Simon Rocker's blog

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.


An Offer Too Good to be true?

By Simon Rocker, July 28, 2010

The Conservatives’ “free-schools” scheme was one of the flagship policies in their election manifesto. Parents’ groups, charities and other groups would be able to open their own schools with state funding free of local council bureaucracy.
It was music to the ears of many in the Jewish community – particularly to those clamouring for more Jewish primary schools to alleviate the current shortage of places.
But the plan has come with a catch. Those who want to open free faith schools will only be able to reserve 50 per cent of places to members of their own faith.


How to read up on Kabbalah

By Simon Rocker, July 27, 2010

Jay Michaelson, one of the best writers on modern Jewish spirituality, offers a useful guide to contemporary books on Kabbalah here.

Meanwhile, Limmud Fest next month has a couple of kabbalastically-inspired teachers from Israel on the guest list: Rabbi David Aaron of Isralight and Reb Ruth Gan Kagan of Nava Tehila.


A kosher taste of paradise

By Simon Rocker, July 14, 2010

It was a cruel blow to the sweet-toothed when Bounty bars were declared non-kosher some years ago. Well, happily, they are not only back on the approved list but they are now actually certified by the London Beth Din, according to the latest edition of the United Synagogue's Kosher Nosh Guide.

Manufacturers Mars did a deal last year with the Beth Dint to bring some of its best-known products formally under the kosher net. Now chocaholics can reap the dividends.


Lubavitch wins America's top rabbi slot

By Simon Rocker, July 1, 2010

The head of the Lubavitch movement Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky has been named America's most influential rabbi in Newsweek's top 50 list this year.
Despite having no Rebbe now for the better part of two decades, the movement has continued to flourished and its impact on Jewish life remains as strong as ever.


David Cameron's Bubbemeises

By Simon Rocker, June 25, 2010

There's a special family connection between the Prime Minister and bubbemeises - old wives' tales.

David Cameron's 16th-century Jewish ancestor Elijah Levita was the author of the Bovo Bukh, a Yiddish version of the romances that were popular in Europe at the time. Bovo refers to the knightly hero of the story, the good Sir Bevis.

The Bovo Bukh later became known as the Bove-Mayse, the Tale of Sir Bevis - and hence bubbemeise (which is thus not derived, as often believed, from bubba).


Reform passes soccer test

By Simon Rocker, June 23, 2010

The Reform Movement faced a serious test of values.

Its scheduled annual meeting is due to take place on Sunday afternoon.

But thanks to the USA's late World Cup goal, England will now be playing their last 16 match at 3pm that day.

Would they put patriotism above constitutional procedure and postpone the meeting? Or take an extended TV break to watch the game?

It was a tough call for Reform chiefs, especially the movement's soccer-phile head Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield.


Why Shul is like a Gym

By Simon Rocker, June 21, 2010

The other day I went to a meeting about alternative and itinerant minyans that been springing up here over the last few years.
Their hallmark is DIY enthusiasm and volunteerism.
In contrast, established synagogues maintain a professional infrastructure, financed by congregational dues.
As Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of the New London Synagogue observed, shuls are rather like a gym: 100 per cent of the members pay for them, maybe 20 per cent use it monthly and five per cent on a weekly basis…
But is that shul model going to be sustainable over the future?


Palestinian leader says Quran acknowledges Jewish links with Israel

By Simon Rocker, June 11, 2010

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told American Jewish leaders in Washington that the Quran recognises Jewish ties to the land of Israel, according to The Forward.
When questioned about his comments by Al-Jazeera, he replied: “Jews are there, and when you read the Holy Koran you have it there. That’s what I said.”
For background: see my JC piece last year


Magnificent Hendon

By Simon Rocker, May 26, 2010

An obit of Lady J has just been posted on the Telegraph Online which concludes:

"The Hespedim (or eulogies) in her honour, following her death on May 7, were delivered before a crowd of 5,000 mourners on the streets of Hendon's magnificent Shirehall estate..."

Shirehall magnificent? Not an adjective I would think you could use for any part of Hendon.


The Great Shul-School Test

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2010

If Jewish schools are doing their job, then one visible effect should be increasing synagogue attendance over Yomtov.
More and more parents are opting to send their children to Jewish schools: and since they are spared the dilemma of whether to send them school on festivals, shul is the obvious place to for them to go.
But is that actually happening in practice? I'd be interested to know.


"Someone is going to get killed"

By Simon Rocker, May 6, 2010

A disturbing portrait of religious intolerance in Israel from the blog of Rabbi Natan Slifkin, the famous "Zoo Rabbi":


No brief for Zionism

By Simon Rocker, May 4, 2010

The Jewish Tribune, the self-styled "voice of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy", carried this editor's footnote to a letter last week:

"Being the 'Voice of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy' does not mean we are obligated to accept anything the state of Israel does uncritically. We are frequently at odds with its treatment of the Charedi community and hold no brief for Zionism in any of its incarnations."


The Mice and the Rabbi in the Cupboard

By Simon Rocker, April 28, 2010

I came across a reference on a blog to people keeping Reb Shayale in their cupboards to ward off mice.
I confess to not having the foggiest idea of what this meant, so I googled it up.
And for those similarly perplexed, here is the answer courtesy of the


Sex abuse in the yeshivah world

By Simon Rocker, April 26, 2010

While the Vatican continues to reel from revelations of priestly child abuse, closer to home a number of court cases have exposed alleged paedophilia in the strictly Orthodox world.
In a much commented-on blogpost, the Orthodox scholar Marc Shapiro has offered insight into why its incidence was previously covered up.
This is what Professor Shapiro writes (on the Seforim blog, see footnote 8 to the entry for April 15):