Ask the Rabbi – 10/10/2013

Ask the Rabbi – 10/10/2013

Dear Rabbi,

Surely a recent survey in America, stating the Reform movement is the country’s largest Jewish group while Orthodoxy comprises just 10 percent, doesn’t bode well for the future?



Dear Gerald,

The Pew survey, while making dire reading, is not wholly accurate. For example, it does cite Reform Judaism as being the largest American Jewish movement, at 35 percent, while Orthodox is only at 10 percent. But the survey doesn’t account for particular Orthodox out- reach movements, such as Chabad.

There are 875 Reform synagogues in the US and Canada, while there are 959 Chabad centres – far more than the so-called strongest branch of Judaism in the USA.  Furthermore, the survey will ask for affiliation taking into account the so-called main denominations. But the tens of thousands of Jews who might affiliate with Chabad, Ohr Sameach or Aish won’t register themselves as Orthodox, because they don’t see themselves as that in the strictest sense.

By the same token, they won’t register as Reform as they have nothing to do with them. The census doesn’t offer an option for any of the outreach organisations, so they fall off the radar and are registered as unaffiliated, even as so many of them are more actively Jewish than many card-carrying, three times a year synagogue members.

Still, one cannot ignore the undeniable fact that assimilation and intermarriage are on the increase. In no small measure this is our own fault. Many synagogue services are run by fuddy-duddies who are stuck in a time warp. It’s the same dirge- different voice each week, often followed by a meagre kiddush, and with a power-nap in between, brought on by the rabbi’s droning voice. If the service was quickened, the chazanut replaced by happy-clappy Carlebach style songs, and the rabbi’s sermon was relevant and challenging, then more people would be inclined to participate.

Beyond that, the synagogue should be more than a place for prayer. It should be a community centre with a broad range of social and cultural activities on hand for every age group. Many communities may be spread out and not everyone is inclined to come to the building. Bring the synagogue out to them. Hold events in homes and get different group types connected. Be innovative and a little more realistic as to the community’s needs and wants. Sushi and single-malt in place of fish-balls and the cheap stuff is always a good start. And if a game of five-a-side is more appealing than the rabbi’s own goals – that’s something to think about.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I visited my grandson’s Jewish school in London. When I was young, there was a really good Jewish atmosphere in my school. Now, you can’t tell the difference between a Jewish and a non-Jewish school, except for the uniform and some subjects.



Dear Rosalie,

I’m inclined to agree that Jewish schools are at risk of losing their spirit for the sake of making the grade. What with Ofsted inspections and the National Curriculum, everyone is under pressure to rate highly on the league tables, while ignoring the wonderful dynamic that used to be a unique trademark, sensed when entering a Jewish school.

I am not being critical of the schools, only observing that when becoming state-aided or a Free School, you become beholden to different standards and sometimes that is at the expense of the – for lack of a better expression – haimishe atmosphere that once was. I think governors and head- teachers should often ask themselves the simple question: ‘What makes my school special?’ We want our children to grow up highly educated. But we want them to grow up proudly Jewish no less.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

The term “Yiddo” is offensive, full stop. It cannot be construed as anything else. How could an intelligent man like you suggest otherwise?



Dear Richard,

I’m guessing you’re not a Spurs fan. I’ve started my own little survey. Every time I meet a Jewish Spurs supporter, I’ve asked the question: ‘Yes to Yiddo or not?’

Much as I am ashamed to admit it, several friends are Spurs fans. I have yet to meet one that takes exception to it. So explain to me why you would consider something that has no meaning and is of no relevance to you offensive, while those who sit in the stands weekly are happy to chime in?

It’s not said offensively, it’s not even an offensive word, per se. Get over it! I’ve always maintained there is some hypersensitivity in this country and sometimes we are nitpicking in the wrong places. For example, the Daily Mail article attacking Ed Miliband’s father was anti-Semitic, even if not deliberately intended as such. But, amazingly, so many people supported the paper, saying it wasn’t so bad. We should know where to pick our battles – and it’s not with the Yid Army.

There, I said it! Oops there’s a blue light flashing outside my window…must run…!

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