e. Click here to email us directly
The Controversy, Community & Politics (Scrapbook)
TO RABBIS AND MINISTERS on 5th May 1964 - 23rd Iyar 5724
THE VERY REV. THE CHIEF RABBI
DR. ISRAEL BRODIE
TO A MEETING OF
RABBIS AND MINISTERS OF
THE ANGLO-JEWISH COMMUNITY
THE ADOLPH TUCK HALL
STATEMENT BY THE CHIEF RABBI
During the past few years, I have been constrained to invite Rabbis and Ministers of all orthodox congregations to meet me to consider grave problems affecting the religious life of our Anglo-Jewish community. Some time ago when the practice of Shechitah in this country was in jeopardy I called a meeting of Rabbinical authorities throughout the land to decide upon the steps to be taken to ward off a menace to a fundamental rite of Judaism. Those invited to that and subsequent meetings included Rabbis of congregations not formally associated with the Chief Rabbinate. Last year, I called a meeting similarly broad-based of Rabbis and Ministers to deal with serious social questions affecting the integrity of family life and the moral standards associated with marriage and sex life. Why are we so concerned to safeguard the observances of our faith against attack? Why have Jews throughout the ages been prepared to suffer opprobrium and even to give their lives rather than violate the laws of the Torah? The answer is obvious. Those laws of the Torah are of divine origin with binding authority on all who are sons of the covenant. They are not observed for their hygienic or prudential benefits, nor even for reasons associated with the preservation of Jewish customs and national folkways. They are mandatory upon us as being Divine commands explicit and implicit in the Torah as interpreted by teachers whose authority derived from the Torah itself and who enjoyed the complete trust of their respective generations. It being the Torah of life, it is constantly animated; its tradition is live, and throbbing; it faces up to the complexities of situations in every generation.
Today, I have invited you to hear a statement from me on the controversy which has arisen, as well as the publicity given to it. Some of the forms of this publicity amount to a Chillul Hashem. (Profanation of the Divine Name.)
Fundamental questions have been raised which affect all of us. They urgently call upon us and stir us to exert all our capacities, knowledge and zeal to remove errors, dispel ignorance, deepen the love of God and reverence for his Name. By patient and persistent teaching of the requirements of our faith by the light of the Torah, we can and should demonstrate the relevance of the Judaism of our fathers to the generation of today. At the moment, we who hold to the validity of the Torah are called backward, stagnant, mediaeval and fundamentalist. We are accused of turning our backs on modern scholarship and scientific developments. It is also held that because of our fundamentalist beliefs it would be impossible to reconcile them with current scientific assumptions and hypotheses. This description, or rather distortion, of orthodox Jews who include many pure scientists of note, as well as philosophers, intellectuals, Biblical and Talmudic scholars, authors of literary renown in Israel, in this country, in Europe and America, is made the justification for interpretations of Judaism which are called " modern " and " progressive " and even " orthodox ", but which derive from or are paralleled with reformist and certain brands of conservative thinking, and thinking not particularly profound.
The travesty of our traditional Judaism has been featured in our monopolistic Jewish Press for some time. There has been a consistent
denigration of authentic Judaism and religious authority which has tended to create religious confusion and a spirit of divisiveness within our community and which in no small measure has contributed to the present situation. Whilst we believe in the freedom of the Press, we should not allow this freedom to be abused and even turned into a tyranny as is attempted by the Jewish Chronicle which in recent years, no doubt for reasons of its own, has not presented an objective picture of the Anglo-Jewish scene, nor has it reflected the tradition and sentiment of Anglo-Jewry.
In the present controversy, I and the leaders of the United Synagogue have followed the fitting Jewish practice of keeping any domestic differences within the confines of the community, and have not sought to air our views in the National Press or on Radio and Television. However, as it is being said that our silence in the face of all this publicity might not serve the best interests of our community, I have decided to take this opportunity of making a statement before the spiritual leaders of Anglo-Jewry, and at the same time to correct some of the misleading statements that have been made.
Indeed, I thought it desirable to share with my colleagues some of the considerations which have prompted me to come to my decision in the matter of the ministerial vacancy at the New West End Synagogue. I trust that what I have to say will help to clarify the situation to the 40,000 members of the United Synagogue and to many thousands more of orthodox Jews outside the United Synagogue who form part of and owe allegiance to traditional Judaism.
At a meeting such as this it need hardly be stated that the Chief Rabbi as the Ecclesiastical head of the United Synagogue has, by its Deed of Foundation and Trust, authority to decide all religious questions that arise. He regards himself bound, when making his decisions, by Jewish Law as laid down in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law binding on all Jews). His jurisdiction extends to the appointment of ministers, and particularly of those seeking to serve any congregation within the United Synagogue. No one can be appointed unless the Chief Rabbi certifies as to his religious as well as his moral fitness. All the considerations which weigh with the Chief Rabbi when arriving at a decision whether to grant or withhold a certificate are not normally the subject of public discussion. Indeed, it would be repugnant to the whole status and dignity of the Chief Rabbinate were such decisions to be subject to public controversy, and normally it would not be in the interests of the candidate himself.
Nevertheless, in the case of Dr. L. Jacobs, I did give a reason for my decision in my letter to the Secretary of the United Synagogue. I indicated that it was with the deepest possible regret that I was compelled owing to the views of Dr. Jacobs-expressed publicly both by written and spoken word-to state that I could not grant my certificate. My decision dated the 23rd January, 1964, has sparked off a new controversy: a conflict which regrettably and irresponsibly certain elements have brought before the wider community through the Press and the Radio, no doubt in the belief that in this way pressure could be brought to bear on me and the Honorary Officers of the United Synagogue. In these circumstances, it is desirable to give a brief account and an explanation of recent events.
During the three months that have elapsed since my decision, it has been possible to assess its implications. Irrelevant arguments and facile theories have been propounded which have tended to conceal the real issues. With these issues I shall deal presently, but there is one point which I would like to clarify as it has been referred to by some members of the community. They ask how it is that I allowed Dr. Jacobs to hold the position of Minister to the New West End Synagogue from 1954 to 1959, and also agreed to his appointment as Tutor and Lecturer at Jews' College, notwithstanding views he had expressed which were not in keeping with orthodox belief. A number of times during his ministry at the New West End Synagogue, I felt obliged to speak to Dr. Jacobs regarding his views which he had expressed on particular occasions which were inappropriate for a Rabbi. Nevertheless, I have described my support of Dr. Jacobs during this earlier period as " an act of faith ". I considered, as many did at the time, that Dr. Jacobs was possessed of ability and potentialities. I felt that here was a promising man passing through a phase of intellectual and spiritual struggle and that it would be wrong to reject him before he had reached a fixed position, and his views had become crystallised. That I did have misgivings in respect of the appointment of Dr. Jacobs at Jews' College is shown by my decision not to allow him to lecture on Bible studies-the subject on which Dr. Jacobs was going astray. I wished to be helpful, and as I said in an interview in July 1962:
. . . I consented to his appointment as Tutor, though I knew that some of his views were not completely acceptable, but bearing in mind his background and early training, I felt that an act of faith on my part would be justified, and that with the passage of time, and with further study of Jewish sources and continuing research, he would modify his views.
(Southern African Jewish Times. July 13, 1962)
I deeply regret that my hopes for Dr. Jacobs have not been realised. Subsequent utterances indeed have shown, particularly in his lecture, The Sanction of the Mitzvoth, delivered in 1963 (and since published) that Dr. Jacobs has travelled far from the accepted norms of Judaism. Moreover, it is now possible to obtain a clearer picture of the position and to see how basic and fundamental are the considerations which compelled me to make my decision.
The Torah, including the written and oral law, is the very basis of Jewish existence. Once undermined, as our historical experience has proved, Jewish life and tradition weakens and withers, and the way is open for the disappearance of the Jewish identity through mixed marriage and other forms of assimilation. Those who are appointed Rabbis and teachers of communities must by their very vocations and by the terms of their ordination as Rabbis be the exponents of the Revelation of God's word embodied in the Torah, written and oral, with the sanction and authority attached thereto. That is what I would expect of Dr. Jacobs who has been ordained as a Rabbi after the traditional manner, when ministering to a congregation under my jurisdiction. But Dr. Jacobs repeats the well-worn thesis that parts of the Torah are not Divine but are man made, and maintains that reason alone should be the final judge as to what portion of the Torah may be selected as Divine. His views on this subject were presented in a pamphlet published by the Society for the Study of Jewish Theology, entitled, The Sanction of the Mitzvoth, to which reference has already been made. Dr. Jacobs states that:
... it is now seen that the Bible is not, as the mediaeval Jew thought it was, a book dictated by God, but a collection of books which grew gradually over the centuries and that it contains a human as well as a Divine element. This applies to the Pentateuch as well as to the rest of the Bible .... Those who are at all aware of what has been going on in the world of thought and scholarship know all this to be a common-place .... Indeed there would be no need to say it were it not that the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din are saying the opposite and trying to put the clock back.
If this were all that Dr. Jacobs teaches and preaches, it would be incongruous for him to occupy the pulpit of an orthodox synagogue. Moreover, from his most recent written and verbal statements on Judaism, which in the main are a repetition of the arguments of earlier reformers, and especially leftist conservatives, it will readily be understood why I found myself unable to authorise his appointment as minister of the New West End Synagogue. Even a cursory examination of these views reveals how incompatible they are with the most fundamental principles of Judaism, and how they inevitably lead to a critical attitude to the observance of the Mitzvot themselves, as evidenced by the claim of Dr. Jacobs that:
... In modem times the Jew no longer asks, " Why did God tell us to keep certain Mitzvoth?", but, " Did God tell us to keep certain Mitzvoth?".
An attitude to the Torah such as this which denies its Divine source and unity (Torah min Hashamayim) is directly opposed to orthodox Jewish teaching, and no person holding such views can expect to obtain the approval of the orthodox Ecclesiastical authority.
It has been said that the decision I made was made under duress exerted by " German " or " Continental ", certainly un-British, influences. These influences are said to be embodied in the persons of Rabbis and others described as " fanatical ", " obscurantist ", and " intolerant ". I think it most reprehensible to divide the Anglo-Jewish Community into those with English and those with foreign attitudes to Judaism.
For the record, I think it is important to affirm that apart from the unworthy implication that I have no mind of my own, nor sense of the responsibility attaching to my office; apart also from the disrespectful reference to men of deep learning and piety; there is absolutely no foundation for the assertion that I was subject to the pressures so luridly described. Rabbis and laymen, both in this country and overseas, have expressed their concern on the issues involved, and I have listened to them and consulted with them. It is perhaps truer to say that pressures of one kind and another were ceaselessly exerted by the other side. For example, I was told by one pressure group that if I did not approve the appointment of Dr. Jacobs, the Jewish Press and the World Press would be unleashed against me. I was also urged to think of the verdict of the future historian of Anglo-Jewry who would describe me as the Chief Rabbi who split the community from top to bottom. To forestall such a verdict, I should change my decision. I do not presume to dictate to any contemporary or later historian. I hope however he will give thought to the fact that the Chief Rabbi, after much prayer and deliberation, decided in accordance with his principles, and that spiritual leaders and many laymen in this country and overseas sustained his stand.
There is one more point which deserves serious consideration. It has become apparent to me that there is much more involved in the present controversy than the pulpit of one synagogue. Regrettably, everything points to the fact that Dr. Jacobs has been used as a central figure by a few resolute individuals who have openly declared their intention of trying to bring about a new orientation in our community. As the spiritual leader of Anglo-Jewry, I know that the new trend is in conflict with basic Jewish belief and inimical to the spirit and sentiment in which our community has developed over the years. Clearly, in the face of this denial of traditional Jewish beliefs and the threat to the integrity of Anglo-Jewry, I have felt it my sacred duty to do everything in my power to strengthen the Jewish faith and to uphold and enhance our Anglo-Jewish tradition.
The problem which confronts us today prompts me to refer to a striking passage in a Paper delivered by Dr. Isidore Epstein, of blessed memory, the late lamented Principal of Jews' College, and a scholar of world renown, who, in his customary clear and incisive style, discusses:
... the kind of Halachah which has begun to make its appearance of late in certain quarters which do not recognise the Divine origin of the Bible. By favourite tricks they play with the Bible, which they regard as partly Divine and partly human, it being left to individual judgment to disentangle the Divine elements from the human, they rob life's pilgrimage of the sole reliable signpost pointing the way wherein sojourners must walk " when turning to the right and when turning to the left ", and thus render life pathless. In other words, by rejecting the absolute authority of the Bible, without being able to replace it by anything else, they encourage the most reckless individualism in religion, an individualism full of contradictions and vagaries, leading as often away from God as it does to God. Thus we come to the real divergence which, for the want of any other name we may call the Orthodox Halachah from any other kind of Halachah such as that emanating from the Conservative no less than Reform schools-the question of authority. The difference of attitude with regard to authority goes further than the mere difference in matters of ritual, practice and so forth. The fatal and inherent weakness of those who deny the Divine origin of the Bible, even if their personal religious behaviour conforms to the highest standard, lies in the lack of any valid objective authority for what they teach or affirm. Apart from private judgment and individual opinion, they have no objective criterion or authority for what they tell people to do or believe: thus depriving their Halachic pronouncements of all validity. Nor can any Halachah not founded on the acceptance of the Divine origin of the Bible enjoy permanence. For by making individual judgment the final arbiter as to which of the precepts and teachings of the Torah are Divine and which are human, everything, even fundamental beliefs, become an open question to be determined from time to time by outward conditions-physical and social-and by the variable philosophies or spirit of the age.
(The Place of Halachah in Jewish Life and Thought, Conference of European Rabbis-Paris, 1961)
In conclusion, I would like to say how gratified I am by the attitude of the lay leaders of the community, the President and the Honorary Officers and the Council of the United Synagogue, who have loyally upheld my authority. I am greatly encouraged by the presence of so many Rabbis and Ministers here this afternoon. I am sure that you will be interested to know that during my recent visit to Israel I took the opportunity of discussing this problem with notable religious leaders of the Holy Land, all of whom endorsed and commended the attitude I have adopted.
I am saddened by the thought that a group of individuals are contemplating the promotion of a new synagogue outside the framework of the United Synagogue. I pray that under the impulsion of faithfulness to our sacred heritage and loyalty to our communal solidarity, no action will be taken that may tend to create a schism in our old and all-embracing kehillah.
Throughout the ages, traditional Judaism as enshrined in the Torah has been assailed by movements which have attempted to influence and divert the mainstream of Jewish life and thought. They have failed to break our link with the Written and Oral Law as it was received at Sinai. Those who have remained loyal to the Torah have ensured Jewish continuity and the possibility of Messianic fulfilment.
My prayer is that even amid the present-day secularised trends and tendencies, all those who are concerned about the survival of true Judaism, who are mindful of their duties to their faith, and who care for the good name and reputation of Anglo-Jewry, will not be led astray. They will rather adhere to the faith of their fathers, the traditional beliefs and practices of Judaism on which Anglo-Jewry has been established, on which it has been reared, and which, with Divine help, it will pass on to succeeding generations.
Finally, I wish to tell you that I have in humility, amid the noise and heat of attacks made upon me and my office, prayed that I might be of those referred to by our Sages of blessed memory when commenting on the Scriptural verse, " Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge "-" those who are reviled but do not revile others, who hear themselves reproached without replying ".
Since preparing my statement I have received letters as recently as this morning from members of the community deploring and even condemning the section of members of the New West End Synagogue and also Dr. Jacobs for the flouting of the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and the constitution of the United Synagogue. Nevertheless and in spite of this I have been asked to reverse my decision and for the sake of the unity of the community to permit Dr. Jacobs to be within the framework of the United Synagogue. I sympathise very much with the motives of my correspondents. But a group has decided upon establishing an independent Synagogue outside the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate. It has appointed Dr. Jacobs to be its spiritual leader. All this is a fact: it has been much advertised and should be accepted however regrettably. The United Synagogue accepts my spiritual jurisdiction. I made a decision with a heavy heart but in all conscience. Dr. Jacobs was made aware of the actual conditions under which I was nevertheless prepared to withdraw my decision and to permit him to function as minister-preacher of the New West End Synagogue. He felt however he could not accept them. We pray that time and circumstances will bring healing and understanding, discipline and unity to our beloved community.
And one last word. " Everything has its fortune, even the scroll of the Law in the ark." Yesterday afternoon I was invited with others to view scrolls of the Law once housed in synagogues in Czecho-Slovakia and now brought to this country under the custodianship of the Westminster Congregation. Those of us who went round the rooms where the scrolls are arranged and laid out were shaken to our very souls at the sight of over fifteen hundred of them without mantles and appurtenances which we associate with a scroll of the Law. These scrolls belonged to Kehillot-Hakodesh (Congregations) most of whose members were victims of Nazi brutality. There are evidences that to the very last Jews endeavoured to maintain the sanctity of a scroll of the Torah and protect it against profane and brutal hands. Sabbath by Sabbath and whenever the Torah was read from these scrolls in the synagogue, worshippers declared as the Torah was raised:
AND THIS IS THE TORAH WHICH MOSES PLACED BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL BY THE WORD OF GOD BY THE HAND OF MOSES.
Many of the scrolls I saw yesterday will, we hope, be distributed to synagogues in Israel and elsewhere. Their use will be renewed and will witness Jews of today and tomorrow declaring of the Torah:
THIS IS THE LAW WHICH MOSES PUT BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.