Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • A Common-sense proposal on conversion?

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 3, 2008

    Earlier this year an Israeli dayan made an extraordinary ruling which threatened retroactively to strip thousands of Israeli converts of their Jewish status. Fortunately, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has not endorsed his decision, so the converts can sleep more easily, even if in the back of their minds, they may still feel a cloud hanging over them.

    Conversion nevertheless remains a contentious issue and the Chief Rabbinate’s own policy towards it is under question. A group of rabbis associated with Tzohar, a national religious organisation, have warned that unless the official rabbinate itself adopts a more pragmatic line, they will take matters into their own hands and set up their own rabbinic courts to deal with converts.

    What concerns these rabbis particularly is the future of around a quarter of million olim from the ex-USSR who came in the great wave of emigration in the 1990s but who are not halachically Jewish. They may be just like other Jewish Israelis of their generation, serving in the army, speaking Hebrew etc, but they are not Jewish in the eyes of the religious authorities.

  • How the Singer’s Siddur went Zionist

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 28, 2008

    The Chief Rabbi's edition of the Singer's Prayer Book was the first to include a specific entry for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, signalling growing acceptance of it as a religious festival. But the other day I noticed another detail in the siddur which shows the influence of Israel on contemporary Judaism l: in the prayers for Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Succot, Rabbah is spelt with a final Hebrew heh at the end rather than the Aramaic aleph with which it had been spelt in previous editions.

  • Orthodox and Masorti pool prayers

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 17, 2008

    Amid the fractiousness of religious divisions, it is easy to forget that sometimes Jews do get along with each other. Members of Borehamwood's United Synagogue and the new Masorti group had separately picked the same spot for tashlich, the ceremony of casting one's sins into the water at Rosh Hashanah. They had pre-arranged to go down to the brook at different times: when the day came, there was a muddle and both parties turned up simultaneously. Rather than one group stand on its rights, however, they simply put aside their differences and performed the ritual together.

  • Love and hate in Akko

    Daniella Peled
    Oct 16, 2008

    The ancient port town of Akko has a special place in my family history. That’s where my parents went on their first date (well, strictly speaking their second, which itself was something of a miracle since they didn’t really like each other at first). But on that warm September afternoon they rambled through the souk, they strolled along the soaring Crusader battlements, they ate at the famous Abu Christo fish restaurant – and, reader, six weeks later she married him.

    Yesterday was their 49th wedding anniversary. But relations in the town where they fell in love are hardly as successful. The five days of violence which rocked the mixed Jewish-Arab town have been described as “a pogrom” by both sides. If tensions and resentment are there, bubbling away beneath the surface, then it doesn’t take much for them to erupt. And all it did take, it seems, was an Arab driver entering a Jewish neighbourhood on Yom Kippur - according to some reports, playing loud music and smoking a cigarette.

    Now this is boorish behaviour, perhaps –provocative at worst. But had a Jewish driver done the same thing, the result would not have been five days of secular-religious rioting, dozens of arrests, and scores of cars and businesses wrecked. Neither the government, nor leaders on both sides, have done enough to address the divisions and tensions between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. The issues have been delayed, and fudged, and avoided. But they quite clearly don’t go away.

  • Were succah-builders responsible for a run on cable-ties?

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 16, 2008

    Last week I reproduced online an article about how to make a succah from bamboos bound together by cable ties (devised by my neighbour Edgar Samuel). As Succot approached, I went to the hardware store over the road to buy some plastic cable ties only to find the type I wanted were out of stock - and when the shop assistant checked on his computer, they also seemed in short supply in other branches in travel range. Are there more bamboo-booth builders out there than I imagine?

  • Recession? Who cares?

    Alex Kasriel
    Oct 7, 2008

    While the world mourns the plunging stock exchange, I am secretly loving this so-called recession. No offence to anyone who pays me, but I don’t get much money for what I do…. and now everyone has been brought down to my level.

    Before, I struggled to keep up with my friends who work in the corporate industry buying drinks and handbags and taking taxis. Now it’s OK to seriously hold back your spending justifying it by using the catchy words, ‘credit’ and ‘crunch’.

    If I’m standing in the supermarket choosing between Andrex Super Deluxe Velvet Toilet Roll with extra padding, and Budgens bog standard own-brand paper, I simply sing to myself, ‘credit crunch!’ before shamelessly popping the latter in to my basket. If friends come over for dinner it is quite acceptable now to serve up chicken and chips (rather than lamb steaks with a red wine jus and polenta cakes) and it is also fine to decline a restaurant invitation on the grounds of a shrinking bank balance. But until now, I haven’t had the nerve to be open and proud about my thriftiness.

  • Hat last!

    Alex Kasriel
    Oct 3, 2008

    Until last year whenever I went to shul it always involved conducting a surreptitious hat contest amongst the women in the Ladies Gallery. One year, the jaunty bucket style always won, and in another, the more masculine trilby caught my attention. In the early noughties, women went even more casual with wooly hats adorned with sequins and I was loving the look.

    After getting married in July I was due to cover my head for the first time in shul this Rosh Hashanah. The husband, who is a devout liberal, said: "Are you going to wear a hat?" thinking I would be embarrassed about going along with what he sees as female oppression. Quite the contrary, this was the perfect excuse to try out a whole new world of accessories. If you wear a hat on any other occasion you are seen as a little eccentric or attention-seeking. Just look at Jamiroqai whose individual style earned him the unfortunate moniker of ‘The Twat in the Hat’. Mercifully, in shul the only judgment is whether your chosen head covering is stylish, not whether you should be wearing one at all.

    And being a hitherto hat virgin I had the opportunity to try out two new looks over the two days of Yom Tov. The first was a demure beret, worn over the ears (not French style) and the second was a more bold, print headscarf inspired by the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk this season. Fabulous, but not something you could get away with wearing down the pub. So thank God for shul!

  • A fashionable move by Next

    Candice Krieger
    Oct 3, 2008

    How refreshing - albeit it slightly strange - it was to learn this week that Next, the high street and catalogue retailer, has bought Lipsy, a fashion brand for young women, for £17.4m.

    Now I don't claim to be a fashionista , but Next, headed by Simon Wolfson, needed to do something to improve its Next-appeal among younger shoppers.

    Last month, it reported a drop in like-for-like sales of six per cent over the six months to July, and seems to do homewear better than it does clothes. Admittedly, I would not have paired Next with Lipsy - think salmon-wrap blouse over bubble-hem corset dress - but business is business.

  • The politics of fear

    Daniella Peled
    Sep 29, 2008

    As if to confirm our worst suspicions and prejudices about them Europeans, the far-right in Austria stormed the polls on Sunday.
    The two parties which campaigned on an anti-European Union, anti-immigrant platform won nearly a third of the vote, with the mainstream parties pushed into last place. A rather frightening scenario.
    I recall, visiting Vienna a couple of years ago, being struck by how Austrian seemed to view themselves as “the first victims” of national socialism. They certainly didn’t mind having former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim as president in the 1980s, or handing Jörg Haider’s freedom party a hefty slice of their votes in the 1999 elections.
    But it would be unfair to cast Austria as country of extreme racists and neo-fascists.
    Sunday’s election results can also be attributed to public disillusionment with the failure of mainstream politicians to form a functioning government, the previous coalition having collapsed in June. Austrians have also proved highly suspicious of the influence of the European Union, and supremely paranoid over immigration. Sound familiar?
    It’s brutal but true - fear of foreigners, and, to put it bluntly, of Muslims, is prime political fuel in Europe these days. Politeness tends to prevent us Brits from any real excesses of xenophobia – the UK’s 100 BNP local councillors doesn’t quite amount to a fascist takeover - but fear is all too easy to exploit, and the UK, unfortunately, is not immune.

  • Looking for love? Head to Israel.

    Candice Krieger
    Sep 24, 2008

    Looking for love? Head to Israel. According to a Central Bureau of Statistics report this week, the proportion of single Jews in Israel is continuing to grow, particularly among the young. In 2006, 76 per cent of Jewish men aged 20-29 were single, up from 73 per cent in 2000, and 60 per cent of women in this age bracket were single, up from 54 per cent in 2000. But if you're after a proposal, be warned - the main reason for the increase? A desire to delay marriage.