Originally published in The Times Literary Supplement 3279 (1964), p. 1185.
NEW ARTICLES OF FAITH
Louis Jacobs: Principles of the Jewish Faith. An Analytical Study. 473 pp. Vallentine. Mitchell. £3 3s.
Dr. Louis Jacobs has during the past year been the centre of a burning controversy in the Anglo-Jewish community. He was the minister of a leading London congregation, and some years ago, at the instance of the Chief Rabbi, gave that up to be the senior tutor at Jews College, the seminary for Rabbis and ministers. But on the retirement of the Principal of the College, the Chief Rabbi announced that he could not recommend Jacobs to be his successor, because of beliefs about Judaism which he had expressed. When his former congregation invited him to return, as minister, the Chief Rabbi refused a certificate of his fitness. The congregation, however, decided to appoint him, and to secede from the United Synagogue under the Chief Rabbi’s jurisdiction. He is now the minister of an independent congregation and the leader of a Reformation.
The book is in one way an Apologia Pro Vita Sua, but essentially it is a comprehensive and scholarly treatise on the creed of Judaism in different ages. It has been an essential characteristic of Judaism throughout the ages to stress observance and a way of life rather than belief. As a famous Rabbi put it: “The deed and not the doctrine is the essential.” Nevertheless, Judaism is based on certain fundamental beliefs or dogmas: the Unity of God; the Goodness of God; the Divine Revelation of the Torah (way of life); the coming of a Messiah; the immortality of the soul. In the Middle Ages the greatest sage and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, who was accepted as the supreme teacher of the Jewish communities in Spain and Egypt, formulated thirteen Articles of Belief, which in a poem of thirteen lines, and also in a concise prose statement, form part of the Hebrew Prayer Book. Dr. Jacobs takes these thirteen articles as his theme, and seeks to discover the permanent truth in each, recognizing that in such a reinterpretation questions of fact are involved. The facts are the discoveries of modern science and historical research, which must affect the belief of the thinking Jew.
To reformulate these Articles of Faith for the modern Jew is one of the most important tasks facing those who believe in dynamic Judaism. Unlike Christianity, Judaism knows of no Conclave or Council to adapt the Articles of Faith. Each generation must work out its own interpretation of the fundamental principles. And Rabbi Jacobs has rendered a signal service to the English-speaking Jewry by making this courageous and thorough analysis of the theological aspect of Judaism, which has too long been taken for granted. His method is to set out concisely, but with full references, the opinions of leading Jewish and also non-Jewish thinkers, philosophers and mystics, saints and scholars, on each Principle, and to examine its conformity with modern thought. He combines mastery of the Rabbinical sources with a wide knowledge of Christian theology of recent times, and quotes as freely from the Talmud and Philo of Alexandria as from Wellhausen, Schechter, and Martin Buber.
Each section of the book is equipped with an Excursus, giving more detail of the sources, and with a bibliography, for the benefit of the professional student. He faces squarely the challenge of modern knowledge and hits back gently on those who have attacked his “Honest to God” beliefs. His most thorough and heart-searching examination is given to the principle that God revealed and dictated to Moses, on Mount Sinai, the Torah, in the sense of the first five books of the Old Testament, and explains why he cannot accept it in that literal sense. The basis of Jewish observance of the Sabbath and the Festivals, circumcision and the Dietary Laws is not so much in their origin. The traditions which were established 2,500 years ago have a validity of their own as the Jewish expression of the service of God. His own standpoint is fundamentalist in practice—which is ineptly termed orthodox—and non-fundamentalist in belief—non-orthodox, in the etymological sense of the word. As he describes it, he is a Modernist within Jewish tradition.
The issue, he stresses, is not of conformity with the form of doctrines of past ages and revered teachers, but of truth and integrity. His book will surely carry the challenge of the local Reformation to wider circles in the British Commonwealth and in America. It opens up a new chapter in the Anglo-Jewish community: and it is also a significant contribution to the better understanding by the Gentile of modern Judaism.