Simon Rocker

Parshapp of the week

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Liberal Judaism's youth movement, Kadimah, had no Sefer Torah for their Shabbat service on their recent summer camp.

But no problem for visiting Rabbi Pete Tobias, who simply whipped out his mobile. "I have a Torah app," he explained, "so in what may be a first in Jewish history, I gave a Torah reading from my iPhone."

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Blair bonus for board

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

The words "crowd-puller" and "Board of Deputies" do not normally go hand in hand. But last week's Institute of Jewish Studies' conference on the Board's 250th anniversary proved such an attraction that some people had to sit in the aisles. One grateful guest even handed Board treasurer Laurence Brass a £500 cheque.

He will be hoping for similar largesse at the Board's 250th celebration dinner in November – whose guest of honour I can reveal will be Tony Blair.

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One-legged shul stand

By Simon Rocker, September 7, 2010

Long John Silver would have been proud. Clive Lawton had promised to lead the Musaph service at Muswell Hill United Synagogue last Shabbat for a barmitzvah.

But then he suffered a mishap - he broke his left ankle. Undeterred, the long-haired Limmud leader was wheelchaired to shul by a non-Jewish security guard and, hopping up to the bimah, delivered the service on one leg and a pair of crutches. All that was missing was the eye-patch and parrot.

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The Chief Rabbi takes on Stephen Hawking

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

The science v religion debate was in full swing in today’s Times with physicist Stephen Hawking arguing that the universe was capable of “spontaneous creation” and therefore God was redundant.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” Hawking declared.

But his argument was attacked as a fallacy by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks who pointed out the limits of scientific explanation. “There is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live,” he countered.

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Lord Sacks ponders issues of faith

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks says he has put his faith "on the line" for his annual Rosh Hashanah broadcast this year when it goes out on BBC1 onSunday night.

Entitled The Case for God? the programme features him in conversation with four of Britain's "cleverest" critics of religion - as he calls them.

Three are Jewish - Howard Jacobson, Alain de Botton and Lisa Jardine. The fourth, neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, argues that science has made religion irrelevant.

At one point, the Chief Rabbi is asked by Howard Jacobson whether he is sure there is a God.

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Rabbi's rhymes - with a twist

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

It might not seem unusual for a rabbi to translate the Torah - but it is if he does it in verse.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen has just published a new poetic version of Genesis in English, rendered into rhyming couplets.

It is a new departure for the rabbi who has previously written many books on Jewish festivals and prayer as well as articles on the Bible in scholarly journals.

Since he has written on Jewish liturgy, and a major part of the liturgy is poetic, he has long been captivated by poetry as a form of religious expression, he explained.

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Chief Rabbi set to represent all faith communities

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has been asked to give the response at the Pope's main interfaith meeting during his state visit to Britain in two weeks' time.

Pope Benedict will address leaders of the country's faiths at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, a Catholic teacher training institution that is part of Surrey University.

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Can Pope Benedict soothe pain over Pius beatification?

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

The proposed beatification of controversial wartime Pope Pius XII has shadowed Catholic-Jewish relations for more than 40 years.

Critics of Pius, who died in 1958, accuse him of having failed to use his influence to speak out on behalf of Europe's Jews as the Nazis closed in.

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Donovan's Jewish journey

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

If there were a Hall of Jewish Pop Fame, Jason Donovan could now claim a plinth.

The BBC's celebrity genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? has thrown up a few Jewish stories but the former Neighbours star's story is an unusual one.

His great-grandma down the maternal line was Eileen Lyons, a promising singer described as a "sweet-faced little Jewess" in the Australian press of her day.

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Hackers who lost their way

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

Belvoir Castle, the Duke of Rutland's pad in Leicestershire, is the setting for an annual teddy bears' picnic in its stately grounds.

But visitors to its website the other day would have been bemused to find images of the castle replaced by the Algerian flag and a message in Arabic denouncing Israel.

The geographically challenged Algerians who perpetrated the hack had confused this slice of aristocratic England with Belvoir Fortress, a former Crusader garrison 2,000 miles away in Israel.

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Eggsellent news in Uganda

By Simon Rocker, September 2, 2010

You may recall our recent report on the Putti Jews of Uganda and Ros Eisen, the London woman aiding them. Happily, the egg-farming venture she set up has taken off. "We started with 50 chickens, three weeks later we are up to 500," Ros said. "They've had to convert an empty building planned as a library into an additional henhouse."

After seven months their laying days will be over and a date with the soup pot beckoning.

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Kindertransport refugees hit out at Israeli plan to deport kids

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

A number of former refugees who came to Britain as children on the Kindertransport have spoken out against Israel's plan to deport the children of illegal foreign workers.

Sir Erich Reich, who arrived in the UK from Nazi-occupied Austria at the age of four, said: "I don't know the ins and outs but psychologically, the idea of deporting children is contrary to our past and what we believe in."

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Orthodox oppose education training courses

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

Training courses for strictly Orthodox nursery school teachers have come under renewed attack because of material relating to child abuse.

Opponents have circulated a letter from the Rabbinical Council of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations warning of the danger of NVQ courses.

But Hindy Lew, manager of Vista Education and Training, one of the institutions which runs NVQ courses for the Charedi community, said: "The way we teach it, there is no reason for people to be agitating against it."

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Tribune in danger of closing

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

Efforts are being made to save the Jewish Tribune after rumours that the Orthodox weekly would be closing after Rosh Hashanah.

This week's issue appeals for help to secure the future of the newspaper, which is published by the UK branch of the Agudas Israel movement.

Alex Strom, a member of the editorial board and a Tribune columnist, said: "It is being published for the time being and I am hopeful it will carry on."

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Will Katie get X-Factor axe?

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

After all the excitement over Stacey Solomon last year, is there anyone with the J-factor this year?

Step up Katie Waissel (left) from Hertfordshire, who made her mark at last week's X Factor audition by forgetting the lines to Queen's We Are the Champions and successfully persuading the judges to let her do another song instead.

But the participation of the part-time receptionist - who went under the name Katie Vogel aka Katie V when we spoke to her about her singing ambitions a few months ago - may
be short-lived.

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Into the breach

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

Former chairman of the Union of Jewish Students Daniel Sacker has left top PR firm Weber Shandwick and is rumoured to be on his way to the JNF.

Yet to be revealed is what role the Young Jewish Political Network member will play at the charity, which lately parted company with its new chief executive after just six months.

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The BBC plays fair by Israel

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

What's come over the BBC? After last week's Panorama on the Gaza flotilla incident - which drew plaudits from the Zionist Federation and had the Palestine Solidarity Campaign fuming - came an item on Radio Four's Today this week about a Norwegian fund blacklisting two Israeli companies.

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Rogue burger

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

Drew Barrymore's new comedy Going the Distance, due for released next month, has a scene in which co-star Justin Long eats a burger.

A bit of a problem for the New York Jewish couple who lent their home as a location: they are kosher, but the burger, cooked in their kitchen, most certainly was not. The studio had to replace the grill.

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Kosher guide goes mobile

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

It can be hard to keep up with the ins and outs of kashrut. Bounty bars recently returned to the approved list after many years off it - but how would you know?

Help is at hand with a new mobile phone app from Arta Creative Solutions, which can give the run-down on 8,000 products from the London Beth Din's kashrut guide.

A handy device when your child is pestering you to buy something in the sweetshop.

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High and holy days - A book of Jewish wisdom

By Simon Rocker, August 26, 2010

By Andrew Goldstein and Charles Middleburgh
Canterbury Press £14.99

The month of Ellul is traditionally a warm-up for Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis of old knew that it can be difficult to get in the mood for the Days of Awe without some kind of preparation: hence the twice daily recitation from the beginning of the month of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light", the blowing of the shofar at the end of shacharit and the saying of selichot, penitential prayers, the week before Rosh Hashanah.

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