Recruiting a new rabbi

December 14, 2009

Our shul is struggling hopelessly through one of the most traumatic periods in its history. We have been trying to replace our dear rabbi who passed on to a better place four years ago after illness had kept him from the pulpit for the three previous ones.  A decisive group we are not.

The composition of the recruitment panel posed our first problem. Never before have we had so many members suddenly finding time to give to the shul.   Once our 27person panel was decided upon we had to come up with a job description.  The arguments over this led to several resignations before it was finally agreed and the following was published:

Duties:  Spiritual leader, teacher, moral authority, scapegoat.

Hours:  All day, every day.

Holidays:  Yes, but not the Jewish ones.

Salary:  Before we discuss that, let me tell you about how wonderful and caring our community is and how much our last rabbi loved it here before his debilitating stress related illnesses took hold.

Our next task was to decide on a selection process.   The first stage was to invite each applicant to lead a service.  Four members sat directly in front of the bimah and at the end of each performance they took it in turns to give their verdict.  The one sat on the far right of the four was really rather brutal in his assessments and dismissed one candidate saying he had a terrible voice and had made a very bad choice of nusach. Another panellist who, it appeared, had been coaching the candidate during the preceding week then defended this same candidate vigorously.

Asking them to deliver a sermon tested the candidates’ oratory skills.  Each spoke on the topic of the week’s sedra for one minute without repetition, deviation or hesitation.  They all failed on repetition when it was revealed that it was the same sermon they gave every week: Go to shul more often; stop eating shellfish in restaurants.

Finally, we wanted to be sure that the candidates were halachically Jewish because while they were all descended from great rabbis of the 18th and 19th centuries, they were also all born in outside of the UK.  To be safe, we decided it would be best to insist that they undertake a conversion process.

It was at this point that all the candidates mysteriously decided to withdraw from the process.  We therefore plan to restart the search just as soon as we can persuade one or two people to form another recruitment panel.

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Look what they done to my song, Ma!

December 26, 2008

Before you read this piece, I want it to be known that I do not watch The X Factor. I watched the closing stages of it last night, but only because I had been told that one of my favourite songs was to be sung by the finalists. The song is Hallelujah, a Leonard Cohen composition. It is beautiful and moving. More than anything, it is imbued with Judaism.

Knowing something about the pop industry today (for “pop industry”, read Simon Cowell), I had very low expectations for the way the two finalists, a boy band and a girl belter, would render the song, and yet I was still appalled at the way it was butchered and abused. If Hallelujah were a pet, the RSPCA would be calling for Cowell to be banned from keeping animals for the rest of his life.

As I watched the performances, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at the crassness of it all. Children singing a grown up song like this is just wrong. It was like turning up for the school concert and hearing the choir singing a version of “Je t’aime (moi non plus)”.

Even more upsetting is that the song has now been appropriated as a festive song. It’s almost certain to be at number 1 in the charts this Christmas and it shouldn’t be. Just because it’s called “Hallelujah” they decided to add some bells to it, so to speak, and turn it into a gospel carol. On the set of the show the singers performed before a big pine tree with a star atop, in the shape of a great big cross. They stole it. It’s a Jewish song. Hallelujah is a Jewish word. It’s a song about David and Saul. It’s about Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and God. And sex. It’s about as far from a Christmas song as you can get.

The only saving grace for this tawdry affair is that Leonard Cohen is set to make about a million quid from it and he deserves it for such a masterpiece. Simon Cowell, on the other hand, ought to be ashamed, but instead he’ll be wringing his hands at a Christmas windfall he doesn’t deserve.Then again, he don’t really care for music, do he?

Originally posted December 14th 2008