Simon Rocker's blog

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.


Let them eat bagels

By Simon Rocker, April 17, 2009

It certainly is not in the Bible and the rabbis may not have had it in mind, but a new ritual has grown up around Pesach. Just as on the nights of the Seder, so on the last night young children again stay up late -  this time to welcome back their father ,with armfuls of bread from the kosher bakeries that re-open after the festival has gone out.

PS I'm told the morning after Pesach, the Brent Cross branch of Tesco's had run out of Bran Flakes and All-Bran.


The kids who chose to eat matzah

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2009

Here's a nice Pesach tale from Rabbi Mark Winer, of West London Synagogue, who told it in a sermon given to the recent World Union of Progressive Judaism conference in Israel:

"One of my favourite stories of our Progressive Jewish impact on the world around us comes from Michael Farbman. During the three years that he was our Progressive rabbi in Sha'arei Shalom in St Petersburg, Michael and Olga sent their son Samuel to a regular state-supported school.


Let it rock

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2009

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris writes about his unusual specialism on Guardian CiF:
"Inside every seven stone nebbish of a diaspora Jew, there is a mighty rock god waiting to be liberated by heavy metal music."
Well, you could never play air clarinet with klezmer...


The Sun has got his kipah on

By Simon Rocker, April 6, 2009

Come Wednesday morning, and parks across the world will be full of Jews performing an unusual ritual: the blessing over the Sun, which is said only once every 28 years. A number of ceremonies are being planned here to celebrate the mitzvah but the weather forecast is looking distinctly unfriendly. In 1953, when the outlook was soggy, the American Airforce offered parachute training to a squadron of rabbis so they could recite the berachah as they dropped through the sky above the rain clouds.


Somewhere over the Atlantic...

By Simon Rocker, April 3, 2009

From this week's Forward:

"When about 100 Jews gather in Brooklyn on April 5 for a pre-Passover Seder, they will pay homage to their enslaved ancestors not with the traditional sinus-clearing horseradish, but by spanking each other with wands of chocolate licorice...


The unacceptable face of modesty

By Simon Rocker, April 1, 2009

On Sunday a man in Jerusalem was jailed for beating up a woman on behalf of a "modesty patrol", a group of strictly Orthodox vigilantes who thought she was unsuitable to live in the neighbourhood. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz speaks out against "this barbaric attack" in his blog.


Here comes the sun

By Simon Rocker, March 30, 2009

One of Judaism's rarest rituals is performed next week, early in the morning on the eve of Pesach - the blessing on the sun. If you want to know more about it, you can read Rabbi David Hulbert's article in the current edition of the JC. The blessing is said only once every 28 years. Why 28?
Here's Rabbi Hulbert's explanation:
The source is to be found in the first tractate of the Talmud, Berachot (59b):


The scourge of the flying sweets

By Simon Rocker, March 27, 2009

We wrote not so long ago about the perils of throwing sweets in synagogue on simchahs. The central Lubavitch synagogue has now introduced strict rules governing the launch of such missiles after a warden nearly lost an eye from a piece of candy thrown at an aufruf last week.


They don't call it the bread of affliction for nothing

By Simon Rocker, March 25, 2009

Economists may have been suprised by the rise of the cost of food,  but Pesach shoppers certainly won't. According to the Jewish Tribune, the price of one brand of American hand-baked shemura matzah on sale here has risen from £10 per lb last year to £12.75 now. And another popular shemurah brand has gone up from £16 per two lb to £23. Matzah is traditonally called lechem oni, the bread of the poor. For how much longer?


Wanted: Jewish leaders with Jewish knowledge

By Simon Rocker, March 24, 2009

Jewish leaders are committed, well-educated and professionally successful - but lack Jewish knowledge, according to a survey of more than 250 Jewish opinion-formers in Europe. Their management skills and financial acumen were more likely to be rated weak rather than strong. Out of eight attributes, their commitment and general education came top, while Jewish knowledge was well down at the bottom. For more about the poll, and views on Israel and antisemitism, see this coming Friday's JC.


Dead Sea Scrolls Sect A Myth, Says Top Scholar

By Simon Rocker, March 18, 2009

Rachel Elior, Hebrew University professor, expert on mysticism and popular lecturer at Limmud, has thrown a cat among the scholarly pigeons.
In her new book out next month, she argues that the Essenes, the ascetic sect commonly believed to have been the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are a myth.
Instead, the ancient documents are the work of a priestly family, she contends. 



Bash Street Hasmo

By Simon Rocker, March 17, 2009

If you are a Hasmonean High School old boy - or even if you are not - then you might be interested in these reminiscences of the school from the 1980s circulating around the blogosphere.
They come courtesy of the Melchett Mike blog of former pupil Mike Isaacson, who paints a less than reverent portrait of Jewish school life.
Here's a taster:


Say a little prayer... for £72

By Simon Rocker, March 13, 2009

If you can't get  to the Western Wall yourself, you can always arrange to have a prayer said there on your behalf... for a donation. A recent ad placed in an Orthodox newspaper by the British Friends of Kupat Ha'ir offers some top-notch spiritual aid: you can submit up to three names to be prayed for by one "outstanding" Torah scholar in return for a minimum donation of £72: or order an entire minyan of "outstanding talmidei chachamim" at a minimum £72 per person prayed for.


Anyone for cricket?

By Simon Rocker, March 10, 2009

Glancing at Ha'aretz online today, I noticed a small ad entitled "Play Jewish Cricket". Further inspection revealed it to be an invitation to come and play in London - for Southgate Synagogue Club. Not quite the MCC, I grant you, but no doubt there's a queue of willing applicants....


Mind your dybbuks

By Simon Rocker, March 4, 2009

I see a new film has been released about dybbuk possession, The Unborn, "a Jewish take on The Exorcist" according to our film reviewer Gerald Aaron, who gave it a dismal one-star rating.