Simon Rocker's blog

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.


The Atheist at the Shul door

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2010

A delightful nugget from Rabbi William Wolff - regional rabbi in North-East Germany - from his column in the latest issue of Manna magazine:

"Forget Golders Green or Stamford Hill and do not even think of Mea Shearim if you want to meet unbending 28-carat frummkeit. Go instead in search of a bunch of atheists.

"Those who take that faith seriously admit of no compromise. Invited to a shool or church wedding? Forget it. They'll come for the drinks afterwards. Go to a funeral taken by a priest or rabbi? They will, only to stand a decent distance away from the back of the crowd.


Defender of the Faith

By Simon Rocker, October 15, 2010

You may be happy to hear that the Jewish Tribune, whose future a few weeks ago seemed parlous, is still around - and still biting.

Here is its veteran columnist Ben Yitzchok, in the latest issue, taking a potshot at the Chief Rabbi over his Rosh Hashanah broadcast:

"During the debate Lord Sacks was asked by one of the critics whether he could be certain of Hashem's existence," he wrote.


Here comes the rain

By Simon Rocker, September 22, 2010

Of course, it couldn’t last. We've had sun all week but according to forecasts, Succot will bring back the rain. Beware those booth-blasting downpours.

Happy tabernacling.


Ahmadinejad and the Cyrus Cylinder

By Simon Rocker, September 16, 2010

The British Museum has lent Iran one of its most precious objects, the Cyrus Cylinder containing the decrees of the sixth century BCE Persian Emperor Cyrus.

The cuneiform charter celebrates the emperor’s decision to allow deported peoples to return to their homeland –which, of course, included the Jews, exiled by the Babylonians, who were able to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.


The Chief Rabbi takes on Stephen Hawking

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

The science v religion debate was in full swing in today’s Times with physicist Stephen Hawking arguing that the universe was capable of “spontaneous creation” and therefore God was redundant.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” Hawking declared.

But his argument was attacked as a fallacy by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks who pointed out the limits of scientific explanation. “There is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live,” he countered.


Young Americans

By Simon Rocker, August 25, 2010

Professor Steven Cohen is one of the leading experts on modern-day Jewish identity. There is a fascinating interview with him published by the Institute of Global Jewish Affairs on trends among American Jews, worth reading in full.