Simon Rocker's blog

The Pontiff and the Prophylactics

By Simon Rocker, February 12, 2010

My favourite headline from the religious press this week: "Vatican shelves 200-page condom study."
(from the Catholic journal, The Tablet)


New Israel Fund under fresh attack

By Simon Rocker, February 8, 2010

A second front has been opened against the New Israel Fund, the progressive philanthropic organisation.
NIF has already been under fire in Israel for funding organisations whose critical comments on the IDF’s conduct in last year’s Gaza operation were included in the controversial Goldstone report.
Now an article in the latest English-language edition of the strictly Orthodox newspaper, Hamodia, lays into the group for fostering pluralism in Israel.


The Pope, JFS and the transsexual rabbi

By Simon Rocker, February 2, 2010

Now the Pope has turned his pontifical guns on the government’s Equality Bill, saying it is interfering with religious rights.
Even before his intervention, the bill was having a tough time in the Lords, where last week peers inflicted a defeat on the government.
One of the bill’s aims is to consolidate laws which, for example, make it illegal for a religious organisation to refuse to employ a gay person – although there are exceptions.


A rabbinic ghostbuster

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2010

From the initimitable Rabbi William Wolff’s “Last Word” column in the new edition of Manna magazine:


The Messianic Jew, the Anti-Zionist Vicar and the Police

By Simon Rocker, January 26, 2010

Joseph Weissman, third-generation Messianic Jew, reveals how his exposés of Christian anti-Zionism on the blog Seismic Shock earned him a visit from the police. You can read more about his exploits on Harry’s Place.


What turns young American Jews on

By Simon Rocker, January 12, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful: leading social scientist Steven Cohen highlighted some of the positive trends within American Jewry during a recent visit to London. You can now read a report of his observations here.


Never mind the dybbuks, go see a doctor

By Simon Rocker, January 12, 2010

Here’s a new twist to the story of the Brazilian man supposedly possessed by a dybbuk, who recently underwent an attempted internet exorcism by a kabbalist.
Now a leading strictly Orthodox rabbi has offered an alternative, and rather less mystical, remedy: try a doctor.


Airport scanners are too revealing, say Euro-rabbis

By Simon Rocker, January 11, 2010

When there was talk of deploying full body scanners at airports, I wondered if any rabbinic objection would come on the grounds that the machines would be too revealing.
Well here it is, according to Ha’aretz.


Sand’s anti-people book is taken apart in The Guardian

By Simon Rocker, January 11, 2010

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg delivers a damning verdict on Shlomo Sand’s controversial book “The Invention of the Jewish People” in a Guardian review.
He writes: “Its sweeping attempt to take apart the entire history of the Jewish people from its origins to present-day Israel and prove it to be a wilful fabrication is marred by tendentious premises, the misreading of key events and the ignoring of central texts and insitutions.”
For more, read here.


Religion is sick

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2010

The headline to Rabbi Jeremy Rosen's latest blog says it all. Never one to mince his words, this reflection on some of the scandals that have broken out in the Jewish world over the past year is outspoken even by his standards.


American Orthodox Rabbi Attacks Hardline Conversion Trends

By Simon Rocker, January 7, 2010

Rabbi Marc Angel, writing in The Forward, criticises the trend towards stricter conversion policies."Good, talented and well-intentioned Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora have been eliminated as recognised gatekeepers to the Jewish people," he says. For more read here.


More fuss over faith school entry rules

By Simon Rocker, January 5, 2010

It's not only in the Jewish community where admissions policies to faith schools have become a hot potato. The Catholic Church has filed a complaint with the Office of Schools Adjudicator about one of its own schools in West London because it thinks the entry conditions are too strict and penalise less observant candidates.


Did the Coens get it right?

By Simon Rocker, January 4, 2010

Lots of debate over the merits of the Coens' A Serious Man. I found the film strong and unsettling, with some excruciatingly funny moments, but an acquaintance I ran into in the foyer (as one does in NWLondon) did not think much of it.

But I wondered, would rabbis in a Conservative Temple in the 60s have said "Hashem"?

ps Who knows the Jewish members of Jefferson Airplane/Starship?


See you in court

By Simon Rocker, December 24, 2009

In my analysis piece on the JFS case in today’s JC,, I suggested this may not be the last time we see an intra-communal dispute come before the secular courts.

The Catholic Herald recently reported that Equalites Minister Mike Foster believes that the Equality Bill, going through Parliament, could result in more religious discrimination suits.


Kill the blasphemers - a Chanucah song

By Simon Rocker, December 8, 2009

Maor Tzur is a seemingly jolly tune that we’ll all be belting out on Friday. But the words are not quite so jolly, even in the most familiar first verse.
In a dvar Torah at the weekend, David Jacobs, director of synagogue partnerships at the Movement for Reform Judaism, drew attention to the Hebrew l’et tachin matbe’ach, mitzar hamnabe’ach, which the 1925 edition of the Singer’s Prayer Book translated as “when thou shalt have prepared a slaughter of the blaspheming foe”.


The benefits of global warming

By Simon Rocker, December 7, 2009

Whatever the world's leaders decide at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, here's one positive spin-off from the attempt to save the planet: it has brought together British rabbis from different denomations to formulate a Jewish response. A paper on the eco-challenge has apparently jointly been drawn up by Rabbi Natan Levy, head of the (Orthodox) London School of Jewish Studies' social responsibility unit, Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand, executive director of the Movement for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of the New London (Masorti) Synagogue.


British Reform leader hits out over arrest at the Wall

By Simon Rocker, November 30, 2009

There's been a lot on the net about the recent arrest of a woman for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall. Here are the views of Reform head Rabbi Tony Bayfield:

"It should have been the climax of our holiday. In fact, it was the only big let down. I was in Israel this summer with my daughter, son-in-law and two older grandchildren. We had a brilliant walk through the Old City and came to the Wall.


Neusner reverts to Reform

By Simon Rocker, November 27, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, the prolific scholar of Judaism, explains why he has gone back to the Reform of his youth in an article for The Forward.

"After a half-century of apostasy, I affirm Reform Judaism as the American Judaism both of my personal choice and of our communal necessity. Indeed, I have come to believe that if Reform Judaism did not exist today, American Jews would have to invent it," he writes.

In 1995, incidentally, he wrote an article in the JC supportive of the Chief Rabbi's criticism of the Masorti movement.


Schama v Sand

By Simon Rocker, November 24, 2009

In last week’s Financial Times, Simon Schama dismissed the claims of Tel Aviv University professor Shlomo Sand, over here recently to launch the English edition of his controversial new book, The Invention of the Jewish People.


Wanted: a rabbi for the CST

By Simon Rocker, November 23, 2009

The Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok is not happy at the Community Security Trust's religious observance.

He writes in the latest issue: "On several recent vists to functions in north-west London, I have received numerous complaints that CST volunteers are seen running around with two-way radios on Shabbos and Yomtov without any justification whatsoever. I am prepared to accept that many of these youngsters are well-intentioned, but wrongly believe that in an effort to detect antisemitic crime, laws of Shemiras Shabbos [observing Shabbat] can be disregarded."