Simon Rocker



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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Meet the world’s first female Orthodox rav

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

L’Chaim!” Reb Mimi Feigelson raises her glass of water for the umpteenth time and takes a sip. Fighting off a cold, she has sustained her voice for well over an hour, leading a late-night session on Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, the Chasidic master, at the Limmud conference.

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JFS Questions and (some) Answers

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

What did the court say?

The Court of Appeal ruled that it was against the Race Relations Act for Jewish schools to select pupils according to whether a parent was Jewish or not.

The case had been brought on behalf of a boy who was rejected by JFS in north London two years ago because his mother had been converted by a non-Orthodox rabbi and was not considered Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
Under the law, schools can give places on the basis of religion, but not of race. JFS argued that its decision to refuse a place to the boy was religiously motivated.

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Scientists link up for green energy talks

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Scientists from Britain and Israel met in London this week to discuss the challenges of finding alternative sources of energy amid the threat of global warming.

Professors and students from the Weizmann Institute and Imperial College, London held a two-day conference to explore the possibilities of solar energy.

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Ecclestone: The week of controversy

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has called off a visit to Germany to talk about the country’s forthcoming Grand Prix, despite having apologised for apparently praising Hitler’s leadership skills in a recent newspaper interview.

However, a Jewish friend of Mr Ecclestone spoke up for him this week. Gordon Hausmann, a solicitor involved with several Jewish charities, said that although Mr Ecclestone’s comments had been “foolish”, there was “no question of him being a supporter of Hitler”.

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Fears over closure of Bevis Marks

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Members of Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks in East London, have protested over plans which they fear could be a prelude to its closure as an active place of worship.

Around 70 congregants and supporters attended a meeting on Tuesday to voice concern over Sephardi leaders’ reported plan to remove its rabbi.

A letter from the Mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, denying any move to close the 300-year old synagogue, failed to reassure them.

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Who is a Jew? The debate rages

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

Angry parents whose children are ineligible for Orthodox schools have spoken out, reigniting the debate over who is a Jew.

David Gryn, son of the late Reform leader, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, described the exclusion of children of Progressive converts from schools as an “evil”.

Another parent, who wished to be known as Karen, said that she was the daughter of a Reform convert and had attended JFS herself, but her son has been denied the chance. She said that such children were being treated “like someone with an infectious disease that no-one wants to go near”.

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JFS ruling leaves schools in 'chaos'

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

The Court of Appeal’s ruling that it is unlawful to admit children on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status “has thrown our admissions policy into chaos”, according to Jonathan Arkush, senior Vice-President of the Board of Deputies.

He told a meeting for Jewish schools on Wednesday night that there will be a “flood of admissions appeals”.

With the court order on how the judgment will apply not due out until today, schools have been left in the dark over when they will have to introduce new rules and how those places already allocated for this September will be affected.

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Welcome to the ultimate blended Jewish family

By Simon Rocker, July 8, 2009

Shaking our shakers and jingling our bells, we try to keep up with the rhythm of our session leader. Sitting in a candle-lit circle, we are learning how to be “drummers of Zion” with Akiva the Believer, the soulful percussionist whose musical companions have ranged from the singing rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, to Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary.

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Puff at your peril

By Simon Rocker, July 7, 2009

Out and about yesterday, I was surprised to see a couple of men in kippot standing outside a kosher restaurant having a cigarette. Smoking Jews are an increasingly uncommon sight these days and rabbis have debated whether tobacco should be proscribed.

Some have indeed banned smoking on the grounds that Judaism forbids practices that are known to endanger health. But I am more sympathetic to those who feel there are quite enough prohibitions already and some vices should be left to individual choice.

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Ecclestone: I was an idiot over Hitler

By Simon Rocker, July 6, 2009

Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One motor racing, has apologised to the JC for remarks in which he was seen to praise Hitler’s leadership.

They came during an interview with the Times on Saturday in which he criticised MPS for their lack of leadership and referred to the Nazi leader’s ability to “get things done”.

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No future

By Simon Rocker, July 3, 2009

"The plague of intermarriage and assimilation is sapping us of our people in a way as deadly as gas chambers."

Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, the former chief minister of Sydney's Central Synagogue pulls no punches in his polemic, Diaspora is Jewry's Graveyard. He takes diaspora leaders to task for failing to act in the face of a "national spiritual holocaust" and preaching that the Jewish future lies in Israel. You can read an extract in our Judaism section .

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Hayek bid to replant JNF in our hearts

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

When Samuel Hayek became chairman of JNF UK, British Jewry’s third biggest fundraising charity, nearly 18 months ago, few people knew what to make of the Israeli-born businessman.

Beyond donations of “a few thousand” to charities here and there, he had no track record in the higher echelons of communal philanthropy.

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Interview: David Ariel

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

Oxford University is probably the last place you would go to hear about old wives’ tales or, in that splendid Yiddish word for them, bubbemeises. But among the eight million volumes that make up the Bodleian Library’s vast reserves of knowledge sits a copy of the very first bubbemeise.

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JFS: What happened?

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

In 2007, an 11-year-old boy was refused a place at JFS because his mother was a non-Orthodox convert and, therefore, not Jewish according to the Chief Rabbi’s Office.

Schools are permitted to give preference to children on the basis of religion, but not of ethnic origin.

When the boy’s father went to the High Court last year, the judge said that JFS had made its decision on religious grounds.

But the Court of Appeal ruled that deciding entry on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status involved ethnicity and so was unlawful.

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JFS: What's next?

By Simon Rocker, July 2, 2009

JFS: IN DEPTH

The Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks this week called for community-wide support to challenge a court judgment which he said has effectively branded Judaism as “racist”.

Writing in today’s JC, he said: “We must join together” to contest last week’s Court of Appeal ruling that, under race relations law, Jewish schools cannot award places on the basis of whether the child’s mother is Jewish.

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What the judges said about JFS

By Simon Rocker, June 26, 2009

Here are extracts from the Court of Appeal decision in which Lord Justice Sedley, Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Rimer set out the reasons for finding JFS’s admissions policy unlawful.

“M is the child of a father, E, who is Jewish by birth and of a mother who is Jewish by conversion. He would like to be admitted as a pupil to JFS (formerly the Jews' Free School) in the London Borough of Brent. The school is oversubscribed and is therefore entitled to select pupils according to its admissions policy, provided the policy is lawful.

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