Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs
Place of Birth: Manchester
Born: July 17, 1920
Died: London, July 1, 2006, aged 85
A reluctant revolutionary, Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs was the eye of the storm which rocked Anglo-Jewry in the mid-1960s – the Jacobs affair, which ultimately led to a new synagogue movement, Masorti.
Son of working-class Mancunians, and grandson of Lithuanian Jews with scholarly ancestry, he went to Manchester Central High School. He left at 15 and studied at Manchester Yeshivah and Gateshead kollel, gaining semichah at 21.
His first job was assistant rabbi at the Golders Green Beth Hamedrash (Munk’s) in London. While there he studied at Jews’ College and University College, London, where he obtained a PhD in 1952.
In 1948 he became rabbi of the Central Synagogue, Manchester. He returned to London in 1954 to the prestigious New West End (United) Synagogue.
His 1957 book, “We Have Reason to Believe,” put forward the view that the Torah did not drop from heaven but was compiled under divine inspiration.
In 1959 he entered academia, his real home, lecturing at Jews’ College. He was told he would succeed the principal, due to retire in 1962. But the then Chief Rabbi Sir Israel Brodie, backed by Dayan Morris Swift, head of the London Beth Din, withheld consent because of his published views on the origin of the Torah.
Rabbi Jacobs resigned, followed by the college’s council members. Further insult was added when, in 1964, he was recalled to a vacancy at the New West End. Again the Chief Rabbi refused consent but the synagogue board defied his ban. After a stormy meeting, the US dismissed the entire synagogue board of management, which included the JC’s editor, William Frankel. Henceforth the US referred to him as Dr Jacobs but did not rescind his semichah.
Nearly half of the New West End’s 700 members left to form a breakaway congregation, the New London Synagogue. They obtained ready-made premises when the US’s St John’s Wood congregation moved out of its Abbey Road building and sold it to a Jewish property developer, E Alex Colman, who sold it on at the same price.
Here Rabbi Jacobs reigned, a much-loved figure, tolerant, courteous and impeccably Orthodox. He poured out some 40 books exploring his many intellectual interests.
He retired in 2001, having inspired daughter congregations and the Masorti movement, which formed in 1980. He was appointed CBE in 1990 and gave his library to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in 2005.
His wife, Shula, whom he married in 1944, predeceased him by eight months. He is survived by two sons, Ivor and David, a daughter, Naomi, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.1