Rabbi Louis Jacobs very kindly agreed to be interviewed for Gesher by Hannah Rosefield (member of the New London Synagogue) and Emma Bernstein (member of the New North London Synagogue.) Here are the questions they asked him and the answers he gave:
Q. At what age did you decide to become a rabbi and why?
A. I did not receive a “call from heaven”. I had studied the Talmud and liked it and I became a rabbi at the age of 21.
Q. If you hadn’t become a rabbi what would you have been?
A. My father did not like the idea of me becoming a rabbi and had wanted me to work in the printing business.
Q. What is your favourite part of being a rabbi?
A. Teaching because it is considered to be the most important part.
Q. What makes you believe in God?
A. My parents and everyone around me believed in God and it was a belief that made sense to me.
Q. Can you explain, so that people of my age will understand, why your Synagogue was started and how the Masorti movement began?
A. I wrote a book called “We have Reason to Believe” which expressed views about the Bible which I didn’t think were too terrible. It is believed that God dictated every word of the Bible to Moses, but I did not think that was true—scientifically it is not possible because it looks as though the Bible was written at different times. The Chief Rabbi at the time thought what I had written was heresy, so I stopped being a United synagogue Rabbi. Most of my congregation supported me, so they came with me and we founded the New London Synagogue. Then we realised that we were similar to Conservative shuls in America. In due course a “daughter shul” was founded, the New North London Synagogue. Later more shuls joined, believing the same, so we formed the Masorti movement.
Q. How do you think the Masorti movement has changed Anglo-Judaism?
A. In two ways mainly. Firstly by providing a place for discussion, and secondly by showing people that there is a middle way, a place between United and Reform.
Q. Are you surprised by what Masorti has achieved and how successful it is?
A. In a sense, because when a new movement is started it is always a surprise when it does well, but I wasn’t that surprised, because I believed in it, and there was truth in it, and the truth always wins out.
Q. What do you think the future is for Anglo-Jewry—do you think the different groups will grow together or become more separated or learn to live with one another?
A. Too great a gap forming should be stopped, because we are a small community, and will disintegrate. But I don’t believe differences matter, as long as there is the same faith, because if there are discussions and arguments and small differences in thought it shows vitality in the religion—that the religion is alive.
Q. What do you think is the most important thing you have learnt during your time as a rabbi?
A. Patience—because there are always people in a congregation who sometimes complain and criticize. And for boys and girls, maybe, too who will become rabbis, patience is one of the most important things.
Q. What is your favourite festival and why?
A. Hard to say, as they are all different . When my children were young, it was Pesach, because the family would all be together sitting around the table. Now, of course, there are my grandchildren who come, so it is probably still my favourite. Although really I shouldn’t have favourites, I suppose—I should like the festivals for what they are!
Q. What were you like when you were a child and what were your favourite things to do?
A. I enjoyed cricket—I was in the school team. I never really liked football very much. I liked reading thrillers, and I liked jazz music a lot—I still do!
Q. What are your favourite things to do now?
A. I love speaking, and writing and reading. I like walking, watching T.V. and travelling, which I hope I will be able to do a bit more once I have retired.
Q. What kind of music do you like? If you could only choose one piece of music what would it be?
A. I like jazz music, as I have said. My favourite piece of music would be Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Q. What do you plan to do when you have retired?
A. I have not really worked it out yet—hopefully take things more easily, write and read more, and travel more, too.
Q. What do you consider your greatest personal achievement and what would you like to be remembered for?
A. Well—The New London Synagogue!