Simon Rocker's blog

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:


UK Jews are viewed through Israel’s image

By Simon Rocker, February 10, 2009

Writing on Jewish-Christian relations in the most recent edition of the Anglican newspaper, Church Times, Reform movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield touches on a sensitive issue.
A newsreader's use of the phrase "Jewish state" reminds him that "Jews are defined significantly today by the image of the Israeli. Even if we wanted to, and most of us do not, we cannot escape that".
The full version of his article is only available online to subscribers. But here's another section:


Grape Juice, Anyone?

By Simon Rocker, February 2, 2009

Let's hope the recent advice from the government's chief medical officer that children should not drink alcohol until they are 15 is not taken too puritanically. One of my earliest happy memories is a piece of challah dipped in wine on Friday nights and there was always a tot of wine after our children's services on Shabbat. I never much liked grape juice and would have felt distinctly unliberated if my four cups at Pesach had been filled with it rather than the real thing.


Holocaust Remembrance, Ahmadinejad-style

By Simon Rocker, January 30, 2009

The Islamic Republic News Agency reports that on Tuesday President Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a message to a conference in Tehran a conference entitled "Holocaust? A Sacred lie by [the] West".
The president said that examining the issue of Holocaust was equal to cutting the vein of the Zionist regime, according to the agency.


Rachel in Gaza

By Simon Rocker, January 26, 2009

One of the more bizarre stories around the Gaza campaign is that the matriarch Rachel appeared to warn some Israeli soldiers not to enter a house because some Hamas fighters were waiting to ambush them within. Although some rabbis have rubbished the tale, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, is reported to support the supernatural sighting. See Orthodox website VozIzNeias


Comparing Gaza to the Shoah disgusts a Catholic columnist

By Simon Rocker, January 23, 2009

Writing in the Catholic weekly, The Universe, the columnist James Kelly explains why "I'm apparently a member of a minority group... when I learn about what's happening in the Middle-East, I don't feel the need to rush out and burn the nearest Israeli flag.
"Despite the way it's presented as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I don't find myself making a placard in support of terrorist groups who have as their goals the destruction of Israel and all Jews."


What the school league tables don’t tell you

By Simon Rocker, January 23, 2009

Our breakdown, in today's issue, of this year's school league tables confirms that Jewish schools are maintaining their high standards. Particularly worth noting is the high "value-added" rating of state-aided secondary schools: it means that pupils have done better in exams at 16 than could have been anticipated from their ability on entry at 11 (and no, not every pupil has a private tutor).


Orthodox rabbi slated for attending Obama church service

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2009

A New York rabbi is under fire from his Orthodox colleagues for having taken part in a service at Washington's National Cathedral to commemorate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
According to the JTA, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein joined interfaith representatives in reciting a non-denominational prayer at the National Prayer Service, a traditional post-inauguration event today.


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.