Author Archives: Jonathan Cohen

The golliwog and the Blackamoor brooch

golliwog badge(Or: Princess Michael of Kent and me)

By a perverse coincidence the Robertson’s Jam golliwog badge (fellow Brits remember them?) that I bought on Ebay last month arrived on Friday, just as Princess Michael of Kent was getting hauled across the coals in the media for having worn a Blackamoor brooch to an event at which she knew at least one mixed race guest would be present.

‘Apparently wearing slavery-inspired brooches is the ultimate royal holiday tradition,’ said one outraged Twitter user.

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Could the silk tallet make a comeback?

da-costa-tallet.jpg

Tallet corner with the arms of the da Costa family

Historically the tallet was most commonly made of wool or linen, and to this day in many orthodox Ashkenazi and Eastern Sephardi communities, wool remains the fabric of choice, mainly due to an opinion that only these two materials fulfill the original Torah command (others being only a rabbinical addition).

However, in Western Sephardi and Italian communities with access to the silk route luxuriant, lightweight silk tallets became the tradition, as a way of honouring and beautifying the mitzvah.

These silk tallets were often personalized for their owners with elaborately decorated squares at each corner, emphasizing the four fringes.

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Should a sick person change their name?

Name-Change

I was recently asked this question by a friend:

“Unfortunately, I have serious health problems and have just returned from a lengthy hospital stay involving an operation.

“I’ve heard of people changing their names in such situations and wonder whether I should consider it? Why do people do it? Is it to try and change their fortune? How would I go about doing it if I decided to?”

Here’s my reply…

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“Shabbat Hayom!” becomes sickening computer game

screenshot of Shabbat Hayom video gameAn Israeli developer has released a new video game which depicts chareidim as violent. In the ‘Shabbat Hayom’ video game, chareidim punch non-religious Jews without provocation.

Many of you will have seen the now viral video of a misguided (OK stupid) young chareidi man protesting the opening of a shopping mall in Ashdod (Israel) on Shabbat by yelling “Shabbat Hayom” (It’s Shabbat today!), in a monotone, about 40 times in rapid succession.

It’s a non-violent – pointless – protest, that is certainly not going to enhance anyone’s opinion of what Shabbat can be. It’s sad to see the words “Shabbat Hayom”, which to so many religious people denote peace and harmony and recall several beautiful Shabbat table songs, being used in this way.

But then it was turned into an Israeli video game…  Continue reading

Dr Spock and the priestly blessing

mr-spockNot only is Leonard Nimoy, the actor behind Mr. Spock, Jewish, but Spock’s famous “Vulcan greeting”, which is copied from the hand formation used for Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) since the days of the Holy Temple, was his idea.

In the video below, Nimoy evocatively describes hearing the priestly blessing in the synagogue as a child, and how he came to use the unusual hand configuration on Star Trek. Continue reading

Auspicious foods for the New Year (“Simanim”)

pommegranOn Rosh HaShana we stand, as it were, before the Heavenly Court, while each of our past actions, words, and thoughts are scrutinized and our future decided. To help ourselves focus on the implications of the day, one widespread custom is to eat “auspicious” foods – “Simanim” – symbolizing the propitious year with which we pray to be blessed.

Simanim literally means “signs”, and though sometimes translated as “omens” I think that gives a very misleading impression of what they are to most people who observe them. Continue reading