Category Archives: Ideas

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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Should a sick person change their name?


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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Beha’alotecha: Black is beautiful

black is beautifulWas the biblical Miriam guilty of racial prejudice?

We feel uncomfortable with that idea somehow.

Rashi as he often does, tries to resolve the problem by adding things into the text or deleting things from the text, or re-reading the verse. He has no problem with changing a word’s meaning to solve a problem. For example in this week’s parasha when Miriam talks about Moshe’s Kushi wife, and Rashi does not understand who the Kushi wife is, since the only wife we know about is Tzipora, a Midianite, Rashi changes the meaning of the word. Continue reading


schlissel challasA little-known Chassidic custom has been gaining momentum. For the last few years I’ve been finding two opposing kinds of posts on my Facebook wall just days after the end of Pesach.

Some of them proudly show photographs of a home made challah in the shape of a key (with an accompanying wish to friends for “prosperity”); while others include derisory memes berating the “Christian or pagan” custom of “Schlissel Challah” as yet another “segulah” that cheapens God into a sort of “vending machine for superstitious people”.

So what is it really? Continue reading

Roasted or boiled?

eggIn the early seventies there was a marvelous British TV advert by the Egg Marketing Board. It involved a lodger who comes down for breakfast to a harridan of a landlady who asks him sourly, “How do you want your eggs, fried or boiled?

He drifts off into a fantasy of eggs cooked in all sorts of delicious, exotic ways, asking himself in his mind: “or scrambled?, or poached?, or en cocotte…?” Responding to her from within his fantasy, he says out loud: “Eggs Risotto please, Mrs. Burridge.” She shocks him back to reality with the caustic retort: “Is that fried or boiled?”

My question is a little different. Should the egg on the Seder plate be roasted or boiled? Continue reading

Sorry, did you say “steal” the Afikomin?


The Artful Dodger practices his trade

“Who pinched the Afikoman at your Seder?,” an acquaintance – we’ll call him Simon – once asked me during the intermediate days of Pesach. The reference was to the custom of children “stealing” the matzah set aside for the end of the meal. In his desperation to retrieve this matzah, which is essential to the Passover Seder, the father is supposed to promise the child whatever prize he or she demands.

I bounced the question back to him. “Who pinched it at yours?” Continue reading