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Rabbi Louis Jacobs' scholarly networking


Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the twentieth century, is thought to have said that “all it takes is one person, and another, and another, and another, to build a movement”. One might add – a person of wisdom and strength enough to carry on regardless of the obstacles, with the ability to surround themselves with likeminded ‘others’ to share and exchange thoughts and views with. Louis Jacobs was a pioneer in many senses of the word. His understanding of the Jewish tradition evolved and deepened with the passage of time, despite what he said in the interview with Elliot Cosgrove: “... I hope I am not so superficial that I don't change, although I don't know, maybe I am superficial”, and the contributing stimuli of the 1960s moulded him into a leader he probably did not plan to become in the first place.

As a theologian and a scholar, he had not only drawn upon many rabbinical and scholarly traditions, but also was part and parcel of a wide network of outstanding scholars of his time, with whom he maintained regular research-focused contacts, and who lent him support throughout his career.

This section of the exhibition shows snapshots from the long story of his scholarly networking briefly, by presenting selections from a larger corpus of academic-related correspondence that is part of the core of the Jacobs Archive around which the exhibition is built, alongside the manuscripts of his own works and other papers documenting the history of his life and work.



The archive's correspondence boxes are a good starting point for anyone interested in researching Louis Jacobs' networking strategies. In the small selection of the archival material loaned to the Muller Library by the family of Louis Jacobs, there are 9 boxes of letters; each box contains between 77 and 450 items.

These are mostly incoming letters from other academics, communal leaders and co-religionists from all over the world. Among the academic-related letters displayed on this website, there is a letter Louis Jacobs wrote to Alexander Altmann, his mentor and friend, whom he saw as “a distinguished product of modern orthodoxy in a distinguished way”, a likeminded individual, as well as correspondence from other notable scholars: Salo Wittmayer Baron, Abraham J. Heschel, Raphael Loewe, Jakob Petuchowski, and Ada Rapoport-Albert.

The physical archive contains further items of interest (not shown online), letters from David Abulafia, Michael Loewe, James Parkes, Hugo Gryn, Lily Edelman, Alexander Carlebach, Felix Posen, Chimen Abramsky, Ruth Itzhaki, Edward Kessler, to name just a few.




Letter from Ada Rapoport-Albert

Letter written by Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert (University College London) to Rabbi Jacobs on March 31st 1995, in which she offers her support following the most recent tension between the Masorti Movement and the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue. Rejecting the wide Masorti interpretation of US approval of Masorti marriages, Chief Rabbi Sacks declared that "in his view, adherents of Masorti had severed their links with the faith of their ancestors" (Jewish Tribune, 12 January 1995 as cited in Geoffrey Alderman, Controversy and Crisis: Studies in the History of the Jews in Modern Britain, p. 323). For more on Masorti Jewish marriages, see the
Jewish Status section of this website.

Letter reproduced by permission of the author. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved. Letter from Louis Jacobs to Mrs Joan Lawrence

Louis Jacobs' wide network of contacts also encompassed Christian circles. He was very much open to Jewish-Christian dialogue and was in contact with members of the Council of Christians and Jews. In this letter, addressed to the Publications Officer of the Council, Mrs Joan Lawrence, Jacobs responds to Mr Simpson's concerns and remarks. The discussion very likely refers to the 'Jacobs Affair' which was widely debated in Christian circles.

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Raphael Loewe to Louis Jacobs

In his letter, sent from Providence, Rhode Island, Raphael Loewe, who was a Visiting Professor at Brown University at that time, writes in support of Louis Jacobs' efforts, expressing his concern and gratitude, and praises Jacobs' courage "in fighting the battle that [he feels] so much is [his] too". Loewe says: "You have, in a sense, already won this battle, however black things may look now …"

Letter reproduced by permission of the copyright holders. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Louis Jacobs' eulogy for Lilian Helen Montagu [Lily Montagu], 1873-1963

Louis Jacobs had deep respect for Lily Montagu, social activist and religious leader who was the co-founder of Liberal Judaism, and one of the initiators of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. She was also descended from an eminent Anglo-Jewish family; her father was Sir Samuel Montagu, who was a close associate of Sir Moses Montefiore. In the eulogy Jacobs lists Lily Montagu's achievements and the worldwide recognition with which her endeavours were met.

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Edward Ullendorf to Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Jacobs was often invited to give papers at academic institutions worldwide. He was a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School in the academic year 1985-1986. The letter on display is an invitation sent by Dr. Edward Ullendorf, at the time Professor of Ethiopian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, asking Louis Jacobs to present a paper during the summer meeting of the Society for Old Testament Study.

Letter reproduced by permission of the copyright holder. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Rev. Felix F. Carlebach to Louis Jacobs

In his letter to Louis Jacobs, Rabbi Felix F. Carlebach of the South Manchester Hebrew Congregation emphasises the need for finding the golden mean between being innovative in the ways of approaching the youth, and remaining loyal to the establishment. He says: "As members of the club one has to play the rules within which the wider community expects you to use tact, common sense and discretion."

Letter reproduced by permission of the copyright holders. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Louis Jacobs to Professor Alexander Altman

Letter written to Rabbi Professor Alexander Altmann in the 'post-battle' period of the so-called 'Jacobs Affair'. Louis Jacobs expresses his belief that if Altman had still been in the UK, "this sorry affair would not have happened." In his reply to Jacobs (on display at the Leopold Muller Memorial Library), Altmann writes: "I appreciate your remark concerning the conciliatory effect my presence in England might have had. It is, of course, difficult to speculate what might have happened but I would most certainly have tried to be helpful, provided I would have managed to remain persona grata."

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Louis Jacobs to Jakob J. Petuchowski

The Jacobs Family Archive shows that Louis Jacobs was in frequent contact with Professor Jakob J. Petuchowski, an American theologian at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In the letter displayed above we read of Jacobs' enthusiasm at the opening of the New London Synagogue, the Old St. John's Wood Synagogue.

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Abraham J. Heschel to Louis Jacobs

Letter from Professor Abraham J. Heschel, one of the Jewish thinkers Louis Jacobs held in highest esteem. It appears the appreciation was mutual, as confirmed by Professor Abraham J. Heschel's daughter, Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth University [in an email to Muller Library dated 19 Dec. 2012]: "my father had great admiration for Rabbi Jacobs and his scholarship, and in August of 1967, during a trip to London to attend the wedding of my cousin, Thena Heshel, my father lectured at Rabbi Jacobs' synagogue."

Letter reproduced by permission of the copyright holders. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Letter from Salo W. Baron to Louis Jacobs

Louis Jacobs' academic network included other distinguished personalities from the scholarly world of Jewish Studies. The Jacobs Family Archive is abundant in letters of recognition and scholarly exchange with academics such as Dr James Parkes and Professor Chimen Abramsky. The letter above was sent to Louis Jacobs by Professor Salo Wittmayer Baron of Columbia University, one of the doyens of Jewish Studies in the United States.

Letter reproduced by permission of the copyright holders. The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Louis Jacobs' nomination form to the House of Lords

Form from Louis Jacobs' unsuccessful nomination to join the House of Lords as a non-party political member, filed in 2000. Jacobs received much public and private support in the preparation for this nomination. The second of eight pages is presented here, as well as a supporting statement written by hand.

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.
Louis Jacobs'supporting statement

The Louis Jacobs Archive. All rights reserved.