Simon Rocker's blog

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."


Tony Blair plugs the Chief Rabbi's new book

By Simon Rocker, November 10, 2009

The first volume of the Chief Rabbi's commentary on the Torah, based on his online essay series, Covenant & Conversation, is now out. You can read an extract here:

"Jonathan Sacks is a truly towering figure," writes Tony Blair on the back cover. "As few other people can, he relates the insights of religion to the modern world."


Anger over anti-Zionist Rebbe’s visit

By Simon Rocker, November 4, 2009

Religious Zionists are up in arms over an impending visit this week by the anti-Zionist Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe to a synagogue built by the late Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a leading light in American modern Orthodoxy.
You can read more on the Honestly Frum blog.
“Is this a smart move?” wondered an editorial in the local


Organ donation could be 'murder'

By Simon Rocker, November 3, 2009

Almighty row brewing in Israel, according to Ynet. Israel's Chief Rabbinate has said that brain death is acceptable in Jewish law for the purposes of removing organs for donation - but the right-wing Eda Charedit says: "If organs are taken from (a person in such a condition) it is murder."


Don’t clap the barmitzvah boy

By Simon Rocker, November 3, 2009

Something happened in shul on Shabbat which I don’t recall before. When the barmitzvah boy finished his part, having leyned a sizeable chunk of sidrah and haftarah with aplomb, he was greeted with applause from among some of the congregation. Where has this new craze come from? Does anyone know? When rabbis finish their sermons, can we now expect the shammas to urge "Now, please show your appreciation in the customary way..."


The best days...

By Simon Rocker, October 29, 2009

When the history of the Jewish education in the UK comes to be written, scholars will be grateful for the Hasmo Legends series on the Melchett Mike website with its irreverent snapshots of Jewish school life beyond the official version (at least of Hasmonean Boys High School around the 1980s).
Here’s a flavour from a recent reminiscence by former teacher “Polly” Sue Schneider:


Bring Back Mr Balen

By Simon Rocker, October 26, 2009

In its coverage of the rioting on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the 10 o'clock News on BBC1 last night referred to the site being sacred both to Jews and Muslims. But while it referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque, it neglected to mention that this was also the Temple site.


Madoff, Yiddishkeit and Money

By Simon Rocker, October 23, 2009

A powerful sermon from Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Baltimore on some of the financial scandals of the past year. You can read it here.


The BBC does JFS

By Simon Rocker, October 22, 2009

There's a BBC radio documentary on Monday looking at the JFS entry case ahead of next week's Supreme Court hearing.

Here's the blurb:

"Being Jewish – Blood or Belief?
Monday, October 26th at 8pm on BBC Radio 4

One child’s battle to get a place at a Jewish state school ended in an explosive court judgment this summer, causing bewilderment and fury in parts of the Jewish community and provoking wider questions about faith schools and the right of the state to define religion.


The debacle at Bevis Marks

By Simon Rocker, October 20, 2009

To anyone who’s followed recent events at the Bevis Marks Synagogue, the departure of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha will come as no surprise. Suspended for almost three months, he spared himself further disciplinary action by reaching a settlement with the leaders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.
But since the agreement will be wrapped up in a confidentiality clause, we are now unlikely to hear from the mahamad (executive) of the S and P why they acted as they did.


The J Factor

By Simon Rocker, October 19, 2009

Should the selection process for the next Chief Rabbi include having to give a sermon in front of a studio audience?



You’ve got a pick a berachah or two

By Simon Rocker, October 12, 2009

Ron Moody, the most famous stage Fagin of them all, was back at the head of a group of singing children at the weekend. No, he wasn’t rehearsing a new batch of artful dodgers for Oliver. A member of the New North London Synagogue, the veteran actor was given the honour of the special aliyah at Simchat Torah when the children are called up.