Simon Rocker's blog

If you liked Jacobson on Jesus…

By Simon Rocker, January 16, 2009

If you enjoyed Howard Jacobson's Channel Four outing on Sunday to reclaim the Jewish Jesus (see his JC article), then why not take a look at Modern Jews Engage the New Testament. Its author, Rabbi Michael Cook, went down well at the recent Limmud conference and his book was one of the best-sellers at the conference bookstore.


It’s OK to use BC and AD

By Simon Rocker, January 6, 2009

 From early days we are taught at cheder to use BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) for dates in preference to BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord). The terms CE/BCE were actually introduced by Protestant Bible scholars who considered them more neutral.


Eastenders and that wedding; the unanswered question

By Simon Rocker, December 23, 2008

I am not an Eastenders’ regular but couldn’t help watching last Thursday’s Jewish wedding. Femme fatale Janine Butcher has returned, after an interlude, to the series, reinvented as Judith Bernstein, to marry an elderly Jewish widower (for his money, her family suspects).


Should that be Baruch Obama?

By Simon Rocker, December 1, 2008

There has been a lot of web-chatter about the origins of US President-Elect Barack Obama’s first name(the name, too, of his Kenyan father). The favoured explanation among online etymologists  is that it comes from the Arabic-derived Swahili word, baraka, meaning “blessing”, akin to berachah in Hebrew. More far-fetched is that it is somehow related to Barak, meaning lightning in Hebrew, the name of the Canaanite-smiting commander who delivered the goods for the prophetess Deborah in the Book of Judges.


What’s the link between Obama and Kabbalah?

By Simon Rocker, November 20, 2008

 Well, it is highly tenuous but here goes. The national finance chair of President-Elect Obama's campaign was Penny Pritzker, of the Chicago philanthropic family associated among other things with Hyatt hotels. Penny's first cousin is Thomas Pritzker and it is was Tom's wife Margot, a Jewish studies enthusiast - she has an MA in the subject - who secured family sponsorship for a new translation of the Zohar, the central text of medieval Kabbalah.


Was Guy Fawkes a heimishe hero?

By Simon Rocker, November 6, 2008

This question has been posed on the BBC religion website's Jewish message board. The poster means James I, not II. But has anyone ever heard this before?

My nephew has just been told by his rabbi that Jews should not celebrate Guy Fawkes night because the monarch involved, James II, was anti-semitic. Could we discuss this, please?


Rabbi David Goldberg and a Question of God

By Simon Rocker, November 5, 2008

In a typically provocative piece, the emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, Rabbi David Goldberg, has argued that the traditional concept of God is dead for "non-fundamentalist" Jews.


A Common-sense proposal on conversion?

By Simon Rocker, November 3, 2008

Earlier this year an Israeli dayan made an extraordinary ruling which threatened retroactively to strip thousands of Israeli converts of their Jewish status. Fortunately, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has not endorsed his decision, so the converts can sleep more easily, even if in the back of their minds, they may still feel a cloud hanging over them.


How the Singer’s Siddur went Zionist

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2008

The Chief Rabbi's edition of the Singer's Prayer Book was the first to include a specific entry for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, signalling growing acceptance of it as a religious festival. But the other day I noticed another detail in the siddur which shows the influence of Israel on contemporary Judaism l: in the prayers for Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Succot, Rabbah is spelt with a final Hebrew heh at the end rather than the Aramaic aleph with which it had been spelt in previous editions.


Orthodox and Masorti pool prayers

By Simon Rocker, October 17, 2008

Amid the fractiousness of religious divisions, it is easy to forget that sometimes Jews do get along with each other. Members of Borehamwood's United Synagogue and the new Masorti group had separately picked the same spot for tashlich, the ceremony of casting one's sins into the water at Rosh Hashanah. They had pre-arranged to go down to the brook at different times: when the day came, there was a muddle and both parties turned up simultaneously. Rather than one group stand on its rights, however, they simply put aside their differences and performed the ritual together.


Were succah-builders responsible for a run on cable-ties?

By Simon Rocker, October 16, 2008

Last week I reproduced online an article about how to make a succah from bamboos bound together by cable ties (devised by my neighbour Edgar Samuel). As Succot approached, I went to the hardware store over the road to buy some plastic cable ties only to find the type I wanted were out of stock - and when the shop assistant checked on his computer, they also seemed in short supply in other branches in travel range. Are there more bamboo-booth builders out there than I imagine?


We don’t do broiges like we used to

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2008

For all the tensions that exist between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, we probably manage them more civilly than in the past. Go back to 1853, for example. When the first delegates from the West London Synagogue (the country's first reformist synagogue) came to the Board of Deputies, the debate over whether they should be allowed to take their seats became so heated that the police were called. But when the constable arrived, the wardens of the Great Synagogue, who included Sir Anthony de Rothschild, would not allow him to enter the building.


Why rabbis should wear harder hats

By Simon Rocker, September 23, 2008

I'm not surprised that a rabbi suffered injury from a sweet thrown in synagogue for a simchah. What was once a gentle shower has become a hailstorm as the bimah comes under regular bombardment from teenagers who seem to be training for some new Olympic sport. It can't be long before health and safety rules require rabbis to wear cricket helmets for barmitzvahs.


Who killed the anti-eruv website?

By Simon Rocker, September 23, 2008

The North-West London eruv has become such an established fixture since the five and a half years since it went live that it is hard to remember the opposition it generated when it was first mooted a decade ago. Some secular Jews talked hysterically of new ghettos, the good folk of Hampstead Garden Suburb complained of treelines being spoiled by alien poles.