Blogs

Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.


  • The Dirt to Come in Israel’s Elections

    Anshel Pfeffer
    Nov 26, 2008

    Sometimes you can just sense that a political campaign is on a losing streak. I got that feeling on Monday, driving in to Tel-Aviv and seeing the new giant Kadima election posters on the Kibbutz Galuyot Road. There's something about Tzipi Livni's glum and unphotogenic face - and the inarticulate slogan: "What is Good for the Country". It sounds just as bad in Hebrew.

    Kadima has the savviest PR team in the business. Eyal Arad and Lior Horev are not only Israel's premier spin-doctors, they are in demand around the world. Legendary ad-man Reuven Adler was the brains behind the transformation of Ariel Sharon from warmonger to cuddly grandpa. If these three can't make Livni look a bit sexier, then she's in trouble.

    My premonition seems to have been confirmed by last night's Channel One poll. After a month in which Kadima was polling almost even with Likud, the governing party is now trailing by ten percent.

  • What’s the link between Obama and Kabbalah?

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 20, 2008

     Well, it is highly tenuous but here goes. The national finance chair of President-Elect Obama's campaign was Penny Pritzker, of the Chicago philanthropic family associated among other things with Hyatt hotels. Penny's first cousin is Thomas Pritzker and it is was Tom's wife Margot, a Jewish studies enthusiast - she has an MA in the subject - who secured family sponsorship for a new translation of the Zohar, the central text of medieval Kabbalah. So far four volumes of the Pritzker edition of the Zohar out of a scheduled 12 have appeared, translated with a commentary by the scholar Daniel Matt. You can read Margot's foreword and an excerpt from the introduction by Arthur Green to this mammoth project online.

  • Woolworths: Cheap but not so cheerful?

    Candice Krieger
    Nov 20, 2008

    Not even Sir Alan Sugar's midas touch could prevent Woolworth's from the credit crunch, it seems.

    The Apprentice star bought a near-four per cent stake in the business last month, but the sweets-to-CDs retailer has suffered as the economic slowdown has hit consumer spending. The company is reportedly in talks to sell its retail division for just £1.

    Where did it all go wrong?

  • Where next Avram?

    Craig Silver
    Nov 7, 2008

    It's interesting to hear the comments this week of a man who we rarely hear from these days. I'm speaking of course about Avram Grant, who revealed to the JC that his next management move would be one that "surprised" us.

    Well Mr Grant, I have been looking around at the various managerial vacancies and think to myself, there is no reason you shouldn't grace us with your presence in the dug-out once again.

    I really enjoyed the way Grant dealt with the media, always very blunt and to the point. He was honest, and came across very amusing in some of his interviews. So who wouldn't want a man who came so close to leading Chelsea to glory in the Champions League and the Premier League title?

  • I'll have what he’s having

    Candice Krieger
    Nov 6, 2008

    Hats off to Frank Lowy. Last week, the chairman of Westfield opened the monumental $4 billion London shopping centre Shepherds Bush - in case you hadn't noticed. And at a time when retail industry heavyweights are taking a hit left, right and centre - Sir Stuart Rose's Marks & Spencer reported a 34 per cent fall in half-year profits and warned conditions will remain tough for most of 2009 - Mr Lowy seems to have no such fears. The Australian told Sky News' Sunday Business that it wasn't the first time Westfield had opened a major project in a downturn and laughed off speculation that Westfield will fail to survive the global recession.

    Stupid or savvy?

    Retail has been one of the worst-affected sectors from the downturn as consumer confidence takes a battering and rising unemployment will continue to reduce earnings with falling house prices likely to encourage people to save more.

  • Rabbi David Goldberg and a Question of God

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 5, 2008

    In a typically provocative piece, the emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, Rabbi David Goldberg, has argued that the traditional concept of God is dead for "non-fundamentalist" Jews.

    Writing in the new edition of the Progressive quarterly Manna, he says that the evocation of God in prayers can only be symbolic - a "catch-all label that we use at all the public rituals and holy days when we affirm our common adherence to ideals of goodness, hope and klal Yisrael [jewish peoplehood], much as pastors invoke God before an American football game."

    He concludes; "Where does this leave Progressive Judaism? In 30 years' time, will we still gather at religious services to proclaim our belief in the great, mighty and awesome God filtered through the vitiated formulations of Forms of Prayer and Siddur Lev Chadash [the Reform and Liberal siddurim]?

  • A Common-sense proposal on conversion?

    Simon Rocker
    Nov 3, 2008

    Earlier this year an Israeli dayan made an extraordinary ruling which threatened retroactively to strip thousands of Israeli converts of their Jewish status. Fortunately, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has not endorsed his decision, so the converts can sleep more easily, even if in the back of their minds, they may still feel a cloud hanging over them.

    Conversion nevertheless remains a contentious issue and the Chief Rabbinate’s own policy towards it is under question. A group of rabbis associated with Tzohar, a national religious organisation, have warned that unless the official rabbinate itself adopts a more pragmatic line, they will take matters into their own hands and set up their own rabbinic courts to deal with converts.

    What concerns these rabbis particularly is the future of around a quarter of million olim from the ex-USSR who came in the great wave of emigration in the 1990s but who are not halachically Jewish. They may be just like other Jewish Israelis of their generation, serving in the army, speaking Hebrew etc, but they are not Jewish in the eyes of the religious authorities.

  • How the Singer’s Siddur went Zionist

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 28, 2008

    The Chief Rabbi's edition of the Singer's Prayer Book was the first to include a specific entry for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, signalling growing acceptance of it as a religious festival. But the other day I noticed another detail in the siddur which shows the influence of Israel on contemporary Judaism l: in the prayers for Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Succot, Rabbah is spelt with a final Hebrew heh at the end rather than the Aramaic aleph with which it had been spelt in previous editions.

  • Orthodox and Masorti pool prayers

    Simon Rocker
    Oct 17, 2008

    Amid the fractiousness of religious divisions, it is easy to forget that sometimes Jews do get along with each other. Members of Borehamwood's United Synagogue and the new Masorti group had separately picked the same spot for tashlich, the ceremony of casting one's sins into the water at Rosh Hashanah. They had pre-arranged to go down to the brook at different times: when the day came, there was a muddle and both parties turned up simultaneously. Rather than one group stand on its rights, however, they simply put aside their differences and performed the ritual together.