Simon Rocker



What’s the link between Obama and Kabbalah?

By Simon Rocker, November 20, 2008

 Well, it is highly tenuous but here goes. The national finance chair of President-Elect Obama's campaign was Penny Pritzker, of the Chicago philanthropic family associated among other things with Hyatt hotels. Penny's first cousin is Thomas Pritzker and it is was Tom's wife Margot, a Jewish studies enthusiast - she has an MA in the subject - who secured family sponsorship for a new translation of the Zohar, the central text of medieval Kabbalah.

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A treasury of sacred cloth

By Simon Rocker, November 20, 2008

When you think of prize Judaica, what probably comes to mind are antique books or the silver bells and breastplates that adorn a Sefer Torah. But a new Jewish Museum exhibition that has just opened in London features another type of religious artistry - the mantles in which the Torah is dressed.

Some of the "sacred textiles" that have been in the possession of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation for three centuries have gone on display at the historic Bevis Marks Synagogue in the East End.

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Commons queries over Hebrew A-level

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

An MP has raised questions in parliament after an Israeli-born pupil from a Jewish school was denied a university place this year because the university would not recognise her modern Hebrew A-level.

Westminster University said it could not accept her A-level A-grade in Ivrit. The unidentified student was told: "Even if you have lived in the UK since the age of three, Hebrew is the language you will have used most of or a lot of the time at home, as it is your mother's first language."

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JNF seeks cash from donor who ‘underwrote its legal fees’

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

The JNF is trying to recover money from a donor who it says agreed to meet the legal costs of its past dispute with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael.

Newly-published accounts reveal that the charity spent £886,000 on legal expenses in 2007 plus £289,000  in the year before - while receiving donations worth £344,000 towards the lawyers' bill.

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Mixed choir hits sour note with rabbis

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

The days of the last mixed choir at an Orthodox synagogue in Britain look to be numbered.

Leaders of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (Princes Road) believe that their historic choir is impeding the search to find a new rabbi.

Laurence Goldman, the congregation's senior warden, said: "We're in a situation where a mixed choir is not really acceptable to Orthodox rabbis looking for a job. One rabbi said he wouldn't be prepared to come for an interview unless we agreed not to have a mixed choir.

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Downturn ‘will fuel antisemitism’

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

British Jewish leaders are warning that the worsening economy could lead to a rise in antisemitism and increased support for the British National Party.

Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies and chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, said this week: "We're already seeing and hearing things about who is responsible for the economic downturn and we know from history that when there are economic problems, there has always been an increase in antisemitism."

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Chiefs groom UK Jewry’s next leaders

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

A review is to be carried out into the future funding of British Jewry, the Jewish Leadership Council announced this week.

The inquiry will be the first project of the JLC's new leadership network, a group of activists in their 30s and 40s who are being groomed to be the "leaders of tomorrow".

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Was Guy Fawkes a heimishe hero?

By Simon Rocker, November 6, 2008

This question has been posed on the BBC religion website's Jewish message board. The poster means James I, not II. But has anyone ever heard this before?

My nephew has just been told by his rabbi that Jews should not celebrate Guy Fawkes night because the monarch involved, James II, was anti-semitic. Could we discuss this, please?

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Airline bans student in passport photo dispute

By Simon Rocker, November 6, 2008

The mother of a London yeshivah student is still trying to claim compensation from an Israeli airline after her son was refused permission by a security officer from boarding a flight to Tel Aviv in the summer.

Aaron Friedman, 17, was stopped from taking an Israir flight from Stansted in June because, according to his mother, the security officer said he did not look like his passport photo. He was forced to buy another ticket to travel to Israel with El Al four days later.

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Birth figures reveal strength of the family

By Simon Rocker, November 6, 2008

More British Jews are being born than are dying each year, according to the latest survey by the Board of Deputies published this week.

And the number of divorces sanctioned by Orthodox or Reform rabbinic authorities dropped to the lowest on record for nearly 20 years.

The number of Jewish deaths last year also dropped - below 3,000 for the first time since the Board began compiling records in the 1960s.

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Rabbi David Goldberg and a Question of God

By Simon Rocker, November 5, 2008

In a typically provocative piece, the emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, Rabbi David Goldberg, has argued that the traditional concept of God is dead for "non-fundamentalist" Jews.

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A Common-sense proposal on conversion?

By Simon Rocker, November 3, 2008

Earlier this year an Israeli dayan made an extraordinary ruling which threatened retroactively to strip thousands of Israeli converts of their Jewish status. Fortunately, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has not endorsed his decision, so the converts can sleep more easily, even if in the back of their minds, they may still feel a cloud hanging over them.

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Reform forced to shut Northern office

By Simon Rocker, October 30, 2008

The Reform Movement is to close its Northern office in Manchester as part of a package of cuts caused by the general financial crisis.

Three staff are to be laid off in the synagogue services department, admin and IT, members of the movement's council were told at a quarterly meeting in London on Sunday.

Despite an increased yield from its annual dinner earlier this month, the Reform's fundraising target of £980,000 is likely to fall short by £21,000 this year: and it is planning to cut is spending by around £270,000 to just over £3 million next year.

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Charity watchdog to probe KKL wills advice

By Simon Rocker, October 30, 2008

The Charity Commission is looking into a complaint against the JNF over the offer of free advice on wills in return for a bequest to the charity.

The complaint arose out of a dispute over a will which left money to a number of charities, including JNF, after the donor had consulted the KKL will service, which is run by a subsidiary of JNF UK.

But a spokesman for KKL said that the commission three years ago had expressed "satisfaction with our practices and procedures" and that it would gladly answer any queries.

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Reform deny ‘making war’ on Orthodoxy

By Simon Rocker, October 30, 2008

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Reform movement, this week stressed that the recent statement on pluralism signed with the Liberals and Masorti was not a declaration of war on Orthodoxy.

"We don't want to go to war with anybody," he told a quarterly meeting of the Reform's lay council in London on Sunday.

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How the Singer’s Siddur went Zionist

By Simon Rocker, October 28, 2008

The Chief Rabbi's edition of the Singer's Prayer Book was the first to include a specific entry for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, signalling growing acceptance of it as a religious festival. But the other day I noticed another detail in the siddur which shows the influence of Israel on contemporary Judaism l: in the prayers for Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Succot, Rabbah is spelt with a final Hebrew heh at the end rather than the Aramaic aleph with which it had been spelt in previous editions.

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More help for financially troubled

By Simon Rocker, October 24, 2008

A new charity is in the pipeline to aid those in financial straits.

The venture is an offshoot of The Clubhouse, the Golders Green-based organisation set up to help troubled young people from the strictly Orthodox community.

For some time, The Clubhouse has operated a money advisory service offering debt counselling beyond its immediate clientele.

Now Mark Fabian, who runs the service, says plans are under way to establish a stand-alone charity which can meet the increasing demand for help.

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Sacks throws rabbis a credit crunch lifeline

By Simon Rocker, October 24, 2008

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, is planning a special seminar next month to equip rabbis to deal with the impact of the financial crisis on their congregants.

Its aim is to help them provide pastoral care, encourage support networks and be aware of the sort of help available, such as the Employment Resource Centre.

He is also inviting some business representatives to advise rabbis on how communities can help.

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Fears over Israel-hate at UN race conference

By Simon Rocker, October 24, 2008

Jewish representatives remain concerned that a United Nations anti-racism conference next spring may be used to promote an anti-Israel agenda.

A follow-up to the Durban human rights conference of 2001 - where Jewish organisations were shocked at the level of aggressive anti-Zionism - is due to take place in Geneva next April.

But representatives of the Jewish Human Rights Coalition UK, set up to participate in the event, expressed worries after attending a UN pre-conference meeting to discuss the agenda earlier this month.

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Feds’ festive addition

By Simon Rocker, October 17, 2008

For the first time, the Federation of Synagogues has supervised sets of arba minim (lulav and etrog) for Succot.

The head of the Federation Beth Din, Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, travelled to Morocco recently with an inspector to examine etrogim and myrtle leaves.

"I was approached by a religious family called Tidghi," he said. "They live in France although part of the family still lives in Morocco, in Agadia, on the coast, and they are in the business of supplying etrogim."

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