Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • A new voice in Israel

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 22, 2013

    Diaspora Jews generally pay little attention to what Israeli politicians say in the Knesset.

    But one speech has won the admiration of many in the Jewish world.

    It was the maiden parliamentary address by Ruth Calderon, one of the MK’s for Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party.

  • Gove’s Philistines

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 14, 2013

    The Department for Education’s decision to ignore Jewish protests and refuse to recognise Hebrew as an official language for primary school teaching can only be described as an act of philistinism.

    It makes absolutely no sense to include Latin and ancient Greek (along with French, Spanish, Italian, German and Spanish) on the list of seven – but not Hebrew.

    Hebrew has long been considered one of the foundation languages of Western civilisation; as long as ago as the sixteenth century, Henry VIII instituted Regius chairs in Hebrew at Oxford and Cambridge.

  • Rabbi David Hartman

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 12, 2013

    The death of Rabbi David Hartman in Israel on Sunday has deprived the Jewish world of one of its most forward-looking thinkers.

    The Shalom Hartman Institute he founded endeavoured to find bridges between rabbinic tradition and the pluralism of contemporary Jewish life.

    Rabbi Hartman was one of the speakers at Traditional Alternatives, the symposium of Orthodox thought in London staged in 1989 shortly before Jonathan Sacks was appointed Chief Rabbi.

  • Instructive antisemitic comparison

    Stephen Pollard
    Jan 29, 2013

    Oh dear. I really didn't want to have to write about antisemitism again. Believe me it's not something I ever want to have to discuss. But this past week there have been two instructive episodes.

    At the end of last week, a LibDem MP no one had ever heard of called David Ward decided to share his thoughts for Holocaust Memorial Day. In a spectacularly appalling piece of timing, he posted the following on his blog immediately after signing the Holocaust Memorial Trust's book of remembrance:

    "Having visited Auschwitz twice– once with my family and once with local schools ... I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered
    unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

  • Inquiring minds

    Jenni Frazer
    Jan 29, 2013

    Let us unpick the events of the week so far. On Sunday, it was Holocaust Memorial Day: a yearly event initiated by the British government to mark, in line with many other countries, the attempted complete annihilation of a people. It is right and proper that HMD is used as an educational tool to mark other genocides. It is not right and proper to make a moral equivalence between what happened to the Jews between 1933 and 1945, and what is happening today in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

    On Holocaust Memorial Day the editors at the Sunday Times chose to publish two curiosities: a peculiar magazine story about David Irving, the Holocaust denier, and the tours he is running in concentration camps; and the by-now bizarre cartoon from Gerald Scarfe, featuring a bloodthirsty Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall and using murdered Palestinians for its cement.

    Scarfe himself has said he very much regretted the timing of the publication, claiming he did not know that it was HMD. But even if it had not been the anniversary, the cartoon was not just offensive - but missed the point in its comment on the Israeli elections. Netanyahu did not win an overwhelming victory and nor did the anti-peace camp forces in Israel.

  • Nothing like a good argument

    Simon Rocker
    Jan 24, 2013

    The British-born Israeli Talmud scholar Daniel Sperber – who is speaking at South Hampstead Synagogue on Sunday night – is one of the most eminent Orthodox academics.

    But Orthodoxy and academia haven’t always sat easily together. The relationship and tensions between Orthodox thinking and university research will be the focus of a new programme in London, “Arguments for Heaven's Sake”, of which Rabbi Sperber will be giving the inaugural lecture. It is sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the Friends of Louis Jacobs.

    Over the next few months Oxford will also be hosting a number of international scholars for a related programme exploring questions raised by the work of Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who tried to reconcile academic scholarship and traditional Judaism, though, of course, not in a way which always met the approval of the Orthodox establishment.

  • Hold onto your seats

    Orlando Radice
    Jan 23, 2013

    What a wonderful surprise. Israel did not swing en masse to the extreme right as many of us were fearing. Since nobody seems to know what Netanyahu really thinks about anything, it’s time to pray that he will club together with Yair Lapid to keep Naftali Bennett and the one-state disaster out. Here’s hoping for an Aristotelian denouement. Moderation in all things.

  • A changed Board?

    Marcus Dysch
    Jan 23, 2013

    I've been attending and reporting on Board of Deputies meetings for a couple of years.

    At my first meeting the biggest surprise came when I discovered that, far from being the august, grand debating chamber of the community that I had expected it to be, the Board plenary was more akin to a shouty shul council meeting a with a bit of a Vicar of Dibley-style shambles thrown in.

    I've since discussed those impressions with Board veterans, newcomers and outsiders alike, and have heard many of them express similar views.