Simon Rocker

The Labour loyalist

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

Labour may have lost the Sun but at least it has kept the support of David Abrahams,

The businessman whose donations to it sparked, in 2007, an ultimately fruitless police inquiry.

In Brighton for the Labour conference, a beaming Abrahams felt “back among friends”. So will he dip into his pockets for the election? “The donations issue is history,” he said with a knowing smile before melting into the Labour Friends of Israel throng.

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A rabbi who sees blue

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

Rabbi Alan Plancey, emeritus rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue, will be swapping the pulpit for the soapbox when he contests a Hertfordshire Council seat for the Conservatives in a by-election this month.

The ebullient Scot’s political inclinations caused a rumpus some years ago when, as a sitting minister, he signed the nomination papers of his local Tory parliamentary candidate, one Cecil, later Lord, Parkinson.

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The ungrateful diplomat

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

As commented on elsewhere on this page, Foreign Office diplomat Rowan Laxton was convicted last week after an anti-Israel outburst while watching TV reports of Gaza during a work-out at the London Business School gym. But who had funded the facilities he was enjoying?

As revealed by this plaque, it was Idan Ofer, London Business School fellow and chairman of Israel’s largest holding company, Israel Corp.

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The Vatican and the Lobby

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

One man Pope Benedict will be keen to avoid on his UK visit next year is Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, whose views embarrassed the Vatican earlier this year.

Booted out of Argentina, the errant priest returned to Britain in February, under orders to recant. When I asked about him at the London branch of SSPX, the maverick sect to which he belongs, a secretary did not know of his whereabouts.

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JFS first case to be heard in Supreme Court

By Simon Rocker, September 30, 2009

The dispute over admissions to JFS is due to make legal history – it will be the subject of the first sitting of Britain’s new Supreme Court.

The new court, which replaces the House of Lords, was not due to open until next week.

But a hearing relating to the costs of the JFS case has been set for today.

In June, the Court of Appeal ruled that it was unlawful for schools to base entry on whether a child’s parent was Jewish or not.

The Supreme Court is due to begin hearing JFS’s appeal against the Court of Appeal decision on October 27.

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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?

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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?)

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Board: Muslim Council of Britain must be boycotted until reform

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

The government should lay down conditions for dealing with organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, a parliamentary inquiry has been told by the Board of Deputies.

In a joint submission with the Community Security Trust to the Commons’ Communities and Local Government Committee, the Board wrote: “Any future engagement with umbrella groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain must be contingent on them representing a greater range of views than those of the Islamists, and firmly rejecting violence in all circumstances, including in overseas conflicts.”

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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.

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Farewell to Chief's aide

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

A large crowd gathered at St John’s Wood Synagogue for a farewell reception for Syma Weinberg, who retired this summer as executive director of the Chief Rabbi’s office after nearly 13 years.

The former Hasmonean Preparatory School deputy head and education consultant to Jewish Continuity is making aliyah with her husband Henry in December.

“It’s been a privilege to have been working in the community for 40 years,” Mrs Weinberg said.

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Israel ban offside?

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

Could the TUC have retreated from a boycott of Israel because of its impact on European football?

The Professional Footballers Association is part of the TUC and I’m told that according to bar-room chatter at last week’s congress, the PFA might have had to ask players to pull out of fixtures involving Israeli clubs had a stronger boycott motion become policy. Mind you, Israeli teams in Euro competitions might have welcomed weakened opposition.

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Last orders, please

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

The United Synagogue is considering something to warm weather-beaten mourners — a coffee machine at Bushey cemetery. The Federation has already installed one at Rainham, but why doesn’the US go one better and put in a bar?

Last year a German rabbi allowed a man to be buried with a bottle of his favourite vodka. If the departed can take a tipple into the next world, why shouldn’t the living enjoy a l’chaim in theirs?

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Scientists' rising hopes

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

New York’s Yeshiva University is usually celebrated for its rabbinic scholarship.

So you wouldn’t normally associate the Orthodox-run institution with virility aids for the erectilely challenged.

But scientists at Yeshiva’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine are working on a cream that will help raise the lowly — as the Psalmist might have said — which has been described as a rub-on alternative to Viagra.

It is currently being tried out on rats and should be ready for human guinea-pigs in a few years.

Let’s hope they don’t test in on the rabbinical students.

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The Chief Rabbi's successor

By Simon Rocker, September 24, 2009

While the Chief Rabbi prepares to don his ermine next month, speculation is growing over who is likely to succeed him as mainstream Orthodoxy’s spiritual supremo.

The soon-to-be Lord Sacks of Aldgate is due to retire in three and half years on reaching 65. But whereas he was tipped for the top job long before he was chosen, seasoned rabbi-watchers are finding it hard this time to name a frontrunner.

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School entry rules 'fiasco'

By Simon Rocker, September 18, 2009

New school entry rules based on religious practice were slammed as a “fiasco” this week by the chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet.

He hit out as synagogues struggled with floods of inquiries from parents trying to ensure their children complied with the new admissions system.

Most Jewish schools have been forced to rewrite their rules after the Appeal Court ruled in June that they could no longer take children simply on the basis of whether their parents were Jewish.

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Orthodox rabbi calls for easier conversion

By Simon Rocker, September 18, 2009

One of the most senior figures of British Orthodoxy has called on Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks to make conversion to Judaism easier.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, emeritus rabbi of Stanmore Synagogue and author of numerous books on Judaism, appealed for action following the court case over admission to Jewish schools.

Speaking at a JC-hosted discussion published in today’s New Year supplement, Dr Cohen said: “I think the Chief Rabbi, who has spoken about us having to be more inclusive, needs to do a lot of hard talking to his Beth Din, if that is what he really means.”

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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.

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Solomon gets Scots and interfaith roles

By Simon Rocker, September 17, 2009

Rabbi Mark Solomon has left the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood, after nine years to take up a new role as interfaith consultant for Liberal Judaism.

He has also become part-time rabbi of Sukkat Shalom, Edinburgh’s Liberal community, and will take services over the High Holy-Days.

Rabbi Solomon, a trustee of the Interfaith Alliance UK, said that “Jewish-Muslim links are very important these days, but I hope to build links more widely as well”.

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School goes outside the faith to fill

By Simon Rocker, September 17, 2009

Ilford Jewish Primary School is accepting pupils from other faiths because there have been insufficient Jewish children to fill places.

Headteacher Roz Levin said that for the second academic year, non-Jewish children had been admitted “due to the fact that we are not oversubscribed”.

Five of this year’s 31 entrants to the reception class are not Jewish. Their families understood “we are a Jewish school and we only teach Judaism”, the head explained.

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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

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