Simon Rocker's blog

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.


Marry girls your own age, yeshivah boys told

By Simon Rocker, September 30, 2009

Leading strictly Orthodox rabbis are trying to reverse the trend of men marrying girls a few years younger than themselves.
Instead, they say boys should take a wife a year or two within their own age– and they should give preference to older girls, by which they mean aged 20 or over.
The reason?


Is Bournemouth the broiges capital?

By Simon Rocker, September 29, 2009

What is it about Bournemouth - which is supposed to be a placid seaside retirement for genteel Jewish folk?
Only a few years ago trouble broke out in the local Orthodox synagogue over whether to appoint Lubavitcher Rabbi Yossi Alperowitz as minister, leading to his resignation as acting rabbi.
Now the beast of broiges is loose among the Reform community, with a number of families splitting to do their own High Holy Day services this year.
(And how will the two synagogues react to a new Masorti group which could be setting up in town - with the potential to recruit members from both?)


Has the law gone loopy?

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

A wise reflection by Henry Porter on striking the balance between protecting religious groups and upholding freedom of expression. He writes, on Guardian CiF:
“One of the most disturbing cases I have heard of is the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a prosecution against a Christian couple that own hotel in Aintree, Liverpool.


Lord Jakobovits, Louis Jacobs and conversion

By Simon Rocker, September 18, 2009

Interesting revelations on conversion from Ivor Jacobs, a prominent member of the Masorti movement and son of its spiritual founder, Rabbi Louis Jacobs.

In the latest edition of the New North London Synagogue magazine, he writes:

“In the seventies and eighties, problems for children of non-Orthodox conversions were occasionally addressed by Chief Rabbi Jakobovits. He could see what a tremendous wrong would have been perpetrated to force such people to go through years of difficulty to be converted under Orthodox auspices.


Using your loaf

By Simon Rocker, September 17, 2009

A whimsical take on the Tashlich ceremony, that comes in an email circular from the Kesher community centre in Golders Green.

"On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, there is a ceremony called Tashlich. Jews traditionally go to the ocean or a stream or river to pray and throw bread crumbs into the water. Symbolically, the fish devour their sins.

"Occasionally, people ask what kind of bread crumbs should be thrown. Here are suggestions for breads which may be most appropriate for specific sins and misbehaviours:

For ordinary sins - White Bread

For amatory sins - French Bread


New school rules ‘mockery of Jewish values’

By Simon Rocker, September 14, 2009

Predictably, a fair amount of criticism has greeted the new entry rules that JFS and other secondary schools have been forced to adopt after the Court of Appeal ruling which said that they could no longer use the Jewish status of parents to determine admissions.
Take the Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok who in the latest edition, condemns the “stupidity” of the new religious test introduced by JFS, which is based on synagogue attendance and other practice.


If you know someone marrying out, Israel wants to know

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2009

An anti-assimilation campaign with Israeli government backing is generating fierce controversy, according to Ha’aretz.

The newspaper reports: “The campaign… urges Israelis to report the particulars of acquaintances living abroad so that these people, who are ‘in danger’ of marrying non-Jews, can be persuaded to come to Israel.


I have not become a horse

By Simon Rocker, September 4, 2009

To anyone who might have noticed that yesterday's 4 o’clock race at Epsom included a runner called “Rocker”, I just want to re-assure you that I have not been changed, like some figure of Greek myth who has incurred the wrath of the gods, into a horse.

But to any loyal reader who might have taken a punt, I apologise – my equine namesake only came in fourth.


Sell It Not

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2009

Here’s a slice of red-toothed rabbinics from Matthew Wagner, writing in the Jerusalem Post. It begins: