On the occasion of the New London Synagogue’s 50th anniversary and for the Louis Jacobs Memorial Lecture, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon delivers a superb address on the values espoused by Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs and which inspired the founding of Masorti Judaism and New London.
Rabbi Gordon goes back to 1944 and Louis Jacobs’s first encounter with Wissenschaft des Judentums through the intermediary of Dr. Alexander Altmann. The realization that halakhah constantly adapts to changing historical circumstances went on to became the central theme in Louis Jacobs’s works. Indeed, one of his most important books, ATree of Life, demonstrates the diversity of influences to which halakhah was subject over the course of history.
Rabbi Jacobs possessed, according to Gordon, numerous, distinct qualities: an unquenchable intellectual curiosity, a sense of courage, a touch of arrogance, and a refusal to bow down to detractors. As a congregational rabbi, he grew deeply aware of the diversity of behaviours and beliefs held by Jews in his community, and injected this consideration in his theological writings. Louis Jacobs repudiated any monolithic conception of Judaism, and indeed, paid a heavy price for his intellectual integrity.
He successfully transmitted these values, however, to Masorti Judaism. The greater sensitivity to historical change may have triggered a weaker sense of allegiance to the minutiae of Jewish law – as Jacobs himself noted in 2004. But, Rabbi Gordon concludes, this should not stop Masorti Jews from celebrating the intellectual passion and diversity which characterizes the New London congregation – those same values which moved Rabbi Jacobs throughout his life.