Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Isn't My Thing

Unlike some Jewish families, we won't be singing carols or eating mince pies

Sunday, 9 November 2008


To mark the publication of Controversy and Crisis – my book of collected essays (published in July by the Academic Studies Press) that cover some of the most sensitive and divisive issues to have confronted British Jewry in recent times – I am, in the interests of historical research, publishing electronically original documents in my possession related to these topics.

In 1992 the Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies at University College London (UCL) was engulfed in a series of controversies involving its internal management and its relationship with the University of London, of which UCL was (and is) a part. These events were briefly referred to in the second edition of my monograph Modern British Jewry (Oxford University Press, 1998). I was then Chairman of the Academic Council of the University, as well as Pro Vice-Chancellor for Academic Standards. I thus had a ‘ringside seat’ at the events which unfolded, but it also fell to me to deal in a professional capacity with the issues that emerged.

In 1992 the Executive Committee of the Academic Council was asked to regularise an alarming situation that had come to light in the Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies at UCL. It appeared that students there had been taught a degree syllabus that the University had never approved. My Executive Committee decided that whilst the students had to be protected some drastic action was necessary, not least because of an impending ‘academic audit’ of the University by the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. It therefore insisted that UCL undertake a fundamental administrative review of the department concerned.

The report of that review, presented to the University in June 1992, is now reproduced at: .

I should add that the acceptance and implementation of the recommendations made in that review were by no means the end of the matter. Other causes for concern came to light in the course of 1992 relating to the University’s External BA in Jewish History, which the department at UCL had been permitted to run on behalf of the University. At its meeting on 27 November 1992 the Standing Committee of the Board of Studies in History minuted its view that one way forward might be for ‘recognition’ of the degree, by the University, to be withdrawn. In June 1993 an External Examiner for this degree (who himself was a faculty member of the University of Cambridge) characterised the manner in which UCL ran this degree programme as “a kind of controlled chaos.”

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Witching Hour Has Passed

Calls to grant posthumous pardons to witches who were executed hundreds of years ago reflect a dangerous trend

Monday, 27 October 2008

Definitely, maybe

If atheists aren't certain there's no God, as the bus ad suggests, they have no chance of persuading religious devotees to get on board

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bordering On The Bureaucratic

New visa regulations for non-European students are going to cause universities a whole lot of bother

Thursday, 28 August 2008


American universities have begun a rebellion against academic league tables. British universities should join them

Monday, 18 August 2008


The case of Professor Paul Buckland exposes serious flaws in the way universities maintain standards and classify degrees

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


The new A* grade for A-level students could skew university admissions in favour of children from privileged backgrounds


To mark the publication of Controversy and Crisis – my book of collected essays (published last month by the Academic Studies Press) : that cover some of the most sensitive and divisive issues to have confronted British Jewry in recent times – I am, in the interests of historical research, commencing the electronic publication of original documents in my possession related to these events.

The first, which I published on 7 August and which you can view at , is the Deed of Submission (13 May 1985) that authorized the establishment of a special Beth Din [Ecclesiastical Court] to adjudicate on the dismissal from the staff of Jews’ College of the senior teacher of Talmud, Rabbi Simche Lieberman.

I now publish the second [ ], which consists of two contrasting views of the Masorti movement by two successive British Chief Rabbis, Immanuel Jakobovits and Jonathan Sacks. On 24 September 1981 Jakobovits attempted to appease the Masorti movement by agreeing to certify to the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews that the New Highgate & North London Synagogue was "a congregation of persons professing the Jewish Religion." Such certification [dating from 1836] was necessary so that this synagogue could appoint a marriage secretary who would be able to act as civil registrar - thus obviating the necessity for couples to attend a quite separate civil marriage ceremony. But Jakobovits was careful to add a rider: that his certification was dependant upon the synagogue conducting marriages in accordance with orthodox Jewish law. He was also careful to make it clear that his certification did not extend beyond the appointment of a [civil] secretary for marriages.

Jakobovits hoped that he could thus go some way towards healing the rifts caused by the Jacobs Affair, but without compromising his view that Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs - in effect the religious founder of the Masorti movement in Great Britain - was a heretic.

But when Sacks was asked to certify another Masorti synagogue, in St Albans (11 January 1994), he attached no such rider.

Sacks' ambivalent attitude towards the Masorti movement was a key factor fuelling the confrontation that developed between him and large sections of the Torah-orthodox communities in the UK, and which climaxed in his having to rewrite sections of his book Dignity of Difference.

This confrontation forms an important them of the essays I reproduce in Controversy and Crisis.

Geoffrey Alderman

Thursday, 7 August 2008


To mark the publication of Controversy and Crisis – my book of collected essays that cover some of the most sensitive and divisive issues to have confronted British Jewry in recent times – I am, in the interests of historical research, commencing the electronic publication of original documents in my possession related to these events.

The first, which you can view at , is the Deed of Submission (13 May 1985) that authorised the establishment of a special Beth Din [Ecclesiastical Court] to adjudicate on the dismissal from the staff of Jews’ College of the senior teacher of Talmud, Rabbi Simche Lieberman. This cause celèbre forms the subject-matter of ‘Albert Road: An Everyday Story of Jewish Folk,’ which was published as an appendix to my University of London Inaugural Lecture (1989) after having been banned by the Federation of Synagogues. The text of the lecture, and the banned appendix, are reproduced in full in Controversy and Crisis.

The Deed of Submission was signed by Rabbi Dr [now Professor Sir] Jonathan Sacks (then Principal of Jews’ College), Mr [now Lord] Stanley Kalms (then chairman of the College Council) and Sir [subsequently Lord] Immanuel Jakobovits, then Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue and President of the College Council, as well as by Rabbi Lieberman, whose signature I witnessed.

This was the first occasion on which a British Chief Rabbi had agreed (in effect) to be summoned to a Din Torah [judgment by a Beth Din]; and the Beth Din itself was established completely outside the aegis of the United Synagogue.

[The Rabbi Lieberman (Antwerp) who was one of the members of this Beth Din was unrelated to Rabbi Simche Lieberman]

But this special Beth Din never actually sat, because – regrettably in my view - the dispute was settled the day before its scheduled first meeting, when a very large sum of money was paid to Rabbi Lieberman to drop all claims against the College.

For the technically minded, I drafted the Deed of Submission on my Sinclair Spectrum 48K computer – the first computer I ever owned - and it was printed on an Oki Microline dot-matrix machine. Primitive by today’s IT standards, these tools proved sufficient to the task twenty-three years ago, and played their part in one of the most divisive issues to have confronted British Jewry at the time.

Geoffrey Alderman

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


It's out! The book you've been waiting for! The book others have been dreading!

Academic Studies Press (Massachusetts, USA)

Controversy and Crisis: Studies in the History of the Jews in Modern Britain - by Geoffrey Alderman
978-1-934843-22-2 320 pp. cloth $75.00 PUBLISHED 15 JULY 2008

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is the acknowledged authority on the history of the Jews in modern Britain. During an academic career spanning forty years he has produced some of the most authoritative and controversial studies in this field, lighting up the dark corners of the Jewish existence in Great Britain and revealing secrets the Anglo-Jewish communities would rather have kept from public view. In this book he presents sixteen of these essays, covering fields as disparate as the history of the Jewish vote in the UK, the true story of the British Chief Rabbinate, and the uneasy tenure of Sir Jonathan Sacks in that office. He also considers the role of the historian in Anglo-Jewish life, and the troubled careers of some of its leaders and scholars.

Monday, 21 July 2008



Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement today that the British government will only contribute £20,000 [$40,000] towards an academic co-operation programme with Israel has been condemned as "an insult" by leading Anglo-Jewish historian Professor Geoffrey Alderman.

Professor Alderman, who teaches politics and history at the University of Buckingham, England, but who is also Visiting Professor at York St John University and Emeritus Professor at Middlesex University (London) and Touro College (New York), said: "Compared to the money that the British government is giving to the Palestinian Authority, this is an insult. I would throw this back in their faces. If the government was seriously interested in a programme to foster academic cooperation, it would think in terms of millions."

Most of the money for the planned academic exchange scheme will come from private foundations.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Why the recent POW swap between Israel and Hizbollah was a thoroughly bad deal for the Jewish state




The experience of British Jewry demonstrates that there is plenty of room for aspects of Sharia to be incorporated within English law without in any way compromising the cardinal principle that all British citizens must be ‘equal under the law.’

This is the major theme of an address to be given by Professor Geoffrey Alderman to the Islamic Shari’a Council on Sunday 20 July 2008.

Professor Alderman, who teaches politics and history at the University of Buckingham, is the author of The Jewish Community in British Politics and Modern British Jewry (both published by Oxford University Press); he writes a weekly column for the Jewish Chronicle. He and his family are practising Orthodox Jews.

Supporting controversial remarks made earlier this year by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Professor Alderman, in his address, traces the history of the interface between Jews, Judaism and the English legal system. “The Jewish religion has – to some extent – been successfully incorporated with the English legal system,” Professor Alderman said: “this has damaged neither the status of British Jews nor the fabric of English law.”

NOTE FOR EDITORS: Further information about Geoffrey Alderman can be found at: He can be contacted at and on 07850-457289.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Examine The Evidence

In today's Times Higher Education I invite Peter Williams, chief executive of the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Eucation, to examine the evidence I have collected supporting my view that the External Examiner system is no longer 'fit for purpose.'

Monday, 7 July 2008

JFS Legal Rulling

Following the publication of Mr Justice Munby's ruling on a legal challenge to the admissions policy of the Jews' Free School, Kenton, London, I have issued the following statement:

" Mr Justice Munby has ruled that the JFS did not unlawfully discriminate against a boy whose mother was converted by a non-orthodox religious body.

He also said that the JFS's policy "of giving preference to children who are Jewish, applying Orthodox Jewish principles" was "essential" to its legitimate aim of pursuing its Orthodox ethos.

But the cases that I have been concerned with over several years are ones where the mother's conversion was by the supreme orthodox religious authorities in Israel. So, to that extent, I welcome the judge's words. In the two cases I have been concerned with the children remain fully Jewish in Israel, even though the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue in the UK refuses to recognize their religious status.

This is (of course) daft."

Thursday, 26 June 2008

MPs to investigate academic 'fraud'

See the Guardian report, 26 June 2008, at:,,2287492,00.html

Read the article by Professor Roger Brown and me - "Academic fraud: how to solve the problem" at:,,2287650,00.html

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Unconstitutional? Rubbish

Jack Straw is wrong. Ousting Gordon Brown would not force a general election. The Queen has every right to refuse to dissolve parliament

Friday, 9 May 2008


Geoffrey and the boycott
The idea of boycotting Israeli universities is unlawful, pointless and, finally, devoid of common sense

Thursday, 8 May 2008


"The ban on performance-boosting substances in sport is a self-satisfied nonsense."

Monday, 28 April 2008


Washington Examiner, 28 April 2008

Traffic Enforcement Cameras aren't always accurate. They lack commonsense. And they can infringe individual liberties.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


With a new speed camera system being trialled, isn't it time we asked whether these devices are as effective as their supporters claim?

Friday, 4 April 2008

Sunday, 24 February 2008


Josef Heinz Lobenstein, the resident gossip columnist of the Anglo-Yiddish Jewish Tribune – the newspaper of choice of the Anglo-Jewish so-called ‘ultra-orthodox,’ – has this past week [issue of 21 February 2008, not available online] turned his attention to the controversy triggered by a public lecture recently given by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In that lecture, Dr Williams argued for the incorporation within British law of certain aspects of Sharia [Muslim] law, and drew attention to some ways in which the religious requirements of Britain’s Jewish communities had already been similarly incorporated. I commented on this lecture – and supported the Archbishop’s position - in my Jewish Chronicle column of 15 February. Mr Lobenstein – who writes under the pseudonym ‘Ben Yitzchok’ – chooses not to comment directly on the contents of the lecture. He focuses his attention instead on criticisms of the response to that lecture from the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, Professor Sir Jonathan Sacks.

In the media Sir Jonathan had studiously refused to be drawn on the detail of the Archbishop’s remarks. Mr Lobenstein praises him for preferring ‘not to get involved in the controversy.’ Instead, insists Mr Lobenstein, Sir Jonathan chose ‘the eloquence of silence,’ adding that he fully supports Sir Jonathan ‘for not meddling on [sic] a subject which really had nothing (or at least very little) to do with Jews and the Jewish community.’

Mr Lobenstein is clearly annoyed with unnamed Jewish leaders who had decided to ‘air their views’ on the Archbishop’s lecture ‘on the media’s front pages’ – perhaps a reference to the support [reported on the front page of the Jewish Chronicle of 15 February] given to Dr Williams by Rabbi Yisroel Lichtenstein, the Rosh Beth Din [Chief Judge] of the Federation of Synagogues (to which I belong).

Mr Lobenstein – a former Mayor of Hackney - clearly believes that British Jews should keep a very low profile on most matters of public moment in British society. He clearly believes that the Orthodox Judaism that he and I practise has little of substance to contribute to these public dialogues, and that if it does – perchance – then it is better not so say so. He is of course fully entitled to these opinions – though it would help if he had explained exactly what harm – if any – he fears might befall British Jewry if his policy of self-effacement is ignored.

But I am not so much concerned with this policy – with which I happen to profoundly disagree – as with the assumption by Mr Lobenstein that Sir Jonathan Sacks has wisely followed his code of silence.

In fact Sir Jonathan was not silent at all.

It is true that Sir Jonathan chose not to respond directly to the Archbishop’s lecture. But he did issue a statement to the Jewish Chronicle, which can be accessed at:

Emphasising that ‘the law of the land is the law,’ Sir Jonathan did indeed sidestep the detail of the intense public debate that Dr Williams’ lecture has provoked. His statement ignored – I assume deliberately – the ways in which ‘the law of the land’ has been modified to address Jewish concerns (the theme of my JC piece). Acknowledging that Jews in Britain oft-times resorted to their own religious courts – Batei Din [singular Beth Din – ‘House of Judgment’] - Sir Jonathan hastened to reassure the British public that:

"Jewish courts have no power to enforce their rulings other than by consent of the parties involved. Jews may regulate their internal affairs through a beth din with three provisos:
1. That they are subject to the law of the land; 2. They do not attempt to “oust” or sidestep English courts; and 3. They conduct their affairs in accordance with the principles of “natural justice.” Jewish courts rely on influence rather than power. Despite this, however, the beth din remains a central institution in Jewish life, whether as a court of arbitration or as the body that determines the parameters of conduct for those who choose to live by halachah [Jewish Law]."

These are shocking statements for the United Synagogue’s Chief Rabbi to make. It is simply incorrect to say that ‘Jewish courts [in this country] rely on influence rather than power,’ and that they ‘have no power to enforce their rulings other than by consent of the parties involved.’

Sir Jonathan may well have forgotten – but I have not – that in the summer of 2005 he and his Beth Din conducted an investigation into Mrs Helen Sagal, whose Israeli conversion he and his Beth Din refused to recognise, thus enabling them to prevent her son Guy from entering the taxpayer-funded Jews’ Free School, Kenton. Sir Jonathan may well have forgotten – but I have not – that I accompanied Mrs Sagal to the inquisition held by him and his Beth Din, and that I was thereby privileged to witness at first hand the power this Beth Din wields. Mrs Sagal presented her Certificate of Conversion – endorsed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Sir Jonathan’s Beth Din brushed it aside.

That is not ‘influence’ – let alone consensual influence. That is power.

I can readily understand why Sir Jonathan would not have wished to allude to these facts in his statement to the JC. The power of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to determine who can and who cannot attend taxpayer-funded Jewish schools in this country is a matter of public controversy, and may shortly come before the courts.

But as a leading member of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations Joe Lobenstein ought to know better. Of all the Jewish communities in this country, adherents of the Union are more likely than any other Anglo-Jewish grouping to submit themselves to the authority of a Beth Din. To say that such submission is ‘voluntary’ is – often – stretching a point, because an adherent of the Union who brings a matter to a secular court without the prior permission of a Beth Din risks sanction and ostracism. In 1991, for instance, a near-riot took place in Stamford Hill after it emerged that an ‘ultra-orthodox’ family had, without rabbinical authority, reported to the police two orthodox persons whom the family suspected of child abuse.

It seems to me, in short, that the real reason why Mr Lobenstein would like all us Jews to keep quiet about the contents and ramifications of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks is not that we Jews have little if anything to contribute to the debate.

What he really fears is that we have a great deal indeed to offer. And that some of it might not redound to our credit.

Saturday, 16 February 2008


Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that British law should be a little more accommodating towards British Muslims, as it has been towards British Jews. I support this worthy aspiration:

Monday, 28 January 2008


Fifteen months ago the Esmé Fairbairn Foundation announced that it was funding the first independent review of primary education in England since the ill-fated inquiry presided over by Lady Plowden in 1967. That investigation led to a widespread, chilling decline in standards that have scarred successive generations of pupils. I had hoped that the new inquiry, chaired by Professor Robin Alexander, of Cambridge University, would avoid the obsession with reform for reform’s sake that had so comprehensively undermined the Plowden review. Now, with the recent publication of its latest batch of reports, I am not so sure.

The report which caught my eye is entitled Aims for Primary Education: the changing national context, co-authored by two London University academics, Stephen Machin and Sandra McNally. It makes a ritualistic bow to acknowledge that one of the aims – I would have thought an overriding aim – of primary education is to inculcate a basic proficiency in literacy and numeracy. On the transmission of civic values (tolerance, respect, and so on) the report devotes but one sentence. Its focus is unashamedly on the crimes of middle-class parents:

"some aspects of primary education discriminate in favour of higher income groups and thereby exacerbate existing inequalities. For example, current admissions policies favour parents who not only know how to use published information about school standards (for example from Ofsted inspections and the Performance Tables), but can also afford to choose exactly where to live."

Well, we can’t have that, can we? I mean, we can’t have a situation in which parents actually read Ofsted reports and choose schools accordingly, with the result that high-quality schools are oversubscribed and poor quality ones are left with unfilled places. Oh no! We never actually meant Ofsted reports to be read and acted upon. Perish the thought!

Nor can we tolerate a situation in which parents who can, move to areas in which these high-quality schools flourish, leaving poorer parents to make do with poorer quality schools. We could recommend putting more money (and better teachers) into these schools, to bring them up to at least the national average. But why should we? Instead, say Drs Machin and McNally, we should adopt a more dirigiste approach:

"A fundamental reform of admissions policy (for example, prohibiting schools to discriminate [sic] on the basis of residence) would do much to level the playing field in terms of educational opportunities. It would thereby reduce the large inequalities that appear later in terms of wages and intergenerational mobility. "

Not to put too fine a point on it, the good doctors want schools to be banned from choosing pupils according to where they live. “Quite how far children should be bussed to other schools,” Dr McNally confessed to the Times (18 January) “would need to be worked out, but the local authority could organise some help with that. It’s a really vital area and an obvious way of making things fairer.”

But is it?

To begin with, I would have thought that the disastrous experiences of ‘bussing’ in the USA should act as a warning to us all against adopting an expensive and hideously bureaucratic device that will not achieve the desired result – unless, that is, we enforce, alongside the device, a system of internal passports of the sort used in the Soviet Union and present day North Korea: don’t live where you like, live where the state decrees.

Secondly, I can tell Drs McNally and Machin now, for free, that neither bussing, nor the enforcement of any ‘lottery’ system to allocate primary-school places, nor any other similarly contrived stratagem, will ‘make things fairer.’ Kids from some homes – by no means only middle-class, incidentally – will, no matter what kind of sink school they are legally obliged to attend, always be at an advantage because of the supportive domestic environment to which they return at the end of the school day. And I’m afraid the only way to deal with this fact of life, and to bring about the “level playing field” that Dr Machin and McNally say they want and we all need, is to remove children from their parents at birth, placing them instead in state-run kindergartens.

By a very convenient coincidence, during the same week that the Machin-McNally report was issued by the Cambridge Primary Review, schools minister Jim Knight announced the introduction of a new, mandatory, admissions appeal code, designed to give parents greater rights when appealing against decisions not to admit their children to particular schools. In making his announcement, Mr Knight cited instances of schools acting outside the law in the types of information they sought from prospective pupils. This is all well and good, I thought, until I read that one of the practices Mr Knight could not abide was the request for information that might enable a school to assess how supportive a parent might be of her or his child’s education.

Well, Mr Knight, there may be very sound reasons indeed why a school should want such information, which could help in deciding how best to educate a child from a less- or non-supportive home environment.

Children learn as much if not more at home as they do at school. Unless the Cambridge Primary Review accepts the truth of that axiom, I fear that any quick-fix recommendations will do as little good as those of Lady Plowden a half century ago.

Sunday, 13 January 2008


My advice to Jewish voters in London is: whoever else you vote for in next May's London Mayoral Election, do not vote for RedKen Livingstone:


My critique of the British government initiative to rewrite the history of Northern Ireland can be found at:

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


My critique of Gordon Brown's proposals for constitutional reform can be accessed at: