Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • More Britain's Got Talmud

    Simon Rocker
    May 27, 2009

    The Talmud is second only to the Bible in religious importance for Jews: or as Rabbi Norman Solomon elegantly puts it, “If Scripture is the sun, the Talmud is the moon that reflects its light.”
    Today, there are probably more Jews than at any time in history seriously studying Talmud, but still its language and difficult style make it inaccessible to the majority.
    But now you can take a dip into the debates of the ancient rabbis more easily. A selection of Talmud has just come out as a Penguin Classic, translated with an introduction by Rabbi Solomon. You can sample an extract in our Judaism section.

  • A mystery

    Jenni Frazer
    May 27, 2009

    I have just tried to find an Israeli residential phone number via international directory inquiries.

    I was in the middle of spelling the town name when the (very nice) operator stopped me. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I can't look it up. It's all in Hebrew. Business numbers are in English, residential numbers are in Hebrew." And, she added, trying to be helpful, "Hebrew is a very difficult language."

    Is this a new development? And if so, at whose instigation?
    I'd like to be told.

  • Britain's Got Talmud

    Simon Rocker
    May 26, 2009

    If you want a rabbinic take on the Susan Boyle phenomenon, try this from Yitzchok Addlestein writing on the Cross Currents blog:

    A frequently repeated motif of the coverage she received is that she was deprived of years of her life because she devoted them to the care of her aged mother. She was underemployed, and sang only at the church she regularly attended. It was only after her mother’s death that she thought of publicly competing, something she had tried decades earlier without much success. Devoting her life to her mother made her pitiable; people were delighted that at times, the loser can turn things around.

    In our circles, of course, we’ve heard the story before. Had Dama ben Nesina (Kiddushin 31A) lived today, he would probably also be seen as a loser, for losing an opportunity for a windfall profit because he did not want to dishonor his father by rousing him from his sleep. We can imagine the looks of condescension he received for an entire year. “Poor chap. It’s lovely that he still cherishes that old value of caring for the old folks, but he took it a wee too far, didn’t he?” When an extremely rare parah adumah was born to him a year later, and he sold it for a handsome profit after all, some of those former critics might have cheered. Nice guys sometimes do come out ahead – despite themselves.

  • Make mine a Gibson (please don't)

    Jenni Frazer
    May 26, 2009

    It seems only yesterday — in fact it was just over three years ago — that columnists and commentators were falling over themselves to badmouth Hollywood bad boy Mel Gibson. Gibson, it will be remembered, had fully illustrated the reality of "in vino veritas" by indulging in an antisemitic tirade when pulled over by the police for being drunk.

    I recall at the time forecasting that it wouldn't take long before Hollywood would re-clasp Gibson to its bosom since he is, of course, fabulously wealthy.

    And so it proved today as chat-show host Jay Leno was all over Gibson like a rash, the occasion being manly congratulations on the film star having got his Russian girlfriend pregnant. Lest it be forgotten, Gibson, though in the throes of divorce, is still married and has seven children with his wife.

  • A political kicking

    Stephen Pollard
    May 25, 2009

    As Peter Hoskin writes at Coffee House: Wow.

    Here's the footage of Andrew MacKay getting a real kicking from his constituents last week. It's visceral. 

    If Julie Kirkbride is getting anything like that treatment on her patch, she's toast.

  • The Pope Revisited

    Simon Rocker
    May 21, 2009

    Pope Benedict XVI may have made no faux pas during his visit to the Middle East but you might have got the impression that he had a rather cool reception in Israel. There were various gripes – eg “Survivors angered by Pope's ‘lukewarm’ Yad Vashem speech”.

    However, one rabbinical interfaith expert, Rabbi David Rosen (chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations) said there was an “amazing disparity” between what actually happened there and some of the press coverage.

    It was a “great visit” and “certainly a great contribution for Catholic-Jewish relations,” he told a breakfast briefing today for the Council of Christians and Jews during a stopover in London.

  • The evil done

    Stephen Pollard
    May 20, 2009

    Oliver Kamm rightly points out, with regard to child abuse in Ireland, that

    The word "scandal" is often overplayed. But in this case, it is scarcely
    adequate to the evil that the Roman Catholic Church - not just some
    individual, errant priest - has done.

    Precisely. That is why I have always felt it repugnant, given his behaviour, that a man such as the former Cardinal, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, should have offered moral lessons to the rest of us. As a BBC profile put it:

  • Esther's manifesto (probably)

    Alex Kasriel
    May 20, 2009

    Esther Rantzen is strongly considering standing as MP in Luton South.

    This is a brilliant idea. The 68-year-old has a very good chance of winning especially at a time when the rest of the MPs are about as popular as a food free wedding.

    She may not have won the public vote during appearances on various reality TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing and I'm a Celebrity...Get Me out of Here! but she was not unpopular. And the skill set of the former That's Life! star and ChildLine founder, is far more suited to politics.

  • Boycott the boycotters

    Marcus Dysch
    May 20, 2009

    The capitulation by organisers of the Edinburgh Film Festival is, I think, more shocking than most examples of the Israel boycott we’ve previously seen.

    Had the organisers decided off their own backs to not accept the Israeli Embassy’s money to fly in director Tali Shalom Ezer it would have been bad enough.

    But to so openly base the decision on the ramblings of Ken Loach almost beggars belief.

  • Grauniad nonsense

    Stephen Pollard
    May 20, 2009

    I have a penchant for flawed statistics. There's a cracker in today's Guardian:

    Only 6% of film directors are women, so Jane Campion is calling for an army of tough new recruits.

    Do I need to point out that this is drivel?