Simon Rocker

Seen a ghost - who do you call?

By Simon Rocker, August 27, 2009

Both the lollypop lady and the baker on his delivery round saw it from the street — visible through a bedroom window was an 11-year-old girl, floating, it seemed, in mid-air. The story of the Enfield Poltergeist has continued to intrigue ghost-hunters since the first reports some 30 years ago of a single mother and her children being afflicted by apparently unexplained phenomena in their north London council house.

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Bevis Marks Rabbi’s hearing delayed

By Simon Rocker, August 20, 2009

The executive of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation has postponed a disciplinary hearing for the rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue in the East End of London because he is understood to be on sick leave.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha received a final warning after a first hearing two weeks ago when the mahamad (executive) said he had taken part without authorisation in an interfaith demonstration against high bank interest rates last month.

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MPs 'regret' use of UK arms by Israel in Gaza

By Simon Rocker, August 20, 2009

A committee of MPs has said it was regrettable that arms components made in the UK were “almost certainly” used by Israel in the conflict in Gaza earlier this year.

In a report published on Wednesday, the arms export controls committee recommended that the government "continue to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen in future".

It also backed the refusal to licence the sale of certain components to Israel since the Lebanon war of 2006.

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Another derecognised conversion

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

In this week's JC, I write about why it would be difficult to reach agreement for a universally recognised standard of conversion. But as if any more evidence of the obstacles were needed, the Jerusalem Post reports another example of an Israeli Orthodox convert having her conversion invalidated by the official rabbinate.

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Who will carry the torch for Jewish unity?

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

In his typically forthright way, Gerald Ronson, the president of the new Jewish Community Secondary School, explained the reason behind its opening next year: “It is important that in our community we do have a first-class faith school which will take on board non-halachic, together with halachic, children,” he said in a YouTube interview, adding: “It’s not me that makes the issue of whether you are halachic, non-halachic… You want to go to a Jewish school? You should be able to go to a Jewish school.”

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Fish or female?

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

Kiryat Yam council near Haifa are apparently offering a $1million to anyone who can prove the existence of a mermaid who has reportedly been spotted frolicking off the coast of Israel. But are they ready to offer more for anyone who can answer the question that really matters - would she be kosher?

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American Jews ‘losing their faith’

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

The number of American Jews who regard themselves as culturally rather than religiously Jewish has almost doubled in a decade, according to new research.

American Jews who identify by ethnicity have increased from 20 per cent to 37 per cent of the American Jewish population since 1990, while the proportion of those who follow any of the streams of Judaism has dropped by more than a fifth in the same period.

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Rabbi faces second discipline hearing

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

Sephardi leaders have been accused of victimising the rabbi of Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks, after demanding he face a second disciplinary hearing in a fortnight.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha, who was suspended three weeks ago, was issued with a final warning by the mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation over his involvement last month in a march against high bank interest rates.

But members of Bevis Marks are in uproar after learning that the mahamad had extended his suspension on Friday and made new allegations of gross misconduct against him.

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Newspaper blasted over MP article

By Simon Rocker, August 13, 2009

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the News of the World from Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East.

Dr Lewis, the Shadow Defence Minister with responsibility for the Navy, protested about a report in the paper in March which claimed that he was “hardly” at his constituency home in Hampshire.

Instead, the article suggested, he received a second-home allowance for a London property which was effectively his main home. The report was published at the height of the MPs’ expenses row.

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The Mechitzah on the Street

By Simon Rocker, August 12, 2009

That redoubtable Orthodox blogger, Honestly Frum, has this tale from Jerusalem. It begins:

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Deputies in row over how to treat hate

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, this week rounded on critics who accuse him of underplaying the threat of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

Six deputies posted an online statement to dissociate themselves from an opinion piece written by Mr Wineman for the Jerusalem Post last week.

But writing in today’s JC, the Board president, who was elected two months ago, hit back, rejecting claims that the leadership had “its head in the sand”.

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Aliyah-bid couple to get help from shul

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

A South London synagogue has rallied to the support of a family of black converts who have waited two years for approval to make aliyah.

Carl and Maleka Levy were recently told by Israel’s Ministry of Interior that they must fly out to Israel to attend an official hearing to prove their Jewish credentials.

Now Bromley Synagogue, which the Levys and their five daughters attend, has agreed to underwrite the cost of the couple’s trip to Israel in order to state their case.

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Revealed: future faces of Orthodoxy

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

The first crop of new rabbis for mainstream Orthodox congregations has been trained in Britain after a gap of several years.

Five students passed their final exams on the London Montefiore semichah (ordination) programme, launched three years ago in partnership with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

It was founded following the closure of rabbinic training in 2002 at the London School of Jewish Studies, formerly Jews’ College, which historically trained ministers for central Orthodoxy in the UK.

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Shul suspends its rabbi ‘for usury protest’

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

The rabbi of Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks in the East End of London, has been suspended over his participation in a protest against banks charging high interest rates.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha, who arrived from Zimbabwe just a year and a half ago, faced allegations of gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing on Monday convened by the mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

But angry congregants have attacked the executive’s action, claiming it was merely a pretext to carry out a previous proposal to make the rabbi redundant.

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Sacks sets ‘inclusive’ new school entry tests

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks this week issued admission guidelines to Jewish schools in the wake of the JFS court ruling.

New entry rules, based on Jewish practice, should be “as inclusive as possible”, he said, following the Court of Appeal’s recent ruling that it was unlawful to pick pupils according to whether or not their parents were Jewish.

But the advice could prove academic, because the House of Lords — in one of its final legal decisions before the new Supreme Court takes over — agreed last Friday to hear an appeal from JFS against the Appeal Court ruling.

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Imam joins Leo Baeck

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

Leo Baeck College, the Progressive rabbinic academy in London, has appointed a young British imam as a research fellow in Islamic studies.

Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Husseini, who grew up in Hertfordshire, will run courses on the Qur’an, Muslim-Jewish relations and Arabic.

“I am very honoured by this enormous privilege,” he said.

He has already been teaching at the college over the past year and active in its programme to encourage the comparative study of Jewish, Muslim and Christian texts.

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Lerman on Lieberman

By Simon Rocker, August 6, 2009

In yesterday’s Guardian Antony Lerman had a crack at Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister and leader of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, Avigdor Lieberman.
Among other things, he wrote: “In the UK, Jewish leaders have been silent on the dangers he represents. Have we heard a peep out of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on the subject?”

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Lords will hear JFS case

By Simon Rocker, August 3, 2009

The House of Lords has agreed to hear an appeal from JFS against the Court of Appeal ruling that its admissions policy is unlawful.

When the case is heard, it will come before the new Supreme Court which is replacing the Lords.

Appeal judges ruled at the end of June that Jewish schools cannot admit children on the basis of parental Jewish descent since that contravened the Race Relations. As a result, Jewish schools are having to revise entry policies for next year by basing them on the family’s religious observance.

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The Barmitzvah That Never Was

By Simon Rocker, August 3, 2009

A rather sad tale of everyday intermarried life from this weekend’s Guardian.

In a first-person piece, Annabel Wright, a self-confessed “non-practising Jew” married to a “lapsed Church of England” husband, recounts how her 12-year-son Marcus became interested in Judaism and wanted to have a barmitzvah.

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Kosher phones ring the changes

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

Kosher phones — adapted to prevent access to the Internet — have finally arrived in London with the blessing of the strictly Orthodox rabbinate.

Rose Communications, a company in Stamford Hill, north London, is inviting customers to trade in their old mobiles free for the new handsets, which can also be modified to exclude the text messaging service.

Although kosher phones have been available in Israel for several years, it took the efforts of a local non-profit organisation, Hakol Kol — meaning “voice only” — to introduce them to London.

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