Simon Rocker

The prof who digitised rabbis

By Simon Rocker, February 18, 2016

To keep up with debates at the talmudic academy in ancient days, you had to have a pretty good memory. Since manuscripts were scarce, whatever information you wanted to support your argument needed to be stored inside your head.

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Kosher wine elicits a spirited response

By Simon Rocker, February 18, 2016

At an evening of food and wine, you might well start with a glass of champagne, particularly if the bottle bears the legendary name of Rothschild.

The first kosher Barons de Rothschild champagne, released this week at £60-plus, was one of the alcoholic highlights of the 2016 Kosher Food and Wine Experience, held at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly on Tuesday.

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West End Great Synagogue takes the Central line to share deal

By Simon Rocker, February 18, 2016

The independent West End Great Synagogue has found a new home after announcing its departure from Western Marble Arch Synagogue for financial reasons.

From the beginning of next month, the 362-member congregation will hold services a little further down the road at the Central Synagogue.

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JW3 comes to the rescue of homeless congregation

By Simon Rocker, February 18, 2016

South Hampstead Synagogue is set to hold Shabbat services at the JW3 centre in Swiss Cottage as a temporary venue when its rebuilding project starts in spring.

The United Synagogue congregation had planned to use the Marriott Hotel Regent's Park but the venue will be unavailable for some months because of its own refurbishment.

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Strictly Orthodox school ordered to close after 40 years

By Simon Rocker, February 16, 2016

An unregistered Chasidic school in Hackney, North London where Yiddish is the only spoken language is to close today on the orders of the Department for Education.

Talmud Torah Tashbar, a school for 248 boys from three to 13 which has been operating for 40 years, was told to shut in December after a damning report from Ofsted inspectors three months earlier.

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Charedi schools ‘erased women and Christmas from books’, Ofsted finds

By Simon Rocker, February 16, 2016

Ofsted inspectors have kept up their pressure on Charedi independent schools in Hackney, North London, with three new critical reports published in a week.

They said that pictures of women in one school had been erased, while the word “Christmas” was crossed out in another.

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Are pop-up minyans the answer to prayers?

By Simon Rocker, February 16, 2016

A friend of mine who is shomeret Shabbat recently confided that she has stopped going to shul on Shabbat morning because she finds the service boring. I suspect there are other people who think the same way but continue to drag themselves out of the house from a sense of duty.

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Chief Rabbi Mirvis launches new qualification for female educators

By Simon Rocker, February 15, 2016

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has launched his most significant initiative for women by creating a new qualification for them to serve in Orthodox synagogues.

He is introducing the post of “ma’ayan” to enable women to take up roles both as advisers on Jewish law in the area of family purity and more generally as adult educators.

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Plan emerges for second new free school

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

The push to secure enough Jewish secondary school places in north-west London gathered pace this week as a second group revealed its ambition to launch a new school.

It follows last week's announcement that a private trust plans to open a Jewish free school, Kedem High, in the borough of Barnet next year.

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Local branch cuts will make driving easier for Cohanim

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

Most of us would not think twice about driving down Hoop Lane, the road linking Golders Green to Hampstead Garden Suburb.

But for a select group, it has been a religious hazard best avoided. Conscientious Cohanim have given it a wide berth because of the dangers of ritual impurity from the adjacent Jewish cemetery.

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Popping up in Belsize Park

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

You've heard of pop-up restaurants. Now there's the pop-up minyan.

Around 40 people attended an experimental Shabbat morning service in Belsize Park run by Rabbi Naftali and Dina Brawer.

Rabbi Brawer explained that the north-west London gathering grew out of conversations "with a lot of people who said they find davening and, in particular, the Shabbat morning service unfulfilling".

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Israel gift for oscar hopefuls

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

Israel can expect a gust of celebrities after the Oscars at the end of the month.

Nominees up for the main Academy Awards will receive a goody bag worth around £140,000.

The most valuable item is a 10-day, first-class trip to Israel worth £40,000, while other gifts include a walking tour of Japan, laser skin therapy and, for women contenders, an erotic toy.

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Stiller's cymbalic barmitzvah

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

Zoolander 2 star Ben Stiller certainly made sure his barmitzvah went with a bang - he played drums in his own band at the party. Its name was Capital Punishment and was an "avant garde, post-punk" outfit influenced by Eno and Bowie, he told The Graham Norton show on the BBC at the weekend. They even made an unreleased album called Roadkill.

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It's not quite cricket

By Simon Rocker, February 11, 2016

Boys at Talmud Torah Kerem Shlomo in Salford, taking a closer look at a specimen of the eighth plague, were probably glad it didn't end up in their school dinner. But locusts are kosher.

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Orthodox school criticised by inspectors for not preparing pupils for life in modern Britain

By Simon Rocker, February 5, 2016

Teachers at a Chasidic school painted over pictures of women in short-sleeved shirts because of religious sensitivities, inspectors have reported.

Talmud Torah Toldos Yaakov Yosef, an independent school for boys aged from 2 to 12 in Hackney, north London was criticised for failing to prepare pupils for “life in modern Britain”.

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JLC is ‘hopeless’ on women, its new VP admits

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2016

One of the Jewish Leadership Council’s new vice-presidents has criticised the organisation over the lack of women in its leadership.

Rabbi Baroness Neuberger said that the umbrella body had been “hopeless” on the issue.

The cross-bench peer, who is senior rabbi of West London Synagogue, was the only woman among the four vice-presidents announced by the JLC last Friday.

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Shul rebuild will exceed £12 million

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2016

South Hampstead Synagogue chairman David Turner has pledged that the shul will not borrow money to finance its rebuild, even though the cost is likely to rise beyond the projected
£12 million.

He also promised that there would be no "formal levy" on members to meet any additional outlay.

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School dinner goes down badly with parent of prospective pupil

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2016

North West London Jewish Day School has defended inviting parents who have applied for places for their children this year to a fundraising dinner.

One father said it was "inappropriate" for the state-aided Willesden primary to ask parents to the event while decisions on the offer of places for this autumn were pending.

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Liberals' choice is a Danish

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2016

Liberal Judaism has recruited another European congregation after approving the membership of the Shir HaTzafon community in Copenhagen.

It will join the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam, which is an associate member, as LJ's second European group outside the UK and Ireland.

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Schools, places and politics

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2016

We have devoted a fair amount of space this week to the announcement of plans for a new state-aided Orthodox Jewish secondary school in Barnet.

The Kedem High School proposal seems to fit perfectly with the government’s free school scheme.

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