Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sacks on the Hill

Chief on Hill

Lord of the Ringlets

With no prior announcement and none of the PR fanfare the 'rabbi' is so adroit at, Yesodey Hatorah Secondary School for Girls, to give it its full name, last week welcomed Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to its hallowed corridors. You read it here first as it appears to have been too late for last week's Hamodia where the 'rabbi' acts as an unpaid advisor, which must mean that a front page photo every other week is of no value or payment in kind doesn't count.

The girls themselves were told only the day before thus denying more right wing elements the chance to galvanise and arrange some form of protest. Some parents may even have withheld their dear neshomolech from school for the day. Since the 'rabbi' respected his girls when they refused to take an exam paper on Shakespeare he would undoubtedly have respected them on this point of principle too. But it is a moot point since the Chief's visit passed off without incident and one must now wait for the weekend papers to see Sacks beaming on an N16 platform he so covets and Pinter with an equally broad smile in the company of yet another semi-Jew as far as we in Stamford Hill are concerned.

You may wonder why the 'rabbi' had to turn so far west, and so far left, and to such high altitudes for a speaker for his girls. Isn't bringing a rabbi to Stamford Hill a bit like taking coal to that suburb of Gateshead? Before even our own chief Padwa has addressed the girls along comes a Lord from a different manor to shepherd our sacred sheep.And it's not as if the lesser local rabbis have been exhausted since rabbis rarely step foot into that place lest anyone suspect that history is not as it's been rewritten. That what has been turned into the sole domain of a single extended family was actually established by rabbis and individuals with different family names.

Inviting dignitaries from foreign shores whose sheep would never be welcome in our greener meadows comes with its own reciprocal kickbacks. And if in this instance it provided a photo opportunity with an ermine backdrop then all the better. As to the addressees, those precious neshomelech, they too provide a pretty setting for opportunistic photo shoots. And supine too, for his Lordship was not taken to the boys’ school where a different reception may have awaited him assuming he was received at all.

So it was left to the acting head who actually runs the school (bar admissions and external relations which by convention are the domain of the ‘principal’), and who by remarkable and as yet unexplained coincidence happens to be none other than the 'principal's dear wife, to advise the children the day before of their noble guest and then give way to her husband to officiate on the day. I mean he is the 'principal' after all though mind you his appearance in front of his flock is almost as rare as that of the Chief himself. It may even have been his debut address to 'his' school had not the former prime minister but one popped round some years ago which forced the 'principal' to bring forward his maiden speech to the maidens.

In line with the school's mission of developing the girls' thinking, initiative, creativity and leadership skills, questions to the Chief would be allowed. Questions however are a dangerous tool in the wrong hands for one cannot predict the answers from the Chief. Worse still once cannot foretell questions some of the girls may be harbouring in their delicate brains. Questions such as which we are told are never posed in our postal areas.

For instance, why do we celebrate our freedom by subjecting our womenfolk to slavery in the weeks running up to the festival? Which may have prompted, why do girls break up 2 weeks early to 'help their mothers' while boys study on blissfully for an extra week to keep them from under their mother's feet? Questions also have a horrible habit of veering from their course. A question may have been popped to our own paragon of inclusivism and bridge-building: should not a publicly funded school with a mission to 'understand the world we live in' have a day off for the national holiday of the royal wedding especially when an honour from those quarters is so hankered after?

But trust the 'rabbi' to come up with a solution. Yes, question will be asked but only by the highest class. Yes, questions will be asked but we will decide who will ask them. Yes, question will be asked and we'll even set the questions for the questioners. The mission does after all also include moral understanding and we cannot afford to allow morals to fly out of the window for the sake of satisfying a guest as exalted as he may be. So a question on anti-Semitism will do very nicely thank you but as for more pressing issues, girls, that's not for our sort yidn.

As for Rebbetzin Sacks, well that's a bit of a touchy matter. It is after all a girls' school so perhaps it would be fitting for the Chief's wife to come along. But then there are rebbetzins and rebbetzins. In our environs we like them plump with 15 layers of clothing, skirts till the Maginot line to repel would be invaders, shrapnel proof hosiery and sheitels if not evocative of a mop then hidden away altogether under some contraption of a kerchief. If you are a chief rebbetzin like, say, Padwa you must also instigate campaigns of tznius (and more on that shortly). But rebbetzins of the Sack's variety, well how shall we put it, she may just give the girls some wrong ideas. You know, that rabbis' wives too may look presentable and even attractive, and that, we're afraid, is not quite part of the school's mission. It is just possible that the rebbetzin too didn’t particularly cherish pre-Pesach meetings of the haggard-eyed sisterhood in turbans with one hand on their hips and another cupping their chin, 'and where are you up to with Pesach?'

Truth said, since her photo would not appear in the papers and definitely not in the company of the ever so photogenic 'rabbi' she was hardly missed. The meeting of the two titans, nos. 1 and 8 respectively in the Power List (of which more here) served its purpose very well without her. Each can go back to his respective constituency enhanced by the visit. No. 1 can demonstrate how his clout reaches even in darkest N16. It might even earn him a rare photo in the Hamodia or Tribune as part of the bargain notwithstanding that to all intents and purposes he was brought in through the tradesman's entrance to address as softie an audience as could be mustered.

And no. 8? Well, he can yet again parade his Cheshire cat grin showing off the extent of his reach to parts others can’t even touch with the ever so subtle subtext that from a perch so high nothing can be toppled.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Chief Rabbi and London Beth Din: Then and now

To those interested in these matters here is a lengthy article on the right-left tensions between the Chief Rabbinate and the Beth Din which exist till this day. They may well intensify depending on the United Synagogue’s choice of the next Chief Rabbi.

As to this future appointment in some two and a half years Miriam Shaviv suggested, rather mischievously, in last week’s JC that elections be held for the next Chief. One of her arguments is that in any attack from the London Beth Din and further to the right (east?) the new Chief would be able to point to a popular mandate. I am afraid that those attacking from the right care little for popular mandates and if anything will make him more of a laughing stock in those quarters. Back room deals over dead bodies a la Padwa are the order of the day round here. And this is before even opening that delicious can of worms on whether women too would be allowed to vote…

Debates even of a halachic nature do not sway these people as was seen recently in Israel when there was disagreement between Rabbis Elyashuv and Yosef over conversion issues. Rather than trade barbed euphemisms if not direct insults in lengthy responsa employing puns and paraphrases of biblical and talmudic verses as has traditionally been the custom of the rabbis, Elyashuv threatened a demonstration. It appears that the ‘world’s leading halachic authority’, who’s barely put pen to paper in recent years and even further back has no seminal work to his name, is resorting to mob rule. At over a hundred he must be tiring from the tirade of verbal, unreasoned, if not unreasonable, rulings on anything from crocs on Yom Kipur to Shabbos lifts and prefers the power brought about by the masses and the occasional dirty nappy.

And so we come to a situation where it is the Torah-less politicians and the gentiles who conduct arguments by debate and decide by common suffrage and it is the rabbis who employ mob rule. Apparently the chosen weren’t meant to choose for the concept of choice implies that there is more than one legitimate way. Since there can be only one version of the truth giving people any say in any matter is heresy and so forbidden and bless the Lord for the state we’re in.