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.

 


Who Will be the Chief Behind the Chief?

May 31, 2012

It’s not usual for a columnist of my stature to debase himself by commenting on actual “news” but today I feel I must throw my two shekels worth at the vexed question of the appointment of the next Chief Rebbetzin.  Besides, it’s hardly news any more.

While employment lawyers are wringing their palms in excitement at the possibility of an unfair treatment claim I think it’s time to get one thing clear:  while the advertised job was for a Chief Rabbi, this is no different to any other appointment of a Jew.  You may ask for the man, but what you get is the woman.  Ask any recruitment consultant and they will tell you that it is unwise to offer a Jewish man a job if you are eager for a quick response.  If you need an instant answer you must bypass the candidate and go straight to the decision-maker.  Married Jewish men simply don’t have authority.  Only this week I took my suit into the dry-cleaners and I’m still waiting to for Mrs J to let me know whether I can tell him his offer has been accepted.

Do you think that the incumbent has ever made any decision alone since he tied the knot?  Of course not.  He’s an honourable and loyal man.  First he finds out what the Dayanim want and then he asks Lady S to ratify their decision.

Given the importance of the woman’s role, then, you’d think that the sensible approach would be to interview them together.   However, this defeats another objective, which is to find the couple that is most knowledgeable, and by that I don’t mean Jewishly knowledgeable, I mean knowledgeable about each other.  Only in this way can Jewish role models the equivalent of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh be identified, for that is exactly what this appointment is all about.

Did you ever see the 1970’s quiz show “Mr and Mrs”?  This is essentially the format for the appointment of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.  If you remember, one partner was whisked away into a soundproofed room while the other was asked a series of questions about their temporarily encased spouse.  The spouse was then released and asked the same questions, the couple with the greatest consistency in their answers being the winners of the show. 

A source inside the United Synagogue has passed me the interview questions, a selection of which follow:

Does the Rabbi prefer kneidlach or those little square croutons in his soup?”

What colour is the Rebbetzen’s favourite snood”

Does your husband prefer the old, the centenary or the green edition of the Siddur?” 

How long before Kiddush does the Rebbetzin like to arrive at shul on Shabbat?  Is it five minutes, ten minutes or twenty minutes?” 

In a bid to demonstrate the openness and transparency of the United Synagogue the entire interview process will be televised and Derek Batey-Din has been coaxed out of retirement to head the selection panel.  However, you’ll need to set your recorders because like almost all programmes with Jewish interest it will be screened on a Friday evening.

That’s just the first stage of the interview process.  When they get down to the final two candidates a special edition of Family Fortunes will be the format employed. The purpose of this will be to establish the Rabbi most in touch with the hoi polloi.  Typical questions might be:

Name a road with free parking on a Saturday morning in the vicinity of St John’s Wood Synagogue ”, “Name something a child would like to do on a Sunday morning even less than attend cheder”, and “Name a popular topic of pews conversation on yom kippur.” 

You may think this selection method devalues such a serious appointment but really, can it be any worse than a bunch of old men sitting in a room for days on end trying to get a wood fire started?  There’s nothing entertaining in the Catholic approach and the advertising opportunities pale in comparison. 

Personally I can’t wait to find out who is named as the first Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Sponsored by Ozem.

 


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.