Simon Rocker

Sephardi head hosts Spanish envoy

By Simon Rocker, October 8, 2009

A reception in honour of Spanish Ambassador Carles Casajuana was hosted by the spiritual head of London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, Rabbi Abraham Levy.

Envoys from Spain are traditionally invited to visit the community in recognition of its historic links with the country, Rabbi Levy explained.

Mr Casajuana said that Jewish culture formed “a very important component” of Spanish heritage and culture.

Guests included Dame Gail and Gerald Ronson — or “Don Geraldo” as Rabbi Levy dubbed him.

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JFS: Supreme Court grants legal aid

By Simon Rocker, October 2, 2009

In its first ever judgment, Britain’s new Supreme Court has said that legal aid must continue to be available in the dispute over entry to JFS.

Until now, the Legal Services Commission has funded the father of the boy whose rejection by the school two years ago prompted the legal action.

But the LSC did not want to be liable for paying the costs of JFS and its foundation body, the United Synagogue, in the event that the father lost when the case comes to the Supreme Court later this month.

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Court denies release of BBC Middle East report

By Simon Rocker, October 2, 2009

The High Court today dealt a significant blow to a five-year-old campaign to force the BBC to publish a report into its Middle East coverage.

London solicitor Steven Sugar has battled since January 2005 for the release of the so-called Balen report, compiled in 2004, under the Freedom of Information Act.

His efforts have led to several legal hearings, even reaching the House of Lords earlier this year.

But in a judgment released today, Mr Justice Irwin said that the Balen report was exempt from disclosure because it dealt with journalism.

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Heads upset as JFS rejects their pupils

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

Jewish primary school heads have voiced dismay that their pupils are not been given priority at JFS.

Vivienne Orloff, head of the Michael Sobell Sinai School, a United Synagogue primary which lies next door to JFS in Kenton, said it was “ridiculous” that children from Jewish primaries did not get preference. “It’s heartbreaking when you have the school on your doorstep. We want all our children to continue their education and what’s important is that the parents want them to.”

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Raptorex Kriegsteini: the first Jewish dinosaur

By Simon Rocker, October 1, 2009

Many may be happy to be memorialised on a park bench plaque or a piece of synagogue curtain but Cecile and Roman Kriegstein of Palm Beach, Florida enjoy a more exotic tribute.

Their name has been given to a newly discovered species of dinosaur.

The University of Chicago bestowed the honour after being presented with the fossil by their son Henry, an eye surgeon and keen natural historian, who bought the remains from a dealer. His parents, both in their 80s and supporters of Yad Vashem, came from Poland and met in Germany after the war.

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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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