Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • The heresy hunt comes to Europe

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 19, 2015

    Two years after a brave young American rabbi published an online essay, the row it provoked continues to rumble.

    You could not say that Rabbi Zev Farber’s thoughts were revolutionary. Others had expressed similar ideas before. But he opened the lid on a box that the Orthodox establishment in the States as well as elsewhere has tried to keep well and firmly shut for many years.

    He could no longer accept the classical Orthodox belief that the Torah was simply dictated intact from heaven to Moses during the Israelites’ years in the wilderness; its text was edited over time by divinely inspired prophets, he argued. The sanctity of Torah still remained for him; it was just that his interpretation of Torah miSinai, Torah from Sinai, differed from the norm.

  • What to do about the children of intermarried couples?

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 17, 2015

    Inreach or outreach? It’s a continuing dilemma for policy-makers in Jewish communities.

    Do you target your educational efforts on those who are already within the communal loop – synagogue members, Jewish day school pupils etc? Or do you try to engage the widest spectrum of Jews, or even potential Jews? If money were no object, of course, you would not have to choose.

    When the intermarriage rate is now close to 60 per cent, as it is in the United States - and 70 per cent of the majority non-Orthodox Jewish population who have recently married have a non-Jewish partner - then it is harder to ignore the children of mixed marriages.

  • Israel, British Jews and the religious divide

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 12, 2015

    The findings of the City University survey on British-Jewish attitudes to Israel will no doubt be talked and argued about over Friday night tables, Saturday morning kiddush and elsewhere over the next few days.

    While some of the headline stats will attract attention – massive opposition to settlement expansion and concern at the Israeli government’s stance on peace - the report overall presents a more complex and nuanced picture of British Jew’s relationship with Israel.

    One striking trend is the relationship between religious affiliation and dovishness. It is not new – as the authors of the report note, it was reported on by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research 20 years ago. But the latest figures present it in more depth.

  • Does the Jewish community care about climate change?

    Amy Leckerman
    Nov 6, 2015

    A few months ago we were told to start thinking about our dissertation – the 10,000-word research project that would be the biggest piece of work we would submit at university.

    I study geography at the University of Sussex, which isn’t a popular subject for Jewish students here; there are two of us in my year of over 100 students. Yet I’ve always been interested in it, and particularly so when it comes to climate change as it is such a topical and constantly debated issue.

    Media, experience in extreme weather events and religion have all had a massive influence on people’s perceptions. However Christianity was the only religion discussed during lectures on the topic. There was no mention of Judaism or any other religion.

  • Here we are, the Jews again

    Marcus Dysch
    Nov 4, 2015

    “Here we are, the Jews again.”

    That was the infamous welcome Sir Gerald Kaufman offered when his fellow Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman rose to speak in the Commons in March 2011.

    I wonder though, as we wade through yet another antisemitism row in Westminster, whether it is also becoming a standard reaction in the corridors of power whenever the Jewish community raises its indignation over the latest outrageous antisemitic comments of one of our politicians.

  • Schism and Jews

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 4, 2015

    It is difficult to know how far the conflict over Orthodox women rabbis in America will go but the battle lines were drawn more sharply over the past week.

    The mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America condemned the ordination of women, whether they go by the title of rabbi or not, while Agudath Israel branded “Open Orthodoxy”, in effect, a heretical movement.

    “Open Orthodoxy” refers to a group of institutions linked to Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, among them Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the most modern of modern Orthodox rabbinic schools, and Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution in America to ordain Orthodox women as spiritual leaders.

  • Remembering David Cesarani - my teacher

    Imogen Dalziel
    Oct 28, 2015

    The first time I met David Cesarani was in 2013, when my father and I travelled to Royal Holloway to discuss the MA in Holocaust Studies that he ran. I’d seen him in documentaries, heard him on the radio and read his articles in newspapers and magazines; in short, I knew he was something of a Big Deal.

    So there I found myself, sitting opposite him in his rather cramped office on the university campus, expressing my interest in the Holocaust and learning more about it. He seemed somewhat amused when he asked what academic books I’d read on the subject and I replied that I’d just finished Laurence Rees’ ’Auschwitz’… erm, but I’d been to Auschwitz and Dachau. At the end of the meeting, however, he smiled and said he looked forward to welcoming me in September. My father was extremely proud that I was going to be taught by the Professor David Cesarani, such an eminent historian and someone who would surely lead me to great opportunities in my studies and beyond.

    He was right, on both accounts. During my MA, David taught two of my courses – ‘The History of the Holocaust’ and ‘Faith, Politics and the Jews of Europe, 1848-1918’. He would usually have a page of a few, short notes (although, to his detriment, had sometimes misplaced them, to great cries of, “Oh, damn! They’re in here somewhere!”) but hardly ever referred to them during the two-hour seminars he held. His knowledge of both subjects was vast; he peppered the facts with details, anecdotes and often humorous impressions of everyone from an Orthodox German Jew to Count de Clermont-Tonnerre of France. His recommended reading list for each course, however, certainly said something about his expectations of his students. More than once we all had the fear of God put into us when we couldn’t answer a question such as, “What were the details from the minutes of the meeting in the Berlin Air Ministry on 12th November, 1938?” David was not a teacher that you wanted to disappoint, but trying to match him on his expertise was an impossible task!

  • I'd like to thank my mother for this award...

    Sandy Rashty
    Oct 22, 2015

    We’ve all seen it before.

    People win an award, walk up to the stage, say they never expected such a thing to ever happen – and then proceed to whip out a neat set of pre-prepared ‘thank you ever so much’ notes.

    Last night, I was presented with the Young Journalist of the Year Award at the GG2 annual awards ceremony – an event that recognises the contributions of ethnic minorities to Britain.

  • Jewish mentor scheme taught me vital lessons about the world of work

    Jordan Freud
    Oct 21, 2015

    “Don’t go into journalism for the money; get experience and cuttings if you want a job; making contacts is vital.”

    These are probably the three most often-offered pieces of advice for aspiring journalists.

    From my limited personal experience, I would say that networking and “getting your foot through the door” can be the most difficult in usual circumstances. That is why I joined Jewish education charity Ort-Jump’s mentor scheme.

  • The United Synagogue and free speech

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 20, 2015

    On the Richter Scale of communal controversies, it may have registered low. But you might still catch the tremor if you put your ear closer to the ground.

    The Chief Rabbi’s recent warning to his rabbis not to host “inappropriate speakers” in their synagogues inevitably raises the question: what does the United Synagogue (US) stand for and what kind of Orthodoxy does it represent.

    The Chief Rabbi did not spell out who he was warning against, only that synagogues should avoid speakers “who represent a hashkafah [outlook] which encourages practices which run contrary to our normative United Synagogue approach”.