Simon Rocker's blog

JFS - 'the dead hand of ecclesiastical authorities'

By Simon Rocker, July 10, 2009

An outspoken commentary on the JFS court case from the former head of Carmel College, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen. You can read the full version here :

But here's a taste:


Puff at your peril

By Simon Rocker, July 7, 2009

Out and about yesterday, I was surprised to see a couple of men in kippot standing outside a kosher restaurant having a cigarette. Smoking Jews are an increasingly uncommon sight these days and rabbis have debated whether tobacco should be proscribed.

Some have indeed banned smoking on the grounds that Judaism forbids practices that are known to endanger health. But I am more sympathetic to those who feel there are quite enough prohibitions already and some vices should be left to individual choice.


No future

By Simon Rocker, July 3, 2009

"The plague of intermarriage and assimilation is sapping us of our people in a way as deadly as gas chambers."

Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, the former chief minister of Sydney's Central Synagogue pulls no punches in his polemic, Diaspora is Jewry's Graveyard. He takes diaspora leaders to task for failing to act in the face of a "national spiritual holocaust" and preaching that the Jewish future lies in Israel. You can read an extract in our Judaism section .


A big headache for Jewish schools

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2009

The Court of Appeal’s ruling today that the entry policy of JFS – and by extension, many other Jewish schools – is in breach of the Race Relations Act will come as little surprise to those who attended the three-day hearing.
But that makes it no less historic: what the court has said is that the traditional rules for deciding who is a Jew – matrilineal descent –cannot be used for deciding who can enter a Jewish school.


The Lubavitch rabbi and the ‘Kill children' controversy

By Simon Rocker, June 22, 2009

Rabbi Manis Friedman is a veteran Lubavitch lecturer whose students at one time included Bob Dylan in Minnesota.

But now he has become the centre of controversy over remarks he made to an American Jewish magazine saying that the “only way to fight a moral war” is to “kill men, women and children”.

He was one of the rabbis invited by Moment’s Ask the rabbi column to respond to the question, “How should Jews treat their Arab neighbours?”
Here is most of his published response:


Hands off our rabbis, Israel

By Simon Rocker, June 19, 2009

English rabbis are apparently highly prized among Jerusalem's strictly Orthodox community.

But the Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok is none too impressed at rumours that representatives from Israel are "fishing around" London in the hope of recruiting rabbinic talent.

Let them grow their own rather than deprive London's strictly Orthodox community of "another one of their treasured rabbonim", he advises in this week's edition.



By Simon Rocker, June 17, 2009

A proposal in Israel to ban imports of fur could have unfortunate consequences for the Chasidic community: it could put a stop to streimels, the ornamental hats worn on Shabbat and festivals (and once described by the late Peter Cook as “furry frisbees”).
Synthetic alternatives are available, apparently.


Anger management, rabbinical style

By Simon Rocker, June 15, 2009

Rabbis don’t often talk openly about the problems that they have with congregants.

But in an article for the latest edition of Common Ground , the magazine of the Council of Christians and Jews, Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer reveals how he coped with “a small but vociferous” element at his previous community (Northwood).

“It seemed to be that whatever I did, I could not please them and their unfair criticism and machinations put a tremendous strain upon me and my family,” he writes.


The barmitzvah party behind bars

By Simon Rocker, June 12, 2009

Five prison officials, including a rabbinical chaplain, have been disciplined after the following incident reported by The Times Online:
“When the fraudster Tuvia Stern arrived back in New York, he found prison authorities surprisingly accommodating.
“The former fugitive, jailed for three and a half years in March for fraud, was allowed to throw two parties for his family behind bars, even hiring his own kosher caterers and a prominent Jewish singer.


Don't drink and dance

By Simon Rocker, June 10, 2009

Here’s a rabbi who thinks simchah dancing has got too rowdy.

Writing of his experience of a recent wedding, Rabbi Dovid Landesman comments: “Frankly, the movements would have done the ‘bros’ in the ‘hood’ proud.”

More on Cross Currents


This is not Zionism

By Simon Rocker, June 3, 2009

Rabbi Sidney Schwartz, writing in the Jewish Week,exposes a disturbing incident that took place on this year’s Salute to Israel parade in New York:


More Britain's Got Talmud

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009

The Talmud is second only to the Bible in religious importance for Jews: or as Rabbi Norman Solomon elegantly puts it, “If Scripture is the sun, the Talmud is the moon that reflects its light.”
Today, there are probably more Jews than at any time in history seriously studying Talmud, but still its language and difficult style make it inaccessible to the majority.


Britain's Got Talmud

By Simon Rocker, May 26, 2009

If you want a rabbinic take on the Susan Boyle phenomenon, try this from Yitzchok Addlestein writing on the Cross Currents blog:


The Pope Revisited

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI may have made no faux pas during his visit to the Middle East but you might have got the impression that he had a rather cool reception in Israel. There were various gripes – eg “Survivors angered by Pope's ‘lukewarm’ Yad Vashem speech”.


Bombing civilians

By Simon Rocker, May 19, 2009

In any modern war zone, whether it's Afghanistan, Gaza or Sri Lanka, armies confront  the problem: how far to go to minimise casualties to civilians when pursuing fighters in their midst.

There's a thoughtful essay on the subject from Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer in the New York Review of Books, who take issue with arguments that the safety of soldiers takes precedence over civilians on the enemy side.


Lubavitch messianics condemned

By Simon Rocker, May 13, 2009

An American halachic authority, Rabbi Menashe Klein, has hit out at those who believe the last Lubavitcher Rebbe was the Messiah.

You can read more here.


Court raps US teacher for slamming creationism

By Simon Rocker, May 12, 2009

A teacher in a public school in southern California violated the constitutional separation between church and state when he condemned creationism as "superstitious nonsense", a court has found.
Guardian commentator Andrew Brown concludes: "The result of this case... is that evolution becomes harder to teach, and creationism harder to mock, because science and atheism have become so entangled in the public mind."



Treif Flu

By Simon Rocker, April 30, 2009

It's not only Israel's deputy health minister who wants swine flu renamed because of religious sensitivities. Representatives of Britain's pig famers also want the appellation dropped because they fear it may damage pork sales.

Among the Orthodox press here, Hamodia refers to it as "swine flu" but it's "Mexican flu" in the Jewish Tribune.


Who said Hallel today?

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2009

When the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, brought out his new edition of the Singer's Siddur, the main prayer book for Orthodox congregations in the UK, two years ago, it was the first to include a section for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.