Simon Rocker



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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New school rules ‘mockery of Jewish values’

By Simon Rocker, September 14, 2009

Predictably, a fair amount of criticism has greeted the new entry rules that JFS and other secondary schools have been forced to adopt after the Court of Appeal ruling which said that they could no longer use the Jewish status of parents to determine admissions.
Take the Jewish Tribune columnist Ben Yitzchok who in the latest edition, condemns the “stupidity” of the new religious test introduced by JFS, which is based on synagogue attendance and other practice.

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Chief Rabbi to become Lord Sacks of Aldgate

By Simon Rocker, September 11, 2009

The Chief Rabbi will officially become a peer on October 27 when he enters the House of Lords as Lords Sacks of Aldgate.

He will be sponsored by Lord Winston and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.

Explaining why he had chosen to nominate the East End of London district, he said; “My late father sold cloth in Commercial Road and my grandmother ran Frumkins wine shop. I wanted not to forget my roots. That’s where I used to help out help when I was a child and where my earliest memories are.”

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Charity Commission warns Cardiff home

By Simon Rocker, September 10, 2009

The only Jewish old age home in Wales has been told it must do more to publicise help for people unable to pay its fees if it is to remain a charity.

Penylan House in Cardiff was informed by the Charity Commission that it had failed to meet the legal requirement to provide “public benefit”.

In a report on the home, the commission noted “the lack of clear information that assistance may be available for those who cannot afford the fees”.

It also found “the absence of a clear, budgeted plan of targeted assistance to help in cases where top-up fees cannot be afforded”.

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Primary chair 'forced out over JCoSS'

By Simon Rocker, September 10, 2009

The chairman of Simon Marks Jewish Primary in Hackney has been forced to step down because, he claims, of his support for linking it with the new cross-communal Jewish Community Secondary School.

Simon Marks’s foundation body, the Scopus Jewish Educational Trust, has confirmed its decision not to reappoint Peter Kessler as a foundation governor after his three-year term expired.

He attributed the trust’s action to his backing for making Simon Marks a feeder for JCoSS, which is due to open in East Barnet next September.

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Government anti-terror funding 'is going to radicals'

By Simon Rocker, September 10, 2009

A key government programme to counter Islamist extremism has given money to groups that have promoted radical ideas, according to a new report.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, a ginger group monitoring public spending, says that the government should consider scrapping “Preventing Violent Extremism”, known as Prevent, a £50 million-plus scheme which is part of its anti-terrorism strategy.

The TPA, analysing more than £12 million spent on Prevent so far, accused the government of leaving it up to ill-equipped local councils to allocate the money.

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Jewish aid to Pakistan breaks down barriers

By Simon Rocker, September 10, 2009

A charity’s aid work in Pakistan helped to create a more positive image of Judaism, according to a report published this week.

It cites World Jewish Relief as an example of what religious organisations can achieve in providing help overseas.

Authors Edward Kessler and Miriam Arkush, who produced Keeping Faith in Development for the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge, recommend that faith-based organisations should do more to collaborate over international development to foster inter-religious understanding.

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JFS admits child of non-Orthodox convert

By Simon Rocker, September 10, 2009

JFS has accepted the child of a non-Orthodox-converted mother as a first-year pupil, despite its previous rejection of such children because they are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbi.

The Orthodox school, based in Kenton, north London, refused to admit any U-turn or say whether the decision had been taken because of a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this summer declaring its entry policy to be unlawful.

Russell Kett, chairman of JFS governors, said: “The school does not comment on individual applicants or students.”

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Marrying out? Come to Israel instead

By Simon Rocker, September 9, 2009
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An anti-assimilation campaign with Israeli government backing is generating fierce controversy, according to Ha’aretz.

The newspaper reports: “The campaign… urges Israelis to report the particulars of acquaintances living abroad so that these people, who are ‘in danger’ of marrying non-Jews, can be persuaded to come to Israel.

“The 10-day Hebrew-language campaign has been mounted by MASA, a partnership between the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government that helps finance and market Israel programs for diaspora Jews.

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