I’m out of Tune with Modern Ways

June 1, 2012

There are limited opportunities for lovers of choral music to attend recitals on a Saturday morning.  The Wigmore Hall is famous for its lunchtime concerts but for those whose tastes are, to put it as delicately as possible, a little less sophisticated, I can heartily recommend your nearest Reform or Liberal synagogue where a group of mixed voices (and I mean that in terms of quality rather than equality) add all-important terpsichorean accents to the proceedings. 

And by “accents” what I mean is: sit back, enjoy the show and keep schtum.  This is not an opportunity to step aside from the mundane, corporeal week and into the spiritual realm.  You are not invited to find solace and peace, or search for a sense of perspective and place in the universe.  You are not there to consider how you have behaved in the week just gone or what you can do for others in the week to come.   You’re at a serious concert performance and you are there to appreciate how hard the choir has worked on singing vaguely in tune and time with each other. 

I attended a bar mitzvah at a Liberal synagogue this Shabbat past.  Regular readers will be fully aware that visits to shuls other than my own are not made in order to deepen my understanding of Anglo-Jewry, they are made in order to placate Mrs J, for whom any opportunity to see behind the doors of someone else’s ark is not to be missed.  Personally I’d be much happier going to my own place of worship and sending the kid a £10 book token.

Apparently I should be flattered.  Mrs J tells me that she enjoys talking to me when we sit together in a Liberal or Reform synagogue.  She has completely failed to pick up on the fact that an orthodox service separates men from women for one very good reason.  That reason is not, as commonly perceived, to stop men from being distracted by women.  On the contrary, it is to enable men to be distracted by women, without being distracted by their own women.  Wives should understand that Shabbat is the day of rest for our ears as well as the rest of our overworked bodies.

Another aspect of the progressive service that I struggle with is the amount of English used.  Again, there’s a very good reason for the orthodox sticking to Hebrew.   It’s because nobody really wants to know what they’re actually saying.  It’s all a bit too religious and mentions God more than most people are comfortable with.  Couple all that embarrassing English with the rather melancholic droning and we end up with what might happen if an airport announcer was drafted in to present Songs of Praise.  This isn’t so surprising because I’m bound to say that I find Liberal and Reform synagogues to be indistinguishable from churches except that they have radiators. 

Something else I find somewhat disconcerting is the way men are excluded from participation in any religious aspect of the service.  I understand this is because progressive synagogues have fully embraced egalitarianism.  I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do draw the line at forcing the men to give over their tallises and yarmulkes (or ritual prayer shawls and skullcaps as the more assimilated prefer to call them) to the ladies.  Sorry, women.

Whenever I write about progressive synagogues my inbox overflows with a letter from someone complaining about my lack of tolerance towards Liberal and Reform Jews.  So, just to show that I’m not completely against them I want to end on a positive note about their services: they’re thankfully very short.  If only they’d start at nine o’clock instead of eleven I’d have time to nip down to the Wigmore Hall to enjoy a lunchtime recital.

 


Simcha on a shoestring

February 3, 2012

It’s a well worn cliché but that doesn’t detract from its veracity: the recession is affecting everyone, and that includes certain people I know who would never have imagined in a million years that they would need to delay the purchase of a new Merc by a month.  I tell you, some people are really suffering.

 

My friend Moshe was only able to go two Shabboses before people started to speculate as to why he was in shul but his Merc wasn’t in its usual parking space around the corner.  He was able to shrug it off for a while by pretending the car was being serviced, “Those Nazi’s” he complained, “they say they’re the greatest engineers in the world so why can’t they get my sun roof to close properly?  It’s deliberate!”  After a while however, people stopped believing him, and he was forced to admit the embarrassing truth; the economic conditions had forced him to apply for a Freedom Card.  The upside of this for Moshe is that he is now able to get off the bus outside shul rather than two stops away.

 

What makes it worse for Jews is that living in a tight-knit community there’s enormous pressure on us to put on a good show regardless of our financial circumstances.  I find myself in exactly this difficult place at the moment.

 

Thanks to the Almight my daughter, the apple of my eye (crab), is to be wed in the spring and Mrs J is insisting on a simcha that puts every other simcha in the history of spoilt Jewish girls and nebbishe Jewish boys to shame.  My wife has little interest in the financial pressure we, along with the rest of the world, are under.  Her knowledge of current affairs does not extend beyond Radlett.  (Still, there are enough affairs going on there to keep her ears flapping for a good long time so it’s probably just as well).

 

So I’ve had to do some thinking and I’d like to share a few ideas that are guaranteed to ensure a spectacular simcha on a shoestring.

 

1      Select your shul carefully.  Some are much cheaper to join than others and many will do a deal if you ask.  My research tells me that you can find some desperate ones out in the sticks, and while they might not have proper rabbis the advantage is that fewer guests will travel to them and that will further allow you to keep your costs down.

 

2      Go for quality rather than quantity.  A smaller do will save you a fortune and you can announce it as very exclusive to those who might have expected an invitation.  Be ruthless even if that means not inviting close family.  The only criteria upon which you should decide who’s to be on your guest list is wealth.  The advantages to this are manifold.  You’ll be able to hire a tiny venue, many of the invitees will probably not come because they’ll be at some fancy charity do, and they’ll send a good gift anyway.  Your simcha will have a better ROI than General Electric.

 

3      Of course it would be entirely inappropriate to ask people to stump up for their drinks.  Gentiles may like a pay bar but frankly, for me, that’s a non-starter.  There’s no money to be made from selling alcohol to Jews.  However at my precious girl’s wedding one of the table decorations will be a dish with a label simply saying “Thank you”.

 

4      While it is forbidden to get married during the Omer there is no prohibition against having the party then, so here’s a nifty tip:  make sure you have other plans for Lag B’omer and arrange for the wedding party to take place on some other date during the 49 days.  The restrictions on entertainment will mean you save a packet by not hiring a band or discotheque.  Instead, borrow a selection of board games from your friends.

 

5      Finally, you know all those benschers you’ve been collecting from Barmitzvahs and weddings over the years?  Well cross out the names and dates and write in the details for your own do.

 

So there you have it.  Eat your heart out Money Mensch.

 

 

 


Masorti Judaism and All That

May 31, 2011

 

An embarrassment was averted at the Masorti shul I happened to visit last Shabbat.  The awkward situation arose when one hapless gentleman called to the Torah didn’t have a tallis.  Fortunately a woman came to his rescue with hers.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Masorti, allow me to explain something of the story of this group whose flavour of Judaism appeals to a small but growing section of Anglo-Jewry.  I have consulted my historian friends W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman and I am indebted to them for the following.  You might call it “1964 And All That”.

Back in the late 1950’s Rabbi Louis Jacobs wrote a book called “Believe Me, We Have a Raisin”.  In it he contended that the children of Israel did not feed on manna from heaven when wandering in the wilderness, but that they probably lived an agricultural life cultivating vines and the like.  To his annoyance nobody took much notice of the book and so a few years later in 1964 Rabbi Jacobs decided to publicise it by having an affair.  This was known as “The Jacobs Affair”.  Rabbi Jacobs’ wife was understanding but the United Synagogue was not and they refused to allow him to hold his affair either at Jews’ College where he worked, or at his old synagogue.  They said his book was a bad thing and that consequently Rabbi Jacobs was a bad rabbi.

Rabbi Jacobs’ followers were upset because they knew he was only saying what many Jews privately believed, so they helped him to form a new synagogue in London.  They didn’t know what to call the synagogue and to this day it is known as the New London Synagogue.

Rabbi Jacobs was supposed to be Chief Rabbi but when the time came to make the appointment they couldn’t get hold of him because his friends had bought the synagogue secretly and the phone number was not listed.  This infuriated Jacobs because he very much wanted the job and he blamed BT for the mix up.  Rabbi Jacobs didn’t want the same misfortune to befall another hopeful for the role of Chief Rabbi and so he wrote a manual called “Helping With Directory Enquiries”.

Time passed and while he hadn’t intended to start a movement the children of Rabbi Jacobs’ synagogue began to move out and open their own shuls.  They decided to call their shuls Masorti which comes from the Hebrew word for “transit”, thus remembering how Rabbi Jacobs was forced to keep shlepping his family and belongings from one place to another when he was trying to find a venue for his affair.

Masorti synagogues can now be found all over Europe and consequently they must comply with equal opportunities laws from Brussels.  This is why some ladies wear kippot and tallitot and some men wear sheitels and snoods.  In every other respect the service is virtually identical to that which you would find in an orthodox shul, which is no surprise because Rabbi Jacobs was an orthodox rabbi.  He just had a thing about raisins.