Simon Rocker

Unlikely pairing

By Simon Rocker, January 13, 2011

In the photo gallery of strictly Orthodox newspaper Hamodia last week - usually a parade of generously bearded rabbis praying, dancing and greeting followers - came this item: a celebration of "the engagement of the son of the Kuzhmir Rebbe to the son of the Biale Bnei Brak Rebbe".

I suspect a misprint - or is there something the Charedi rabbinate isn't telling us?

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Of wealth and waist lines

By Simon Rocker, January 13, 2011

The Sunday Times went dipping into Jewish sociology last week. Here's restaurant critic A.A.Gill: "They say there are two types of hypochondria: French and Jewish. French hypochondria is the irrational fear that you're ill because you've eaten too much, and Jewish hypochondria is the irrational fear that you're wasting away because you haven't eaten enough."

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Call for Jewish day school curbs

By Simon Rocker, January 6, 2011

One of British Jewry's top educators has said it is too preoccupied with Jewish day schools at the expense of other types of learning.

Clive Lawton, senior consultant of Limmud and a former head of King David High School, Liverpool, called for greater investment in youth movements and adult education.

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Pre-nup law won't affect the get

By Simon Rocker, January 6, 2011

The London Beth Din believes that new moves to explore whether pre-nuptial agreements (PNAs) should be legally binding are unlikely to have any impact on Jewish religious divorces.

A consultation paper on the use of PNAs is to be launched next Monday by the Law Commission.

Voluntary PNAs were introduced for marrying couples by the Office of the Chief Rabbi 15 years ago as a measure to prevent the incidence of agunot - women unable to remarry in Orthodox synagogues should their husband deny them a get (religious divorce).

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The Sacks Legacy – the Debate goes on

By Simon Rocker, December 31, 2010

The debate on the merits of the Chief Rabbinate has spread overseas following the announcement of Lord Sacks’s retirement in two and a half years.

Shmuley Boteach, writing in the Jerusalem Post, contended: “A chief rabbi is not principally an ambassador or a writer but a leader, and judged by this criteria Sacks, over the last two decades, failed to demonstrate the single most important component of leadership, moral courage.”

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May you live to 120, 130, 140...

By Simon Rocker, December 31, 2010

According to new estimates, one in five of the British population can expect to reach the age of 100.

It won't be long before those traditional Jewish birthday wishes, "Bis hundert und swantzig"/ "Ad meah v'esrim" - "May you live to a 120", will seem out of date.

Perhaps it's time to revise the figure. How about 127, the age of Sarah, for a start?

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The tightrope awaiting the next Chief Rabbi

By Simon Rocker, December 31, 2010

When Jonathan Sacks was appointed Chief Rabbi in 1989, he was so firm a favourite, it would have been astonishing had he not got the job. Not only was he widely viewed as the heir-apparent to Lord Jakobovits, but he also had a powerful patron in Lord Kalms, who was chairman of Jews' College when Rabbi Sacks was its principal (though the good lord subsequently lost faith in his protégé).

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Board say no to Hassassian address

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, has rejected a proposal to invite the Palestinian Authority's UK envoy, Manuel Hassassian, to address the organisation.

Board treasurer Laurence Brass had urged Mr Wineman to "grasp the nettle" and extend an invitation to Professor Hassassian. But Mr Wineman said: "We will not be inviting him. I am opposed and I believe the overwhelming majority of the executive are opposed as well." He said it would be "doubly inappropriate at this stage in the peace process with talks stalled for the Board to be hosting him".

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'Claims' criticism rejected

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

The Board of Deputies has dismissed complaints about a critical report into the Claims Conference, the international body which distributes compensation to Holocaust survivors.

Julius Berman, the conference's chairman, said the Board had not given them a chance to comment on the report before publishing.

But Jon Benjamin, the Board's chief executive, said the main findings had been sent to the New York-based conference in summer, and a copy of the final document was given a week before publication earlier this month.

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Charedim applaud visa rule change

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has welcomed a court ruling which may force the government to ease restrictions on marriage visas.

Two years ago, new rules were introduced to refuse entry for spouses from outside the European Union if they or their British spouse were under 21.

But the change hit the Charedi community, where people marry young and often choose partners from Israel or the USA.

The Court of Appeal has now called into question the whole policy - which was designed to combat forced marriages - after upholding appeals on behalf of two non-Jewish couples.

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Rothschild wedding stars

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

A high celebrity count at last week's marriage of Jessica de Rothschild and screenwriter Sacha Gervasi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood and the Criterion Restaurant.

The bride is the daughter of Liberal Judaism patron Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, the groom the father of Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell's daughter, Bluebell.

The wedding party included actress Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, director Tim Burton, and Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon, according to tweeting guest Sarah (Mrs Gordon) Brown.

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Cocaine on the brain

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

It is certainly one of the catchier titles among next year's books: Freud on Coke.

David Cohen, who published an account of Freud's flight from Nazi-occupied Vienna, The Escape of Sigmund Freud, last year, takes a more obscure episode for his new book: the psychoanalyst's early experiments with cocaine.

On the subject of Jews and narcotics, I could hardly ignore legendary Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richard's tribute to his cocaine supplier for many years, the late Freddie Sessler.

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Tom Jones goes yiddish

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

Before the year is out, let me add my own salute to the evergreen Sir Tom Jones, who turned 70 in summer.

Lesser known among his musical repertoire is a rendering of the Sophie Tucker classic, My Yiddishe Momme, which has earned more than 300,000 Youtube hits (according to David Mishon, who drew my attention to it).

Not quite up there among his greatest hits Sex Bomb and Delilah, I grant you, but it would have gone down a storm in The Catskills.

Sir Tom says that he learned the song from his father but is it possible he could have picked it up from another source?

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Martial tips for cabbies

By Simon Rocker, December 29, 2010

The Israeli self-defence technique, krav maga, has found a new group of adepts - London cabbies.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association has started to teach courses to its members in order to fend off attacks from abusive passengers and robbers on the streets.

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Board president against invite to Palestinian envoy

By Simon Rocker, December 24, 2010

Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies, is opposed to issuing an invitation to Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s UK envoy, to speak to the Board.

Mr Wineman had been urged to invite Professor Hassassian by the Board’s treasurer Laurence Brass, after the idea was suggest ed by another deputy at recent Board meetings.

But Mr Wineman, speaking from Israel on Friday, said that although the suggestion was still to be discussed by the executive, he was opposed to it.

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Minn-imum of fuss please

By Simon Rocker, December 22, 2010

There is long service - and then there is the service notched up by Alex Minn who has recently stepped down after 55 years as the secretary of one of British Jewry's oldest organisations, the Initiation Society, which regulates Orthodox mohelim.

"They didn't want me to go," said the 90-year old communal servant. "But I thought in all fairness it was time to hand over. I am not looking for another job."

In fact, his record of service stretches back even further since he joined the administration of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation back in 1953.

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Board publishes Zionism for clergy

By Simon Rocker, December 22, 2010

The Board of Deputies has responded to growing anti-Israel feeling among Christians by publishing a defence of Zionism from leading rabbis.

Five thousand copies have been published of a 30-page collection of essays, entitled Zionism: A Jewish Communal Response from the UK.

Its editor, Liberal Judaism chairman Lucian Hudson, , said it was "designed to make clear that Jews across the community are united in the belief that Zionism is central to Judaism. We hope it will be read by many ordinary church members."

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BBC Nativity says 'no room at shul'

By Simon Rocker, December 22, 2010

A leading rabbi has protested to the BBC that a scene in its dramatisation of The Nativity this week was an anti-Jewish libel.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, a member of a panel that advises the BBC on religion, took issue with the third of the four-part series which was due to have been broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday night. It was written by EastEnders scriptwriter Tony Jordan.

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Board urged to invite PA envoy to talk

By Simon Rocker, December 22, 2010

A senior officer of the Board of Deputies has urged president Vivian Wineman to issue a "historic" invitation to the Palestinian Authority's UK Ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, to address British Jewry's main representative body.

Board treasurer Laurence Brass, in a letter to Mr Wineman, said it would be right to open dialogue with the Palestinian envoy even if it incurred criticism from right-wingers "who have tended to dominate" its Middle East agenda.

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Sunny despite the snow

By Simon Rocker, December 22, 2010

Heathrow chaplain Rabbi Hershi Vogel was a busy man this week, as you might imagine, answering pleas for help from passengers stranded at the snowbound airport

Except that Rabbi Vogel himself was a victim of the weather: he, wife Zelda and their youngest child, nine-week-old Elisheva, were marooned for more than a day at Amsterdam airport trying to get home.

Still, he took calls on his mobile from people in London looking for "places to stay, food and if I could help with tickets!"

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