Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • The chief rabbi and partnership minyans

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 27, 2013

    It was hardly a shock when Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote to his rabbis last week to rule out partnership minyans – Orthodox services where women can read from the Torah and lead certain prayers.

    Whereas his recent decisions to go to Limmud or approve the election of women as trustees of the United Synagogue were welcome, they were not unexpected and hardly radical.

    Partnership minyans are a different matter, and most people would have been amazed if a relatively conservative institution such as the United Synagogue had endorsed them at this juncture.

  • European Jewry alive and kicking

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 27, 2013

    There are some people in the Jewish world who have written off European Jewry as a lost cause. But not everyone regards us as basically only a pool for potential aliyah.

    Barbara Lerner Spectre, the founding director of a Stockholm-based institute of higher Jewish education, called Paideia, believes that a new kind of Jew is emerging on the continent and that they have something to contribute to Jewry as a whole.

    Modern Jewish identity has largely been broken into three types, she explained at a Limmud session: religious, national or cultural – cultural meaning a “Woody Allen Jew”.

  • Why walk when you can waltz?

    Charlotte Oliver
    Dec 24, 2013

    In the last two days, I have seen things I will never un-see.

    I have witnessed a raucous group of Israelis “get down” at a silent disco rave…in the middle of the conference foyer.

    Imagine the scene: a cluster of headphone-wearing jitterbugsters waving their arms and legs in muted hysteria, while those sitting and chatting around them barely blinked an eye.

  • The Chief's Limmud triumph

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 24, 2013

    When Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis announced his decision to go to Limmud, he might have expected the odd murmur of disapproval to his right.

    But he must have been taken aback by the stridency of the resulting Charedi attack on Limmud, a clear attempt to dissuade his rabbinate from accompanying him there.

    Now perhaps he feels his trip was worth the aggravation, after his enthusiastic reception at the event. Both his office and Limmud itself had tried to play down the significance of his appearance: he was simply to be one presenter among 450.

  • Why I was blindfolded

    Simon Rocker
    Dec 24, 2013

    According to rabbinic lore, the giving of the Ten Commandments was almost fatal. The voice of God who uttered the first two was so powerful that it killed the Israelites and they had to be resurrected (after which, understandably, Moses took over).

    So imagine my apprehension when I attended a session which sought to recreate the receiving of the Ten Commandments.

    London-based composer Daniel Biro's electronic composition The Sounds of Sinai - which he released as a CD a couple of years ago - is an "an artistic impression of what the experience might have sounded like". Which is a tall order because the Torah text speaks of the people actually "seeing" the sounds, while the rabbis stated that the entire Decalogue actually unfolded in a single utterance.

  • 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.