Friday, 22 June 2012

On the dangers of mobile phones

The following relates to reports of a man arrested in Stamford Hill for alleged child abuse (or for buying tzitzis for a child, if you believe local reports). I picked this up on facebook and I can’t vouch for its veracity. We do mass produce urban myths round here but it’s still a nice one.

There's no big news in this one, but it does have an interesting twist... There's a little scandal going on in (Stamford Hill) London, since yesterday afternoon. A chasidisher 'kollel' yungerman was arrested for molesting young kids/kid. The police arrived at the Kollel and asked the Rosh Hakolel if he knows 'ploini ben ploini'... the Rosh Hakolel said "No" (of course he wouldn't be a musser and give over a fellow jew to the police...). So the police told him "We know that you do know who he is... but it's o.k." Then they had two policemen block the entrance of the Kollel from both sides so no one would escape, and they placed a phone call to the yingerman's cell-phone, when the phone rang they knew exactly who the guy was and they took him away... I guess now there's more proof of the ‘danger’ of having a cellphone...!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Queen and We

Living in this country I cannot but join in the outpouring of celebration for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Belonging at the same time to the Jewish religion I cannot but feel nauseous by the sycophancy of our Chief Rabbi's prayer, speech in the House of Lords and appearance on the Today programme's Thought for the Day.

We as Jews have good reason to be grateful for the stable and democratic society we live in where all religions and races are treated equally and where the rule of law reigns supreme. History has given us ample opportunity to sample an array of alternatives and it hardly need be said that they haven't always been pleasant. The Queen as Head of State embodies these values and an occasion like this gives us an opportunity to join our fellow countrymen and women in celebrating the stability of her reign and showing appreciation for her unflinching duty to the citizens of this country.

But to thank her as her "loyal and devoted subjects" for "her repeated acts of kindness to our community and its institutions" smacks of grovelling servility rather than respectful appreciation. It reminds me of an old age home in Jerusalem where residents saw fit to display on the wall near the lifts a framed appreciation to the management in similarly fawning terms. And of the cringeworthy mazel tov adverts the Hebrew teachers of local schools place in the advertising sheets when the offspring of those who deign to pay their salaries are engaged and married.

While it may be incumbent on us to show appreciation to the Queen as the titular head of state, as citizens of this country we also have a right to expect no less than these kindnesses. The idea that we as a community owe her something more than the rest of the country is belittling and insulting. The Chief should be reminded that he is not in the 19th century talking to huddled masses of refugees in Toynbee Hall in honour of Queen Victoria but his prayers are for born and bred British Jews in 2012 to honour Queen Elizabeth II.

He doesn't however stop at her kindness to us. Rabbi Sacks praises Her Majesty's sceptre as being 'law and morality, equality and freedom.' The Queen may carry out her role with grace and discretion and a great sense of duty but it is parliament and not the Queen that makes laws. And the Chief Rabbi's prayer aside, I have yet to hear of Her Majesty being referred to as an arbiter of morals. Her concern is indeed the welfare of the people of this country but her passion lest we forget is also corgis and horses. The Chief must be scaling the very top of his lofty register with "for sixty years the Queen has spoken gently to the better angels of our nature."

Here are links to prayers of the Church of England, the Catholic Church, a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Chief Rabbi. To the Chief's benediction add his speech in the House of Lords, the most syrupy extract of which was republished on the front page of the JC, flavoured by his panegyric on Thought of the Day and garnished with yet another paean to the Monarch in an op-ed article in The Times.

Pray tell me, why is it that of all prayers the Jewish prayer and thanksgiving must sound as if it is addressed to the Tzar, Kaiser and Sultan all rolled into one? Are only we Jews her 'loyal and devoted subjects' and is it only we who must "express our deepest sentiments of loyalty, esteem and gratitude?" Why can the others do with a British nod of the head while we must genuflect and repeatedly fall on our knees as if it's Yom Kipur in shul? We are not minions living under her protection; we are equal citizens living in a democratic, plural society and this slobbering nonsense is insulting and belies the truth. It is precisely that we require no special favours that we are so fortunate.

It was also sneaky of Rabbi Sacks in his Thought of the Day broadcast to translate the mishna הוי מתפלל בשלומה של מלכות as 'pray for the welfare of the monarch'. The closest would be, for the welfare of the monarchy, which is for the institution and not the person. A more accurate translation however would be for the welfare of the state, or as the Chief himself translates it in his Siddur, 'pray for the welfare of the government.' That is what we ultimately pray for. The Queen is indeed the personification of the state but that still need not turn us into quivering vassals.

So yes, raise your cups in a lechaim to the Queen and join the throngs in celebrating her reign of six decades and appreciating her dedication to her citizens. But if republicanism be your bent have no qualms in joining the anti-monarchy protests for it is precisely in the fact that we are equal citizens of this Sceptered Isle to take part in all aspects of our society that we celebrate.