“Louis Jacobs was born 100 years ago this year. He remains the greatest intellect and most accomplished scholar British Jewry has ever produced. Yet, up to now nobody has written his biography. He did write an autobiography in 1988, but it is not in the nature of autobiographies to be objective or comprehensive, and anyway he was only part way through his life. So a full biography is long overdue.
I knew Rabbi Jacobs for most of my life. He was at school with my father and our families have been friends for as long as I can remember. I got to know him particularly well when I was Chief Executive of Masorti. By fortunate coincidence, Robin Baird-Smith, my publisher at Bloomsbury, had published his book A Jewish Theology in 1973 and was an admirer, both of his erudition and gentlemanly ways. When I suggested to him that we publish a biography, he responded enthusiastically.
So did Ivor Jacobs, when I put the idea to him. And he had the resources I needed. Throughout their married life Shula Jacobs had kept scrapbooks of Louis Jacobs’s correspondence and press cuttings. Ivor had kept the archive and had digitised most of it. The Oxford School of Hebrew and Jewish Studies had scanned the rest, for their 2013 digital exhibition, We Have Reason to Inquire. Ivor made it all available to me.
I had tremendous resources and the full cooperation of the Jacobs family, Ivor, Naomi, David and their children. I interviewed many of Rabbi Jacobs’s friends and former congregants, students and rabbinic colleagues. The United Synagogue gave me access to their files- other than one file they couldn’t let me see. (Tantalisingly called Rabbi Jacobs and the New West End Synagogue, it turned out not to contain anything that wasn’t already known.)
Time passes and even the greatest characters become forgotten. I hope this biography, called Reason to Believe, will help remind those who remember him of his achievements. And that those whose lives he never touched can gain some appreciation of his scholarship, his outlook and his significance, not just to his synagogue but to the whole of British Jewry.”
“Rabbi Jacobs was a prophet. A prophet that we need today and will continue to do so. Harry Freedman`s excellent biography of Jacobs explains the background, the life behind the thought with clarity and perception and it is hoped that it will lead people to read Rabbi Jacobs` work with fresh understanding. It is the publishers belief and hope that Rabbi Jacobs` thought should now be studied not just within the Jewish Community but outside as well.”