Simon Rocker

Single conversion standard resisted

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

The head of the United Synagogue’s Rabbinical Council (RCUS) has responded to a call for a common conversion standard by asserting that only Orthodox conversions are valid.

Jonathan Arkush, the Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president and a US member, publicly revived the idea of a unified approach at a Board meeting last week in order to prevent disputes over who is a Jew.

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New 'roadmap' provides hope for divorce solution

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

A major initiative was launched this week to resolve one of the most problematic issues in Jewish law — the plight of the agunah, the “chained woman”, unable to remarry because her husband has denied her a get, a religious bill of divorce.

An academic team from Manchester University is today publishing a “roadmap” towards possible solutions after a five-year investigation.

Professor Bernard Jackson, a specialist in Jewish law and director of the university’s Agunah Research Unit, warned: “There is no single magic bullet to solve the problem.”

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Archbishop amplified by Speakers

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

A tour of the Sternberg Centre in Finchley was the first visit to a Jewish institution by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of England and Wales’s Catholics, since his appointment in May.
The Archbishop of Westminster, who has become a joint president of the Council of Christians and Jews through his new office, visited at the invitation of Reform president Sir Sigmund Sternberg.

While there, he recalled one of his “most important” interfaith experiences, which occurred a few years ago during his time as Archbishop of Birmingham.

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Charity stands by Desmond after failed case

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

Norwood has stood by its president Richard Desmond after the newspaper owner’s failed libel suit which put his business conduct into the spotlight.

Mr Desmond was left with an estimated £1 million plus costs when a High Court jury last week rejected his claim for defamation against the investigative journalist Tom Bower.

In a statement, Norwood chairman Bernie Myers said this week that Mr Desmond had been a “committed supporter” of the charity for more than 20 years and it had been “delighted” to appoint him as president three years ago.

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Toast of the town

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

On the way to the bank, I noticed a display board outside Oddbin’s in Holborn proudly advertising one of the off-licence’s latest acquisitions; “Kosher Côte du Rhone”.
Is it this an indication that kosher wine has now gone mainstream? Could m' learned friends at the High Court down the road be taking a new tipple?

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Friends in High Places

By Simon Rocker, July 24, 2009

One of the main arguments of the Chief Rabbi’s new book , Future Tense, is that we need not be a “people that dwells alone” and that Jews have friends in the fight against antisemitism and other issues.

Here’s an example – from Lord Alton, writing this week in the Catholic newspaper, The Universe.

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TV-ban school challenged by local council

By Simon Rocker, July 23, 2009

Bury Council has challenged the admissions policy of a state-aided strictly Orthodox primary school which stipulates that parents should not have TV sets at home.

The council declined to go into details about its objection to the entry criteria of Yesoiday Hatorah (formerly Prestwich Jewish Day School).

But a spokesman for the Lancashire authority said: “During the consultation on admission arrangements for 2010, we highlighted our objections regarding the draft policies of Yesoiday Hatorah Primary School. However, the determined policies were not altered.

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British JNF attacks Israel land scheme

By Simon Rocker, July 23, 2009

JNF UK is challenging the planned transfer to the Israeli government of lands bought with money raised by diaspora Jews.

Samuel Hayek, chairman of the charity, described the arrangement, which is part of a land reform currently being hotly debated in the Knesset, as an “issue of concern”.

The controversy has arisen over the Israeli government’s wish to enable householders to own the freehold of their properties, rather than leasehold as at present.

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Faith groups attack usury

By Simon Rocker, July 23, 2009

A campaign against excessive interest rates was launched with interfaith backing at Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks, in the heart of the City of London on Wednesday.

Christian and Muslim representatives joined Rabbi Natan Asmoucha at the synagogue before setting off for a rally at Spitalfields, organised by the charity London Citizens.

Rabbi Asmoucha explained that the protest was not against lending as such but against “high interest rates which keep people from ever getting out of debt”.

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The Hizbollah ‘spy’ and the Vatican conspiracy theory

By Simon Rocker, July 20, 2009

A bizarre story from Ha’aretz.

“The Pope and the cardinals of the Vatican help organize tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews, according to a booklet being distributed to Israel Defense Forces soldiers,” it begins.

Far-fetched? The report goes on to say that the IDF has halted distribution after doubts (not suprisingly) were cast on the veracity of the claims. A soldier is quoted as saying: “The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it. It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story.”

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Jews to blame for Holocaust, says imam

By Simon Rocker, July 17, 2009

Rabbis invited to a Muslim conference in the States had a nasty surprise as Nathan Guttman reports in this week's Forward:

"Efforts to bring together Jewish and Muslim communities hit another snag when an imam at a major Muslim conference gave an incendiary speech in which he said Jews were to blame for the Holocaust."

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Sir Martin Gilbert on Iraq panel

By Simon Rocker, July 16, 2009

Two of British Jewry’s most eminent academics, Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, have been appointed to the government’s committee of inquiry into the Iraq War.

Sir Lawrence, vice-principal and professor of war studies at King’s College, London, and Sir Martin, whose books include histories of the world wars, are being made privy counsellors.

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US pledges to challenge court decision on JFS

By Simon Rocker, July 16, 2009

There are “good prospects” of reversing the Court of Appeal ruling on Jewish schools, Simon Hochhauser, the president of the United Synagogue, declared this week.

He told an unusually well-attended meeting of the US Council on Monday: “It is the view of our legal advisers… if this case does get to the House of Lords, it has good prospects of being overturned.”

The Court of Appeal has now ordered JFS to reconsider whether to give a place to a 13-year old boy who was originally rejected two years ago.

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The Chief Rabbi on his new book and his new title

By Simon Rocker, July 16, 2009

By the time his long-awaited peerage was announced, the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, had already gone into seclusion. Around this period of year, he closes his public diary and turns his mind to writing a new book.

The latest of his 18 books, Future Tense, appeared only last month and he has called it the “most important” he has written, an attempt to produce a “satellite navigation system” for Jews and Judaism in the years ahead.

While the book warns of the rise of “the new antisemitism”, its message is that the Jewish agenda should not be defined by external threat.

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Members’ fury over quit order

By Simon Rocker, July 16, 2009

Hackney Synagogue members are furious that they were given less than a month’s notice to stop using their Grade II listed shul.

Louis Cohen, the warden of the north London congregation, said they were informed by the United Synagogue only last week that the Victorian building in Brenthouse Road was being sold at the end of the month.

After tomorrow week, the community have permission from the new owners to hold services downstairs in the hall of the building for a year.

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Bevis Marks in talks over rabbi's exit

By Simon Rocker, July 16, 2009

Members of Bevis Marks Synagogue in east London say that the redundancy process involving their rabbi has been suspended pending a meeting on Monday with the mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

Congregants protested after learning of the possible loss of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha, who arrived from Zimbabwe last year to become rabbi of Britain’s oldest shul. Some feared the proposed redundancy could be a prelude to closing the place of worship.

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A Lordly Chief and a Deafening Silence

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2009

The - some would say, long-overdue - elevation of the Chief Rabbi to the House of Lords has brought across-the-board congratulations from the Charedi Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations to Masorti.

Almost across the board, that is. Invitations from the JC to comment have so far elicited no response from the Reform or Liberal movements.

A sign of smouldering anger over the JFS affair, perhaps?

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JFS boy must be 'reconsidered'

By Simon Rocker, July 10, 2009

JFS has been told it must reconsider admitting the boy at the centre of the recent court case.

The Court of Appeal ordered the school to think again about offering a place to the boy, known as M, who was originally refused entry two years because his mother was a non-Orthodox convert.

Two weeks ago the court ruled that the school’s entry policy as unlawful, because allowing entry on the basis of whether a parent is Jewish contravenes the Race Relations Act.

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JFS - 'the dead hand of ecclesiastical authorities'

By Simon Rocker, July 10, 2009

An outspoken commentary on the JFS court case from the former head of Carmel College, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen. You can read the full version here :

But here's a taste:

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Volunteer force reports growth in numbers

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

The Jewish Volunteering Network has more than tripled the number of people on its books in under a year, the organisation’s first conference was told on Monday.

Inquiries from prospective volunteers have risen to more than 1,000 from 300 last September, while more than 130 organisations have registered with it.

Set up three years ago as an “appropriate response to a real need”, JVN was saluted by keynote speaker Professor Margaret Harris, an expert on voluntary organisations in the UK.

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