Simon Rocker's blog

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.


Women can chant Megillah, top rabbi says

By Simon Rocker, March 2, 2009

The world's most authoratitive Sephardi rabbi says that a woman can chant the Megillah on Purim for men if there is no man capable of reading it, according to Ha'aretz.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in Israel, said the prohibition against men listening to a woman singing would not apply because chanting a sacred text was different.



Tearing down the eruv

By Simon Rocker, February 27, 2009

The increasing popularity of Kiryat Yovel, a neighbourhood in Jersualem, with strictly Orthodox families has not pleased all of its residents. Some secular opponents have even resorted to sabotage by regularly vandalising the local eruv. A chemistry professor was actually caught red-handed the other week trying to saw down a pole.


Go forth and multiply

By Simon Rocker, February 23, 2009

Addressing a barmitzvah boy at the New North London Synagogue on Shabbat, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg recalled his trip during the week to West Wales. He had popped in to a local hairdressers' for a beard trim, where underneath the driers were two old dears in curlers, whose conversation went something like this:
"Youngsters grow up so fast these days," said Number One. "They know things at seven that I didn't know until I was 20."


A small step down the road of pluralism

By Simon Rocker, February 20, 2009

The decision of the Council of Christians and Jews to create three new Jewish presidents is noteworthy for this: it represents growing recognition of the religious diversity of British Jewry.
The interfaith organisation can now muster a minyan of presidents, five Christians and five Jews. But for many years, there was just a single Jewish seat at the top table, exclusively reserved for the Chief Rabbi.


The BBC’s too rough guide to Judaism

By Simon Rocker, February 19, 2009

I finally got to Judaism this week in the BBC2 series Around the World in 80 Faiths (currently showing on Monday nights or via BBC iPlayer). It's a religious travelogue fronted by the personable figure of Peter Owen Jones, a wandering, and slightly raddled, Protestant vicar from Sussex.


The C of E is not a missionary threat

By Simon Rocker, February 16, 2009

I don't think we should be unduly concerned about the latest missionary talk coming out of the Church of England. It is an axiom of traditional Christian belief that Jesus uniquely represents the fulfilment of messianic promise: and you can no more expect traditional Christians to resile from it than traditional Jews to stop saying asher bachar banu micol ha'amim ("who has chosen us from all peoples").


“Human dignity affronted in Gaza”

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, briefly alluded to recent events in Gaza in his presidential address to the Church of England Synod today. This is what he had to say:


Church of England should teach the Old Testament

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Here's one reason why some Christians perhaps struggle to understand Jewish identification with Israel. It's a short passage (para 81) from a report on interfaith relations and Christian mission due to be discussed at the Church of England Synod on Thursday. I should add the context is nothing to do with Jews and Israel but it is revealing, nonetheless: