Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • Feminists can still like chick flicks at Limmud

    Charlotte Oliver
    Dec 23, 2013

    It is not exactly a secret that women get a bad rap on film and in print – in fact, I would say any trace of equality blew away for good the first time Honor Blackman purred: “Mr Bond, my name is Pussy Galore”.

    And yet, we still cannot fight the fantasy: men and women alike continue to buy into the very skewed presentation of gender relations on screen – and, at Odeon’s extortionate rates, that doesn’t come cheap.

    So what do you do? Do you swear to boycott Miramax, Universal, Paramount et al forever more, happy to be one of those “enlightened” who boasts: “Oh no, I don’t do the cinema, scoff scoff”.

  • Thinking aloud

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 23, 2013

    A leading Jewish philanthropist asked me what the value of Limmud was: it could hardly compete with the sustained,in-depth study, say, of a university course.

    Firstly, Limmud is a gateway for many people, opening areas of Jewish interest which they might never have thought of exploring before.

    Secondly, some serious thinking goes on here: it might be sparked off by a particular lecture, or a chance remark made in a follow-up discussion, it may go on in formal classes, or outside in the bar. Partly, it is the result of the concentration of so many people from different walks of Jewish life in one place, but it is also due to the free-thinking atmosphere that is an integral part of the experience here.

  • Was Limmud right to ditch Kabbalah Centre?

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 17, 2013

    Limmud’s decision late in the day to drop a speaker from the London Kabbalah Centre, following outrage over his scheduled appearance at next week’s conference, has prompted debate over the limits of inclusion.

    Personally, I believe Limmud’s decision was right. Not least, because Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has already taken enough flak from the religious right for his willingness to go to the event. And although he was not directly involved in the Kabbalah Centre controversy, he would inevitably have been sucked into it. This was not the year to have a representative from the centre there.

    Critics of the Kabbalah Centre internationally have attacked both its methods and content. Judging from the online Q and A of the London branch, Kabbalah is presented as distinct from Judaism, and Judaism appears even incidental.

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau: A day trip to Hell

    Marcus Dysch
    Nov 21, 2013

    It was the hair that got me.

    I had tried to prepare myself. When people heard I was going to visit Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust they all mentioned three things – the hair, the children’s shoes, and the freezing temperatures.

    Having been to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem a number of times I thought I knew what to expect. A couple of shoes here, a lock of hair there.

  • 'A mitzvah to go to Limmud'

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 21, 2013

    See this contribution to the debate over Limmud from former Bnei Akiva shaliach to the UK, Rabbi Benjamin Lau of Israel.

    And then, pro-Limmud see Rabbi Natan Levy or anti-Limmud, Jonathan Rosenblum.

    The controversy continued to rumble more locally this week. At Edgware Adath Yisroel synagogue, an affiliate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Zvi Lieberman sent an email to his members, with a copy of last week's attack on Limmud by Rabbi Alan Kimche for promoting an "aberration" of Judaism. Rabbi Lieberman said he shared Rabbi Kimche's views about "about Limmud and similar heterodox institutions and the inherent falsification of Judaism which they present".

  • An Orthodox response to the anti-Limmudniks

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 13, 2013

    Renewed attacks on Limmud this week have brought a sharp riposte from the United Synagogue rabbi who 17 years ago defied the London Beth Din ban and went to the conference.

    Rabbi Michael Harris of Hampstead Synagogue has just posted a blog responding to Limmud’s critics on the right.

    You can read it here.

  • Gateshead v Limmud

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 20, 2013

    Will the Charedi attack on Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s decision to go to Limmud have any long-term repercussions?

    United Synagogue president Steve Pack doubts whether it will have “great impact” and believes “it is not a massive issue for Rabbi Mirvis – I think it will fade into the ether relatively soon.”

    But one rabbi I spoke felt that it will strain the new Chief Rabbi’s relations with the right at the very time he might have hoped to be building bridges.

  • 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.