Monday, 29 November 2010

A tale of two cities

***Update below***Antwerp elections

Yesterday the frum community in Antwerp went to the polls to elect a new rabbi. We, by contrast, were handed our rabbi on a plate in a graveyard. Quite literally. Ok the plate bit I made up but the graveyard is almost true and in fact the announcement was made at the previous rabbi’s funeral. Or as Wiki puts it “The honorary officers of the UOHC announced the appointment of his youngest son, Rabbi Ephraim, as the new rabbinical head of the community.”

How we would have cheered had it not been during the summer holidays when we were sunning ourselves in some summer camp rechristened, if that’s the word, Stamford Hill-on-sea for a couple of weeks. Alas we weren’t there and the officers who are honorary in name and name only had the field to themselves. They could have appointed a frog and we would have followed every hop and croak while persuading ourselves that we are the envy of the world. So they chose a dinosaur instead and we should be grateful to them for that. And to to enforce his pre-Neanderthal credentials, at his inauguration our Sanctified Leader duly delivered an exquisite disquisition on the topical subject of the Decapitated Calf.

In Antwerp they evidently do things differently. Rabbi Kreiswirth passed away almost 10 years ago and his seat has remained vacant ever since. There was talk of them nominating our own Dayan Ronnie Dunner as a candidate (or as he is sometimes fondly referred to, Dyno-RoD) but his community threatened to block his exit if he as much as left for an interview. Less kinder tongues wagged at the time that he declined when it transpired that there were others in the running. How the Antwerpians, or the Twerps, must have blessed their holy stars when Dunner travelled to India, saw the Taj Mahal and deciding he couldn’t build his dear darling rebbetzen a hovel like that got her instead a synthetic sheitel without any chashash of Avoide Zore. Just imagine the smoocher he got on his return.

I digress. I digress. Antwerp has been without a rabbi for almost a decade and it appears none the worse for it. It has had an eiruv for very many years having had the good fortune not to have had a Padwa at its helm. Its fortunes have been declining of late with the diamond industry moving to India and no largesse from its government to match that which housing benefit throws our way. It is  nonetheless a respectable community albeit reminiscent of a pale of settlement shtetl c.1890 and a shuttle service plies the sanctified Stamford Hill-Antwerp route several times a day which cannot be said even for Stamford Hill-Golders Green.

Recently a suitable candidate was found and the male burghers of the Flemish city were asked to express whether they are for or against him. It appears that King Leopold’s countrymen know more of common suffrage than us dwellers in the shadow of the mother of parliaments. And so choose a leader they did and Rabbi Aharon Schiff duly won the vote.

Mazel Tov!

There are however 2 points on which I must sound off. The first is that according to this source (in Hebrew) 1263 members were entitled to cast their vote in Antwerp. This may be another explanation, besides the patently obvious one, why Padwa was not put to the vote. While the UOHC purports to speak for and to all of us every time something ‘comes to their attention’ in reality they have relatively few members and there are even fewer reasons why one would want to become a member. They’ll rip you off for your meat, milk and marriage and ban your strawberries whether you’re a member or not and as for burial they’ll dump you in a water-logged bog reserved for members only. And without members it is rather difficult to hold an election so the next best thing was to slip him in while we were smeared with Amber Solaire.

And the next point is on the dinosaur comment I made earlier. The big story about town is of the local couple who’ve been arrested for allegedly drugging and abducting their daughter to take her out of Israel. They were taken off a plane bound for Bucharest and arrested. Bail has for the moment been refused.

The kneejerk defences are well under way. ‘The girl is mad’. ‘She has a boyfriend.’ ‘She is 21 with a mental age of 10.’ ‘You don’t know what good parents they are.’ Or simply, ‘It can’t be. You must hear the other side and you can never trust the Israeli media/police/judiciary for they all hate us'.’

What follows is a translation of a comment on an Israeli chareidi website, “The chareidi community in London is known primarily for being the most primitive and extreme of chareidi communities abroad. This community harboured in her midst the monster Elior Chen who tortured and abused small children in the name of religion. This community, the majority of which belongs to the extreme Satmar chasidim, suffers from a communal ‘honour’ syndrome and for the sake of honour all means are kosher. –What will people say?- This is of course the pretext for throwing the girl to the dogs in order to save her parents’ skin. The facts on the ground are that the girl is intelligent, sharp and fun and only malicious people could descend to such sub-human conduct [to malign her]. And let us assume that it is true, I ask: may one abuse a mentally ill daughter? If she is indeed, as they put it, retarded may one cruelly inject her with drugs and abduct her with force? Stop putting on a straight face!”

It hurts when it comes from Israelis who are the maddest extremists of the lot. But that makes it no less true. And while I would quibble whether we are indeed worse than others we are generally rather behind with the times and perhaps it is time to catch up. And harbouring fewer rapists and paedophiles and not raising money for them wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Here is the JC's report on the above story.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A classic vort

Is it a coincidence that the oaf is male and the heretic female? No wonder the rabbis weren’t (aren’t?) happy for women to study Torah.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The milk of rabbinical (un)kindness

Stamford Hill is in a lather, or, given the subject matter, perhaps that should be a latte. Whatever, the place is frothing over the no simple matter of a litre of milk.

2 businessman from Golders Green backed by a third North Westerner have set up a milk supply to challenge the long-standing monopoly of Chareidi Dairies. So far so good, you may think, until you notice the kosher seal on the bottle and the peyos will drop. For if where there is muck there is brass, where there is kosher there is brass, copper, silver and more. And as will be seen, where there is kosher milk there is lots of cream too.

For the last 10-15 years there has been a monopoly of kosher milk in London. This was supported by that bastion of holiness, Kedassia, who in return for a royalty on each litre of milk refused to certify rival milk supplies. However many sheitels you added to the cow's head its milk would remain treif. For as it is written in the Scriptures "Thou shalt mug the mothers for the kids' milk." The arrangement suited everyone especially us paying 94p+ a litre for the privilege of uber kosher milk and some kosher pig headedness in the bargain. Honestly, what are a few pennies when the sanctity of our souls are at stake?

But that has now changed. The half-goyim who reside in Golders Green are importing milk from Scotland where entire herds have been found that refuse to recognise or, more likely, are ignorant of the exclusive domain of Kedassia within the M25. Kedassia was approached for a hechsher and holding true to their principles said 'nein', we do the milking round here and not necessarily of cows. So the GGers turned to other rabbinical authorities and this is where things get tricky.

That there can be a rabbinical authority besides the Kedassia is itself open to question. But that that authority should actually declare what is and isn't kosher within Kedassia's back yard is contrary to the exclusive charter granted to them by Edward the Confessor and according to some scholars by King Ine of Wessex whom the Scots do not recognise. Turning to others for kosher certification is therefore not only heresy but treason of the highest order. This however is what the world is coming to and turn to other authorities they did.

The rabbis authorising the new milk are the London Beth Din and a Rabbi Knopfler. The KLBD is so kosher that many of their own Dayanim won't touch their meat stuff so they wouldn't slice the butter round here. Similarly, Knopfler may be a harmless fellow but of unknown pedigree on this side of Nags Head. Were it therefore only those 2 certifying the milk it would curdle as soon as it passed Manor House. Let the Golders Greeners continue fressing the treif they are accustomed to. Our kids however must suckle a pinta that is nutritious for the body and the soul.

But, as Tony Blair well knows, there is a third way and at times a third rabbi too. Enter Rabbi Eckstein and this, ladies and gentleman, is where things begin to warm up. Rabbi Eckstein took up several years ago a position as the rabbi of the Belz shtibel in St. Kildas Road. He has now broadened his horizons further north than even his birthplace in Manchester and has added the 3rd seal of approval to the Highland milk. Pity the environment for the cows must be releasing excessive amounts of methane gas in their exuberance at having a triumvirate of rabbis approving the provenance of their emanations. And rejoice Stamford Hill for thou milk has been deflated.

Lest anyone accuse Kedassia of putting principle before gain they did apparently offer a deal at the eleventh hour to add their seal subject to payment of something like 4p per bottle in order to comply with the biblical command of squeezing tithes out of teats. They were politely told to go and chew cow pat of a strictly kosher variety.

Kedassia however being Kedassia is not quite taking this on its bearded chin. Eckstein was sacked from his unpaid position on the rota of rabbis who deal with public enquiries at Kedassia's rather grotty citadel on Stamford Hill. This though is only the celestial angle taken care of. As to the more Godly problem of the loss of royalties by having alien cows plying their trade in Kedassia's hallowed meadow, well God looks after that too though with a varied record of success.

The local groceries sat on their shelves for the first week but they are now stocking it to the delight of their clients. If anyone ever accused us of being a spineless, supine bunch just ask the grocers how many requests they had prior to stocking it and how the new milk has been walking off the shelves. It is not that we are unwilling to protest it is simply that we lack the opportunity. Most of the time the rabbis and God are on the same side so offending the former risks inviting the ire of the latter which naturally we are loathe to do. Besides we all have sons and daughters and we do need to marry them off at some stage. It is only once in a lifetime that God and the rabbis part ways and on those rare occasions we immediately abandon the rabbis and leave them mooing in the cold. Miraculously too the old milk dropped in price overnight and assurances have been sought that standards in kosherness have not been sacrificed on the altar of competition.

True, Grodzinsky has been ‘requested’ not to stock the new milk. Neither for their cappuccinos which may contain only milk that frothes to the command of Kedassia hot air and nor in sealed bottles. This is on pain of, well, that which is best left unpronounced. Do however make the sums of the number of loaves and rolls they sell a day and you get the consequences of messing with the true breadwinner.

As for wider repercussions, there could be some turbulent times ahead for Kedassia. Unlike the US and Israel, London remains the only large ultra-orthodox centre where there is a virtual monopoly on the strictly kosher market. This status quo has now been breached and other products and even meat, where the main money lies, may follow. Kedassia did try to issue a rabbinical notice in support of a single certifying authority but apparently Satmar refused to sign and herein lies the problem.

As mentioned, Eckstein is a dayan in Belz which has a long-running rivalry with Satmar. Should Eckstein establish himself Satmars will no doubt be calling for their own milch cow. This could eventually lead to the break up of the Kedassia and the Padwa dynasty, banish the thought. And when one dynasty falls others are sure to follow.

Even more serious to the Kedassia hegemony is the possibility of an Eiruv in Stamford Hill. At the last failed attempt Eckstein was its main rabbinical and halachic supporter. He was forced to retreat when the main organiser was threatened by the financial backers of his kolel. Belz also did not want to be seen as being the sole supporter of a project strongly opposed by Padwa & co. That may change if Eckstein feels aggrieved by his dismissal or if Kedassia retaliates against Belz as a community. If, please God, that were to happen the milk could yet give rise to poles and string round Hackney and its environs.

May our land continue flowing Milk and Honey and may we live in interesting times. Amen!

Democracy II

News reaches me of the outcome of the Parent Governor elections mentioned below and I am left to eat my streimel.

Not only were the elections held with no allegations of vote rigging or other impropriety but the winner was apparently the sole woman candidate on the list. She is a local educator so don’t expect anything too exciting but it is a victory nonetheless.

Mazel Tov is surely in order and we hope she enjoys the soporific experience of taking part in board meetings where very little is debated and even less decided.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Democracy is coming to Stamford Hill

Shock. Horror. Disgust. Dismay. These are just some of the sentiments expressed by our Dear Leaders among the panoply of emotions generated by the news that elections are to be held in Stamford Hill. Not in our, or their, wildest fantasies did they, or we, imagine that there exists a power to compel anyone in the holy square mile to hold elections. We have been brought up that power is theirs by right, and just occasionally, when a contingency arises, by might, and now we are led to question our most basic and fundamental assumptions. How are we to contend with this, is the question on all lips.

Admittedly, local and national elections are held at polling booths within shockling distance of our great institutions, and these are passed by the Rabbonim as permissible so long, of course, that votes are cast in favour of the right candidates. But as with all non-Torah-true influences great care is taken to ensure that alien concepts such as democracy, accountability and transparency do not infiltrate our hallowed, kosher, bug-free-lettuce homes. For democracy, plebiscites, suffrage, enfranchisement and similar obscenities make no appearance from In the Beginning of Genesis to the last word of Chronicles and so are as treif as strawberries.

And as we are constantly reminded our shoulders are too narrow and the space between our ears too confined to bear the responsibility of introducing such ideas of our own accord. Of the heimishe, for the heimishe, by the heimishe, is simply not a heimishe concept.

For this reason we are fortunate that our chief rabbinate is run by one dynasty, our dayanim by secret appointment and our lay leaders by the size of their dislodgeable posteriors and just occasionally by the depth of their pocket. This last one being the exception rather than the rule as rules round here are, as a rule, there to be flouted. However, we should not complain. It is this system that has allowed our exalted and lofty way of life to be handed down through generations and the secrets methods of our distillation to be perfected over centuries. And when it comes to ‘our’ schools, well they are a story of their own. There has never been any doubt that we are in the good and able hands of a unique dynasty that has guided us hither and will continue to do so yonder.

Or so we thought. For news reaches me that to the consternation of those who dictate our way of life Yesodey Hatorah Secondary School will be holding elections for a Parent Governor. And if that isn’t enough, apparently a species of the fairer sex has had the temerity to stand for the position. I mean, what is the world coming to if a woman can try and elicit votes from parents which include men (though one wouldn’t think so when attending open days, parent evenings, graduation ceremonies or any other school activity except if it includes a visit by the PM or a few police officers when the men all miraculously appear)?

How, we all ask, has it come to this? Where have we gone wrong? Is this the result of a (non-existent) fair admissions policy? Is it the influence of having, G-d forbid, parents with tops which indicate a shape beneath and skirts which hint at legs ambulating within? Let us not mince our words. This is the greatest threat to our collective existential survival since the advent of 24mbps broadband and SMS messaging. Nothing short of a national day of tznius observance and tehilim recital is called for to eradicate this democratic cancer from our midst. We should be tearing down the mezuzed doors of our Dear Leaders and demand answers. If we can have kosher mobiles and kosher internet surely it is not beyond the innovative minds who are so adept at constantly moving the bimah posts to keep undesirables from sending their urchins to ‘our’ schools and bringing with them these dangerous, unheard of concepts.

But please do not be rash. We ask that you pay heed to the Rabbonim who have decreed that we bear this news with equanimity and dignified silence. Now is not the time for public protest, letter writing and faxing campaigns and a further announcement will be made if and when the situation changes. Buses will of course be put on for any demo. And whatever you do do not by any means approach the media for that is the exclusive domain of better and abler hands, if not necessarily brains.

We end with a prayer that the right candidate is elected, that once elected he (for he it shall no doubt be) votes as he is told, assuming anything is ever put to vote, and that our enemies who are trying to bring about these dangerous alien changes are put to flight. Amen!