Simon Rocker's blog

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traditional Jewish birthday wishes, "Bis hundert und swantzig"/ "Ad meah v'esrim" - "May you live to a 120", will seem out of date.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.


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?