Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • How many religious youth become secular?

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 18, 2008

    Tzohar, a (usually) wonderful group that does much to advance religious-secular relations in Israel, held its annual conference recently - and for once focused on issues affecting the religious community. One of the topics that came up was how Orthodox parents deal with children who leave the path of religion.

    In the course of Ha'aretz's piece on the conference, reporter Yair Sheleg comes up with this astonishing claim:

    Prof. Shraga Fischerman of Orot Israel College in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, who chaired the session on children who leave religion, said that about 25 percent of religious Zionist youths "defect" to secular lifestyles.

  • 'This weird guy'

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 18, 2008

    The former long-time Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Bassiouni, has provoked the wrath of the Egyptian authorities after claiming that he was sent to Israel primarily as a spy; calling Ariel Sharon a "sleeping corpse"; and confirming allegations that Nasser's brother-in-law, Ashraf Marwan, who fell off a balcony in London late last year in mysterious circumstances, was a double agent working for both the Israelis and the Egyptians.

    But one magnificent quote stands head-and-shoulders above the rest:

    Bassiouni said that when he brought Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to meet Mubarak, the latter was angry at him and bluntly said, “What are you doing bringing me this weird guy?”

  • Julie Burchill's semichah programme

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 15, 2008

    Julie Burchill - the most enthusiastic advocate of Jews and Zionism in the British media - has made an amazing discovery:

    Dawkins' critique of Judaism seems way too aggressive, when one compares it to the excesses of other belief systems. The oldest and least evangelical of the monotheistic religions, it is also arguably the most civilised and liberal; there are female judges and rabbis in the Old Testament, which makes the C of E's foot-dragging over the ordination of women look a bit sad.

    Female rabbis in the Old Testament?  With Julie Burchill as their advocate, Rabbi Sacks just might be in trouble....

  • Why I hope the case against Olmert proceeds

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 15, 2008

    The key witness in one of the several cases against Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, American businessman Morris Talansky, has declared that he won’t be returning to Israel in order to complete his testimony.

    Olmert’s people say this shows how unreliable a witness he is – and leaves the prosecution’s case in tatters. The prosecution retorts that its case is still strong, and that Olmert will still be indicted.

    And I hope the prosecution is right.

  • A-levels – how much do they really matter?

    Candice Krieger
    Aug 15, 2008

    So, it has been another record year for A-levels results. The national pass rate soared above 97 per cent for the first time. Jewish schools in particular were celebrating – Immanuel College achieved a 100 per cent pass rate for the third year running, with students at King David High School in Manchester gaining an average of two A grades and one B each.

    Yet let’s not get too excited by all the hype.

    I would like to spare a thought – and offer some consoling words – for the students who didn’t do so well. I am a strong advocate for a decent education, having myself followed the school-more school-and university route, but I don’t believe exams are the best indicator of potential or employability. In fact, exams really aren’t the be all and end all. Many of the most accomplished and prominent players in the business world left school without an A, O, G, C, S or E between them.

  • Why Marks still can't find its spark

    Jan Shure
    Aug 14, 2008

    Don't believe the hype. Marks & Spencer's latest bid to recapture a sassy, style-conscious customer base with yet another niche "collection" - this time called Autograph Essentials- is a triumph of hype over wearability. Despite the extravagant claims to the contrary (Autograph Essentials "falls into the buying less and investing better bracket", according to head of M&S womenswear, Kate Bostock), it is yet again a dispiriting and disappointing collection. The fabrics are unpleasant, the colours are horrid and dull and the attention to fit and detail (as opposed to details) is zero.

    In case you are wondering about the relevance of this seemingly random fashion rant to JC readers, not only are a lot of JC readers women - and women who buy clothes, and once bought many, many clothes at Marks & Spencer - but the history of that particular company pulls us atavistically. No matter how Aryan M&S becomes, and how far M& S travels from its roots among those immigrants from the Polish shtetls and the "don't ask the price, everything's a penny" beginnings of Simon Marks, we still feel a connection to the firm and the Sieff-Sacher dynasty whose sons, daughters and grandchildren are writ large across the history of Israel. And that is without any proprietorial feelings we retain about the family's contribution to British retailing.

    I sometimes wonder - indeed, I speculated in a feature some seven years ago in the pages of the JC - whether it is entirely coincidental that M&S began its decline at just around the time that the last members of the Sieff and Sacher families departed the M&S board room. It seems there was something about the resolutely middle class and aspirational values of the founding family - in particular Marcus (later Lord) Sieff, who was chairman from 1972 to 1984 - and of the (predominantly Jewish) men and women who worked at the firm's Baker Street HQ, that translated into merchandise of a quality and style that customers clamoured to buy, and which the present regime seems unable to replicate no matter how much presentational spin and PR effort they expend. In those days, M&S produced designer copies just weeks after they had appeared on the catwalks, but in fabrics that were often of the same quality as the designer originals.

  • L'chaim - to life! Even in the grave...

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 14, 2008

    The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) was recently confronted with an unusual halachic question. As their press release explains:

    A German Jew who passed away had expressed as his last will a peculiar request: to be buried together with a bottle of Vodka.

    As the community rabbi heard this weird request, he immediately contacted the RCE's office in order to forward this question to one of the RCE's halachic experts in order to determine if it is permissible to place a bottle of vodka in the grave of the man. The Jew emigrated from Russia in the 70s and was not connected to the local Jewish community. However, a good friend of his, a regular participant of community events and an acquaintance of the local Rabbi, delivered this last message of his friend to the rabbi.

  • What to read today

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 14, 2008
    • -- A court in Illinois has struck down a will by a couple who stipulated that their grandchildren would only receive their inheritance if they married within the Jewish faith. This piece argues the decision was correct

    -- London isn’t the only place where an eruv fight has turned ugly:

    An anti-eruv ad in a local weekly asked, “Is Westhampton Beach an Orthodox Jewish Community? ... Don’t let it happen.” E-mails and rumors have warned that local shops were being coerced into closing on Saturdays.

    -- Honest Reporting asks why The Guardian includes the “Hamas military wing” in its list of “useful links”

  • Rubbing salt into an already gaping wound

    Danny Caro
    Aug 14, 2008

    Spare a thought for Jo Ankier. Last month she was devastated to miss out on the Team GB Olympic squad. The selectors chose Hattie Dean ahead of her as the third member of the 3,000 metres steeplechase.

    Ankier, 26, finished third at the national Olympic trials which Dean failed to attend, nursing a fractured tibia.

    As revealed, the Barnet Shaftesbury Harrier told me that "there was no way Dean would be fit in time". How right she was.

  • Olmert's Pointless Peace Plan

    Daniella Peled
    Aug 13, 2008
    Ehud Olmert, in the dying hours of his administration, has apparently presented the Palestinians with a “peace deal” – but unfortunately one so pointless that is has been rejected by the Palestinians and ignored by Israel.
    This plan seems to have all the familiar elements – land swaps, renunciation of the refugees right-of-return, a demilitarised Palestine – while ignoring some rather crucial issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the future of the Jordan Valley.
    And the territorial exchanges it suggests are not exactly practical.
    The borders of the future Palestinian state are not going to exactly follow the 1967 lines. Everyone expects some kind of land swap. But this kind of acknowledgement of “facts on the ground” – ie whole swathes of West Bank settlement blocs annexed to Israel – doesn’t even make for a legitimate start to negotiations.
    Not to forget the fact that this whole plan is dependent on the Palestinian Authority regaining control over Gaza, and is only a toothless interim agreement proposed by a lame duck Israeli leader so weak that he makes Mahmoud Abbas seem like a towering pillar of strength and unity.
    The late Yasir Arafat faced justifiable criticism for rejecting Ehud Barak’s 2000 proposals at Camp David; but no-one could honestly expect President Mahmoud Abbas to do anything but reject this latest deal out of hand. Which he did. His spokesman said the whole initiative was “a waste of time” and the Israeli media appeared to agree - and barely bothered to report it.