Judaism features

Limmud Fest's mystical quest

By Simon Rocker, July 28, 2010

There is a mystical theme to this year's Limmud Fest, which takes place in Sussex at the end of next month: Pardes, meaning "orchard", a richly symbolic idea in Jewish tradition.

"The orchard is a mystical place for coming close to God, for finding connections and delving into multi-levels of meaning," explains artist Jacqueline Nicholls, who has jointly overseen the event's programme.


A shivah is not the time for a tea party

By Rabbi Barry Marcus, July 22, 2010

A colleague once told me about a call he received from a congregant informing him of the death of a family member. Before the rabbi could even offer his condolences, he was asked if he could recommend a good caterer for the one-night shivah.

All communal rabbis face a daily challenge in dealing with the lifecycle events in their communities, whether births, bar/batmitzvahs, weddings or sadly, bereavements. All these events are charged with various levels of emotion which demand sensitive handling.


How disaster made conversion harder

July 15, 2010

The unprecedented growth of Islam in the West, despite prejudice and hatred, contrasts with the demographic stagnation of the Jewish people - several million fewer now than in 1939. Conversion to practically every other religion remains considerably easier than conversion to Judaism. Why is traditional conversion to Judaism so hard?


200 years old - but is Reform at a standstill?

July 8, 2010

The birth of Reform Judaism 200 years ago on July 17 1810 in the town of Seesen in central Germany was greeted by an extraordinary fanfare designed to highlight the radical mix of the traditional and the contemporary that it was now offering.

It started with the ringing of bells as a procession of rabbis entered the new building, at which point 70 musicians and singers burst into song, both in Hebrew and German. Moreover, the building was called a "temple", an audacious use of a term not applied in Judaism since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.


What MPs could learn from Moses's donkey

By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, June 24, 2010

Politicians frequently complain about being constantly under the spotlight and the unending public scrutiny of some of their lives. Apparently, little has changed since biblical times. According to the Midrash, Moses protested that when he spent time in his tent, people accused him of neglecting his national responsibilities, but when he left home to spend long hours teaching, judging and leading the nation, rumours circulated about the state of his marriage.


How lucky charms still bring us a little magic

By Mordechai Beck, June 17, 2010

Israel's representative at the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Harel Skaat, unashamedly flaunted a kemaye - a Hebrew amulet - on his bared chest during his performance. "I believe in all these superstitions," he confessed.


The Chief Rabbinate: a rock or Victorian relic?

June 10, 2010

Another Way, Another Time: Religious Inclusivism and the Sacks Chief Rabbinate
Meir Persoff, Academic Studies Press, £54.50 (26.99 pb)

Britain's Chief Rabbis and the Religious Character of Anglo-Jewry, 1880-1970
Benjamin J. Elton, Manchester University Press, £60


The Israeli who's taken Abraham to Oxford

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2010

Oxford may have lost to Cambridge in this year's boat race, but in one pursuit Oxford has pipped its old rival to the post. Oxford's first Professor of Abrahamic Studies has been teaching there almost a year, while Cambridge is still in the process of recruiting one.

The holder of Oxford's new chair is a Parisian-born Jewish Israeli with a special interest in early Christian mysticism. Guy Stroumsa had been Martin Buber Professor of Comparative Religion at the Jerusalem's Hebrew University until his arrival here last autumn.


Why put the patriarchs before the matriarchs?

By Simon Rocker, May 21, 2010

In Jew Vs Jew, his book on religious divisions in American Jewry, Samuel Freedman recalled an incident that happened one Shabbat morning at a trendy egalitarian minyan in California in the late 80s. Men and women enjoyed an equal role while using a traditional liturgy.


Can the voice of God still be heard today?

By Jonathan Wittenberg, May 13, 2010

Hugo Gryn's words still startle me: "And I understood a bit of the revelation that is implicit in Auschwitz." Is revelation not linked to Sinai, and not anywhere else - let alone Auschwitz? So what can Gryn's words mean?