I hope all of you are enjoying a joyful and exciting month of Adar! I recently discovered that a (not very widespread) custom existed, in certain circles, of sending books of Torah for mishlo’ah manot on Purim, instead of edible products. Indeed, just as we can feel satiated after a hearty meal, words of Torah nourish and sustain us spiritually. It is in this spirit that I hope the following newsletter will offer everyone some further enjoyment and satisfaction.
I’ve spent some time this past month tracking down a number of very informative articles, some of which are among the very first published pieces by Louis Jacobs. The following portrait of the talmid hakham, an introduction to the kabbalah, a counter-attack against the Freudian critique of religion, and a reflection on the spirit of halakhah, all appeared between 1952 and 1959. In that decade, Rabbi Jacobs moved from Manchester to London, was appointed rabbi of the New West End Synagogue, and released the soon-to-be controversial We Have Reason to Believe. In other words, these pieces are characteristic of Jacobs’s early thought – well before the (in)famous “Affair”. Hence while they may still display a high degree of critical reflection, the values and ideas they put forward conform to a far greater extent with those advocated by the Anglo-Orthodox establishment of the era.
I’ve also uploaded a number of additional, later pieces. The contrast here is very sharp, and to those among our readers who share my interest in theology, highly instructive. It is worth comparing, for example, two book reviews Jacobs wrote – of Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in the Book of Genesis and Umberto Cassuto’s Commentary on the Book of Exodus. Both authors are highly acclaimed Bible scholars, although Jacobs’s comment on their respective attitude towards the Bible, and in particular their willingness to acknowledge contemporary Bible scholarship, is very revealing. The following reviews of C.S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms, and even more strikingly, of the acclaimed Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man, also demonstrate Jacobs’s sharp, critical understanding of contemporary philosophy, both Christian and Jewish.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Jacobs himself was not immune to criticism from fellow Anglo-Jewish theologians. The following review of his superb A Jewish Theology by John Rayner, an acclaimed Liberal rabbi and scholar, illustrates this quite well. While Rayner celebrates Jacobs’s achievement (describing the work as a ‘masterpiece’), he nonetheless expresses a certain reservation about the book, suggesting that: “Dr. Jacobs has not yet fully faced and followed through the implications of his modernism for the problematic issues of Jewish practice.”
Since I mentioned Joseph B. Soloveitchik, it might also be worth sharing the video of last month’s Honest Theology session, and William Kolbrener’s fascinating presentation of the repressed voices in Soloveitchik’s corpus. And on that note, I wish everyone good luck in the lead-up towards Pesach. Keep watching this space, as I expect to have some fantastic announcements in next month’s blog post!
All the best,
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