Blogs

Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.


  • A biblical cry from 1949

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 17, 2013

    This week’s sidrah of Vayera is one of the most memorable in the Torah, containing among other things the seminal episode of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham’s bold challenge to God to spare the doomed cities, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?”

    There is in this action-packed portion a remarkable verse which I confess to having overlooked before. When God ponders the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, He resolves to “go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it” – the cries of their victims suggest a level of wickedness so great that God takes the extraordinary step of descending from heaven to see if it is true.

    The image is significant, too, because it is alluded to it in the closing sentence of an early classic of Israeli literature, Khirbet Khizeh, the 1949 novella by S.Yizhar (the pen-name of Yizhar Smilansky, who died in 2006). Set in Israel’s War of Independence, it is the story of a group of Israeli soldiers ordered to expel the inhabitants of an Arab village.

  • British Jews - liberal, secular and not so shul-going

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 11, 2013

    The YouGov poll, which we report this week, offers fresh evidence that many British Jews regard themselves as secular or cultural rather than religious.

    A third of the Jewish sample said they did not have a religion. But 28 per cent of those who gave Judaism as their religion either denied or doubted the existence of God.

    So if you add the third of Jews without religion to the “religious” atheists and sceptics, around half of Jews overall could fall within the secular bracket.

  • The Chief Rabbi at Limmud

    Simon Rocker
    Sep 17, 2013

    Now that Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has taken the decision to go to the Limmud conference himself, it will be interesting to see how many of his rabbis follow suit.

    The dearth of central Orthodox rabbis at British Jewry’s most celebrated education event has long been a gripe among United Synagogue Limmud-goers.

    While the floodgates might not quite open, expect an increasing Orthodox rabbis now to make the trip to Warwick University in December.

  • Gangnam style: now I get it

    Orlando Radice
    Aug 29, 2013

    There was only one thing worse than watching the world become virally infected with a gormless South Korean dance, and that was discovering the world leaders, from Ban Ki-moon to Barack Obama, were also doing Gangnam Style for TV. There is something about copying a bad dance badly for the cameras that makes you look like personality failure, and that’s aside from the transparent attempt at making Joe public think you're alright.

  • Intermarried rabbinic students

    Simon Rocker
    Aug 2, 2013

    Equality laws may be having more effect on Jewish life than many anticipated.

    As we report in this week’s paper, Leo Baeck College, the progressive rabbinical training institute has changed its entry rules, which would have previously disallowed intermarried candidates for its ordination course.

    Anti-discrimination laws do give religious groups some leeway: synagogues can still demand that their rabbi is Jewish.

  • Grill Gove on Hebrew

    Simon Rocker
    Jul 4, 2013

    Education Secretary Michael Gove is speaking on Monday night at an event at Hasmonean High School.

    He should be pressed to explain his department’s continuing refusal to admit Hebrew as one of the officially recognised foreign languages for primary schools.

    Only seven languages are on the approved list: German, Italian, French, Spanish, Mandarin and classical Latin and Greek.

  • Man of mystery

    Simon Rocker
    Jun 14, 2013

    Kabbalah was once dismissed as medieval mumbo-jumbo that no self-respecting Jew in the West would give any time to.

    Now the mystical tradition is widely recognised as the extraordinary product of the Jewish religious imagination and an enduring source of spiritual insight.

    That is no small measure due to Gershom Scholem, the German-born Israeli scholar (1897-1982), who gave academic respectability to the study of Kabbalah.

  • Logic, Mr Hague?

    Orlando Radice
    May 31, 2013

    The reasoning behind Britain and France’s drive to have the EU lift its arms embargo on Syria – which was agreed on this week by European foreign ministers after considerable bickering - seems to be that by strengthening the rebels, the West can eventually force the two sides to the negotiating table.

    That does not seem logical.

    Leave aside the fact that Russia responded by saying it would arm Assad with sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, a move that Hague and the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, could not necessarily have predicted. The Russian missile offer caps off month of military gains by the Syrian regime, which has retaken large swathes of the country back from the rebels.