Simon Rocker

US rabbis squabble over JFS

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Arguments among United Synagogue rabbis over the JFS court case escalated this week as senior ministers dug in their heels against concessions to the non-Orthodox.

Writing to US lay leaders, the rabbis said they were “troubled” by the position advocated in last week’s JC by the joint vice-chairmen of the US Rabbinical Council (RCUS), Rabbis Michael Harris and Naftali Brawer.

They had called for co-operation with non-Orthodox bodies over any move to change the law in order to reverse the recent Supreme Court judgment on Jewish school admissions.

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Board blasts PSC over 'hate' cartoons

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

The Board of Deputies has accused the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of including “antisemitic” cartoons in material produced for schools.

Two cartoons, with images of a crucified Jesus to depict Palestinian suffering at Israel’s hands, appear in the PSC’s online educational resources.

They were cited by the Board and the Community Security Trust in a submission to a government inquiry on preventing racism in schools.

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Mr None, the would-be MP

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

A one-time warden of Bevis Marks Synagogue is standing as a protest candidate in the election, having changed his name to None of the Above.

The person formerly known as Adam Osen became so disillusioned with politicians that he decided to have a go at becoming one himself. “There are only six independent MPs in Parliament and that’s terribly sad,” he said. Now the accountant turned decorator, 50, hopes to unseat Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory occupant of Chingford and Woodford Green.

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A caning for Mr Cameron

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Tory plans to stop students with third-class degrees becoming teachers received a withering response from ex-head of JFS, Jo Wagerman. She wrote to The Times to say she had a “third-class degree from night school” yet had become head of “one of the best comprehensives in the country”.

“If Mr Cameron had his way,” she remarked, “I should never have been allowed to teach. I am proud enough to say that would have been not only a great loss for me, but also for all the pupils I taught so happily for more than 40 years.”

It would take a brave politician to disagree.

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Guardian's capital offence

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

The Elstree-based Happy Puzzle Company was bemused after the Guardian took a crack at one of its board games, called Thought Exchange, for giving Israel’s capital as Jerusalem. That’s a matter of diplomatic dispute, the paper carped.

A Happy Puzzle spokesman said that “thousands and thousands” of the game had been sold but just one caller had raised the issue. As for Jerusalem’s capital status, he explained: “We went by the Times Atlas. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.”

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What's with fishballs?

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

An alien beaming down here for the weekend would get the idea from the JC and chatter in shul that Anglo-Judaism was largely about “Maccabi football, fishballs and antisemitism”, Borehamwood’s Rabbi Naftali Brawer said in a sermon last Shabbat.

The good rabbi is out of touch. Fishballs have long been gefiltered from our pages and a passing Martian is more likely to believe our chosen food is sushi.

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Row over conversion organisation EJF 'sex scandal'

By Simon Rocker, January 15, 2010

An extraordinary war of words has broken out over the scandal-racked conversion organisation Eternal Jewish Family, whose founder quit last month over sex allegations.

Rabbi Aba Dunner, the London-based executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, rounded on the EJF this week, telling the VosIzNeias news site that he would continue to try to stop the organisation’s “nefarious activities”.

But EJF hit back, accusing Rabbi Dunner of not refunding money that it had given to the CER.

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Synagogue links 'don't guarantee school place'

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

Jewish schools have been warned by the body which scrutinises the admissions policies of state schools that there could be problems in accepting pupils according to synagogue membership.

Elizabeth Passmore, the Schools Adjudicator, said that, because shuls charged fees for membership, schools could be breaking the government’s admissions code which banned offering places according to financial means.

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Angry US rabbis divided over JFS

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

The fallout from the JFS court case continued this week with a split emerging among United Synagogue rabbis.

A statement from the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue (RCUS) which last week attacked non-Orthodox movements over the case has been denounced as “misguided” and “aggressive” by the council’s own vice-chairmen.

Writing in today’s JC, Rabbis Michael Harris and Naftali Brawer have instead called for “all denonimations” to work together in order to reverse the Supreme Court’s judgment through a change in the law.

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So, what do you really think about Israel?

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

It is usually taken for granted that the great majority of British Jews are largely supportive of Israel, with a small minority who are not. But the levels of support or critical dissent — and what they relate to — have largely been a matter of guesswork. Now the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) hopes to give us a better picture through a new online survey of Anglo-Jewish attitudes towards Israel that was launched at the end of last week.

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Never mind the dybbuks

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

We recently ran a story on a Brazilian supposedly possessed by a dybbuk who tried to have it exorcised over the internet. The ghostly squatter has proved resistant to rabbinic efforts to dislodge it even after the man was brought to Jerusalem.

According to web chatter, an excommunication order was put on the dybbuk by the very-strictly Orthodox Rav Moshe Sternbuch of the Eda Charedit. But pouring cold water on the rumours, he told the VosIzneias newsite that the possessed man is sick and ought to see a doctor.

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Please don't step on this

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

Welcome to the newest addition to Israel’s fauna, recently discovered among the sand dunes of the Arava in the south.

The Haifa University researchers who identified it say it is the largest spider of its type in the Middle East with a leg span of up to 14 centimetres.

But scientists are worried that mining projects in the area could threaten the habitat of this and other, as yet unknown, creatures.

The spider goes by the name of cerbalus aravensis — which doesn’t mean Cuddles.

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Shalom to the taliban

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

Don’t knock the Taliban – they may be our cousins.

An Indian scientist is doing research in Tel Aviv to see if there is any truth to the belief that the Pathans, the ethnic group from which the Taliban are largely derived, may come from one of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes. She will compare DNA samples of Israeli Jews with those of Pathans from North India.

Imagine if it proves true — mass aliyah from Afghanistan.

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Wintry wedding

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

They were planning to lift the roof of the newly renovated Kinloss Suite at Finchley Synagogue this week — literally.

The reopened banqueting rooms are equipped with a retractable roof which enables couples to have a traditional outdoor chupah while guests keep warm inside. The first bride due to enjoy the new facility was a grand-daughter of ex-London Beth Din head, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu.

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Chris Evans's rogue pie

By Simon Rocker, January 14, 2010

Only a few days into the post-Wogan slot on BBC Radio Two’s breakfast show, Chris Evans has disturbed a JC reader. Not him exactly, but regular contributor to the show’s Pause for the Day, Rabbi Pete Tobias of the Liberal Synagogue in Elstree.

As Evans handed over Tuesday’s show, the next presenter, Ken Bruce, asked after a pork pie lying around the studio. Our reader thought he heard Evans suggest the pie had been scoffed – by the rabbi. “Well, he is a Liberal rabbi,” Bruce quipped.

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What turns young American Jews on

By Simon Rocker, January 12, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful: leading social scientist Steven Cohen highlighted some of the positive trends within American Jewry during a recent visit to London. You can now read a report of his observations here.

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Never mind the dybbuks, go see a doctor

By Simon Rocker, January 12, 2010

Here’s a new twist to the story of the Brazilian man supposedly possessed by a dybbuk, who recently underwent an attempted internet exorcism by a kabbalist.
Now a leading strictly Orthodox rabbi has offered an alternative, and rather less mystical, remedy: try a doctor.

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Airport scanners are too revealing, say Euro-rabbis

By Simon Rocker, January 11, 2010

When there was talk of deploying full body scanners at airports, I wondered if any rabbinic objection would come on the grounds that the machines would be too revealing.
Well here it is, according to Ha’aretz.

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Sand’s anti-people book is taken apart in The Guardian

By Simon Rocker, January 11, 2010

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg delivers a damning verdict on Shlomo Sand’s controversial book “The Invention of the Jewish People” in a Guardian review.
He writes: “Its sweeping attempt to take apart the entire history of the Jewish people from its origins to present-day Israel and prove it to be a wilful fabrication is marred by tendentious premises, the misreading of key events and the ignoring of central texts and insitutions.”
For more, read here.

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Religion is sick

By Simon Rocker, January 8, 2010

The headline to Rabbi Jeremy Rosen's latest blog says it all. Never one to mince his words, this reflection on some of the scandals that have broken out in the Jewish world over the past year is outspoken even by his standards.

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