Simon Rocker

Minister calms fears over Equality Bill

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

Mike Foster, the Equalities Minister, moved to reassure the Board of Deputies this week after the Pope attacked Britain’s anti-discrimination laws for threatening religious freedom.

Jon Benjamin, the Board’s chief executive, said that the minister had called him to reiterate the government’s belief that the Equality Bill, currently under debate in the Lords, would do no more than consolidate existing legislation.

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RE books often fail Judaism

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

Judaism is inadequately portrayed in religious education materials used in general schools, according to a report prepared for the government.

Textbooks contained inaccuracies and ignored the ethics and philosophy of the rabbinic tradition, the research team from Warwick University found.

“A particular issue was the failure of many of the resources to engage with the long tradition of Jewish thought over the last 2000 years,” the report said.

“Instead, the religion all too often comes across as the Old Testament religion that preceded Christianity.”

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Jewish charities struggle on funds

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

Communal welfare organisations are facing a further squeeze on their funding from local authorities, increasing the pressure to raise more from donors to maintain services.

Jewish Care chairman Stephen Zimmerman told a breakfast meeting of its business group this week that the charity was still battling with Barnet Council over funding.

“This year Jewish Care is currently not going to receive any increase in the amount given by our largest local authority and we are even fighting to achieve the status quo.”

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The Dame meets a Churchill

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

Among the 450 guests who graced the Anne Frank Trust’s annual lunch last Thursday was wartime forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn.

Popularity has never faded away from the veteran singer, now 92 (whose late husband was clarinet and sax player Harry Lewis — their marriage was recorded in the JC’s “dance band news” column in 1939).

“Everyone knows you more or less won the war single-handed,” one gushing trust volunteer was overheard telling her at the event.

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Diana's royal regret

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

Anthony Julius’s history of English antisemitism, Trials of the Diaspora, acclaimed by Philip Roth for its author’s “intellectual acumen” and “staggering erudition”, is already creating a stir ahead of its publication later this month.

In a Sunday Times extract, the literary lawyer revealed that Princess Diana, whom he represented in her divorce with Charles, had told him that she should never have married into a German family.

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Osborne says thanks

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

With the election looming, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne thanked two of the Conservatives’ top Jewish campaigners this week for their efforts to try to “turn the Torah party to the Tory party”.

The objects of his gratitude were the party’s chief executive Andrew Feldman and fundraiser Howard Leigh, who were among a large audience at a Jewish Care breakfast addressed by Mr Osborne this week.

Mr Leigh chairs Jewish Care’s business breakfast committee. Mr Feldman’s mother Marcia volunteers at one of the charity’s centres, which Tory leader David Cameron visited last year.

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Suspicious tefillin

By Simon Rocker, February 4, 2010

The recent incident on board an American jet when the crew mistook a passenger laying tefillin for a suicide bomber is not the first time the little black boxes have caused suspicion.

The Jewish Military Museum in Hendon has a letter written from the trenches of First World War by Lt Marcus Segal of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

He recalls being asked to investigate two German prisoners who were believed to be carrying secret signalling equipment — only to find the mystery items to be two pairs of tefillin carried into battle by their Jewish owners.

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The Pope, JFS and the transsexual rabbi

By Simon Rocker, February 2, 2010

Now the Pope has turned his pontifical guns on the government’s Equality Bill, saying it is interfering with religious rights.
Even before his intervention, the bill was having a tough time in the Lords, where last week peers inflicted a defeat on the government.
One of the bill’s aims is to consolidate laws which, for example, make it illegal for a religious organisation to refuse to employ a gay person – although there are exceptions.

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A rabbinic ghostbuster

By Simon Rocker, January 29, 2010

From the initimitable Rabbi William Wolff’s “Last Word” column in the new edition of Manna magazine:

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Human Rights Watch seeks to prove Middle East 'balance'

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

A top official from Human Rights Watch met Jewish representatives in London this week in an effort to persuade them that the organisation is not biased against Israel.

The New York-based human rights organisation — which condemned both Israel and Hamas over their conduct of last year’s Gaza war — has faced a barrage of criticism from Jewish groups over the year, with even its own founder, Robert Bernstein, recently accusing it of undue focus on Israel.

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Family 'heartbroken' as Israel refuses aliyah

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

A black Jewish family from South London who have been trying to make aliyah for more than two years have had their application rejected by Israel’s Interior Ministry.

Carl and Maleka Levy, who converted from Rastafarianism through the Reform movement six years ago, had planned to go out to Israel with their five daughters in August 2007.

But despite testimonials from British rabbis and intervention by Israeli lawyers on their behalf, they were notified last week that they would not be allowed to emigrate under the Law of Return.

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Baroness Neuberger: Allow gay marriage in synagogue

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Baroness Neuberger, president of Liberal Judaism, this week called for a change in the law to allow civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples to be held in synagogue.

The ceremonies, introduced by the government four years ago, cannot take place in a house of worship or use religious language as they are considered the equivalent to civil marriage.

In a Lords debate on the Equality Bill on Monday, Baroness Neuberger said that she had been told by couples that they and their parents would have been “overjoyed” if they had been able to have the ceremony in a synagogue.

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United Synagogue row over 'live near shul' rule

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

The United Synagogue has been warned that it could be left without a congregation in some parts of London because of a rule banning some shuls accepting members who live more than one and a quarter miles away.

Rabbi Stanley Coten, of Ruislip and District Affiliated Synagogue, has intervened in a row between the US and its 14 affiliated synagogues over the rule.

In a letter to the Chief Rabbi, the London Beth Din and leaders of the US rabbinical council, he said it was putting off potential members.

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Unmasked – a Haiti hero

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

You may recall this photo in last week’s issue of an unidentified rescuer in Haiti.

We can now put a name to him. He is Marc Eisenmann of Florida, according to his mother Vivien, an ex-Londoner now living in New York. His relatives include his great-uncle, the book collector Jack Lunzer.

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Ben Elton's rabbi book

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Could Ben Elton, alternative comedian, author, playwright and scriptwriter, have a secret life as a scholar of Anglo-Jewish rabbinical history?

A new book on Britain’s Chief Rabbis has just been published by Manchester University Press, written by Benjamin J Elton. It promises a new interpretation of “the most important event” in Anglo-Jewish religious history in the 20th century: the Jacobs Affair.

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Coens tell the tooth

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

If you’ve seen the Coen brothers’ dark and very Jewish comedy A Serious Man, you’ll recall the scene about “the goy’s teeth”. A rabbi recounts to the hapless hero a story about a dentist’s amazing discovery of a message in Hebrew inscribed on the back of one of his patient’s teeth. It reads: “Help Me.” Or is supposed to read.

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Bercow’s barmitzvah gift

By Simon Rocker, January 28, 2010

Should he tire of being Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow would be a shoo-in for president of the Board of Deputies, judging by his reception at a lunch the other day.

Admiring deputies lapped up their guest of honour, greeted as an “Edgware lad made good” of whom the community was immensely proud.

Declaring pride in his Jewish heritage, Mr Speaker drew applause when he mentioned his late father teaching him “to stand up for what I am… and not to seek to hide it”.

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The Messianic Jew, the Anti-Zionist Vicar and the Police

By Simon Rocker, January 26, 2010

Joseph Weissman, third-generation Messianic Jew, reveals how his exposés of Christian anti-Zionism on the blog Seismic Shock earned him a visit from the police. You can read more about his exploits on Harry’s Place.

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Castles, valleys and a golf Eden

By Simon Rocker, January 21, 2010

Five years after the Emperor Vespasian’s forces razed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the legion he once commanded in England moved to pacify the population of another small country: Wales. The military camp it set up in Caerleon on the River Usk may have been bad news for the locals, but it left some of the finest Roman remains in Europe, including the most fully excavated amphitheatre in Britain where you can still make out the pens where fighters were held before they entered the arena.

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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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