Simon Rocker's blog

Engaging with Israel

By Simon Rocker, May 11, 2011

Sunday’s “We Believe in Israel” conference has been billed as the largest advocacy of its kind in this country. But if you go to the conference home page, you’ll notice that the word “advocacy” does not appear.


The tale of the lead books

By Simon Rocker, April 8, 2011

A few weeks I wrote about a cache of lead books from the Middle East that has been claimed as a significant archaeologist discovery.


Are schools bad for shuls?

By Simon Rocker, March 29, 2011

The seemingly unstoppable rise in the number of Jewish schools is widely regarded as one of the most positive features of British Jewry.

But not everyone agrees. Here is a dissenting opinion from an unusual source – the United Synagogue.


Remembering Debbie Friedman

By Simon Rocker, March 24, 2011

There is a memorial concert on Saturday night (March 26) for Debbie Friedman, the influential American Jewish singer who sadly died in January aged 59, shortly after her last appearance at the Limmud UK conference.


The Purim Horse Ban

By Simon Rocker, March 17, 2011

I have a brief story in this week's paper about rabbis in Stamford Hill clamping down on over-the-top Purim celebrations this year.

They were worried about people hiring open top buses or horse and carriages.

Why the concern about horses?

Here's an explanation, courtesy of the If You Tickle Us blog:


“Katzav is innocent”

By Simon Rocker, February 24, 2011

Israeli ex-President Moshe Katzav awaits sentencing after being convicted of rape last month.


Faith schools back in court

By Simon Rocker, February 15, 2011

There is a new High Court looming next month involving a faith school…but at least this time it is not Jewish.

The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a highly-regarded Catholic comprehensive in west London, has been at the centre of a long-running dispute over admissions.

The oversubscribed school gave priority for admission to the children of Catholics who were active in the church, using a religious points system (as has now been adopted by Jewish schools).


The Neuberger “threat”

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2011

The imminent return of Baroness Neuberger to the rabbinate is continuing to cause a stir in the Orthodox world.
In the newly redesigned Jewish Tribune, enjoying a fresh lease of life after talk of its demise a few months ago, columnist Alex Strom sees a threat in her public profile.
“It would be disastrous if someone representing a movement that rejects Yiddishkeit and has brought about a spiritual churban [catastrophe] to Jewry became Jewry’s spokesman simply by default,” he declares.


The Baroness and the Chief Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2011

I wrote last week that the appointment of Baroness Neuberger as senior rabbi of West London Synagogue would give the Progressive movement "a louder voice on the national stage" and that she "may even give the Chief Rabbi a run for his money".


Rabbi Julia

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2011

Unless there is some unforeseen rebellion among West London Synagogue members, Baroness Neuberger will shortly be confirmed as the oldest British Reform congregation’s new senior rabbi.
West Londoners who wanted to have a high-profile spiritual leader must be delighted to see the return to the pulpit one of the few rabbis whose face is well-known outside the community. She will certainly give the Progressive movement a louder voice on the national stage – she may even give the Chief Rabbi a run for his money.


More on organ donations

By Simon Rocker, January 25, 2011

Controversy continues over the new guidelines on organ donation issued by the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din.
See, for example, this fresh attack on his policy from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Moshe Tendler.


What's the point of Hebrew

By Simon Rocker, January 24, 2011

Overheard from a luckless Ivrit teacher at a Jewish secondary school.

"What's the point of learning Hebrew, miss?" she was asked by one of her reluctant pupils. "All the Israelis can speak Engish anyway."


The Sacks Legacy – the Debate goes on

By Simon Rocker, December 31, 2010

The debate on the merits of the Chief Rabbinate has spread overseas following the announcement of Lord Sacks’s retirement in two and a half years.

Shmuley Boteach, writing in the Jerusalem Post, contended: “A chief rabbi is not principally an ambassador or a writer but a leader, and judged by this criteria Sacks, over the last two decades, failed to demonstrate the single most important component of leadership, moral courage.”


May you live to 120, 130, 140...

By Simon Rocker, December 31, 2010

According to new estimates, one in five of the British population can expect to reach the age of 100.

It won't be long before those traditional Jewish birthday wishes, "Bis hundert und swantzig"/ "Ad meah v'esrim" - "May you live to a 120", will seem out of date.

Perhaps it's time to revise the figure. How about 127, the age of Sarah, for a start?


Pius the Great

By Simon Rocker, December 6, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent interview with Peter Siewald generated a lot of media excitement, mainly over his remarks on condoms.
But worth noting are some of the other things he said. According to the Catholic magazine The Tablet, Benedict claimed that controversial wartime Pope Pius XII “save more Jews than anyone else” and was “one of the great righteous men”.
He also acknowledged that Bishop Richard Williamson, from the renegade ultra-conservative SSPX group, would not have been readmitted to the Church if the Vatican had known in advance of his Holocaust-denying views.


Limmud reaches the parts….

By Simon Rocker, November 22, 2010

You don't normally expect to find members of the Charedi community at a Limmud event. But Ian Sharer, a strictly Orthodox councillor in Hackney, visited the local Limmud day in the borough for the first time to speak about his work.
What he saw impressed him – in particular a packed session on the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud.
He says he'd happily go again.


Kosher Celebrity

By Simon Rocker, November 15, 2010

There's a growing campaign to institute kosher bushtucker trials for Jewish contestants on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

After all, would you rather swallow a plate of wriggling maggots - or consume a bowl of calf's foot jelly?

PS A correspondent has suggested that since there is apparently a surfeit of locusts in Australia at the moment, and locusts are permitted in the Bible (in theory), then they could provide a kosher alternative. There are apparently four main species of locust - and only the Red Locust gets the rabbinical thumbs-up.


The light and the dark

By Simon Rocker, November 10, 2010

Every few years, there is a renewed campaign to change our clocks in winter.
Instead of putting back the clocks in autumn, as we did just the other week, we should allow an extra hour of morning darkness in order to enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the evening. For one thing, it would reduce traffic accidents after school, say the proponents.


The Long Distance Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, October 27, 2010

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, of the New North London Synagogue, is in the first week of a three-week sponsored walk from Frankfurt to Finchley, accompanied by his dog Mitzpah.

You can read about the journey on the blog as they go along on Rabbi Wittenberg's blog Carrying the Flame.


School entry conundrum

By Simon Rocker, October 26, 2010

Hardly a week goes by without us receiving an inquiry about Jewish school admissions.

It’s almost a year and a half since the courts forced Jewish schools to introduce new entry rules based on religious practice – and parents are still grappling with the consequences.

This week a letter came in from some anonymous “concerned parents” wondering if it was illegal for schools to use synagogue membership as one of their entry criteria.