
Now, keys go with locks and we Jews are also experts on locks.
In many hotels today, the guests’ rooms have electronic locks with a special key-card that unlocks the door. We Jews cannot open doors with an electronic lock on Shabbat. Even the key-card is considered ‘mukseh’, off-limits, and cannot be touched. In Israel, hotels are well aware of the problem and a Shabbat-conforming workaround is always available, but hotels in the very large Chutz-La’Aretz, abroad, can be very problematic.
We are all familiar with those other locks, the side-locks, or ‘payot’, worn by the ultra-Orthodox. These too have brought us trouble. In 1845, the practice of Jews wearing payot so threatened the Russian Empire that it was banned. It must have given the Jews much pleasure to know that they could bring down an empire by throwing away their razors.
Of course, not all locks are bad. Who has not enjoyed a breakfast with a bagel and a generous portion of lox!
We in Israel know all about bolts. How many times have we seen the headline: ‘Ultra-Orthodox threaten to bolt government if ….’? I’m sure that you can fill in the blank.
By now you must be wondering where I am wandering with all this nonsense. Well, let’s go back to my key. It doesn’t fit anything, it is of no use for anything. It cannot open a door and let the fresh air blow in. Without its lock, I had no way of telling if this key was Europe-oriented (the teeth go into the lock’s cylinder facing up) or America-oriented (teeth facing down). Politically, this key was a mystery.
But, on closer inspection, all became clear. The manufacturer’s name is plainly visible – Corbin. Yes, the key that I was unable to throw away is a soulmate of the equally useless but un-sackable British Prime Minister-in-waiting Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s a pity that we can’t put Corbyn at the back of a drawer and forget about him.
A historical note.
In 1902, Henry Russell and Cornelius Erwin merged their lock company with P. and F. Corbin to form the American Hardware Corporation. Later, Black and Decker purchased the company and created the present-day Corbin Russwin.