Originally published in Tradition 8:4 (Winter 1966).
To the editor of TRADITION:
Mr. Norman Cohen (“The Religious Crisis in Anglo-Jewry,” Tradition, Summer, 1966) purports to tell the inside story of “the Jacobs affair” and in so doing relegates the theological aspects of the controversy to the periphery. The real issue, he argues, centred around the question of whether Dr. Jacobs would eventually become Dr. Brodie’s successor as Chief Rabbi. The more anglicised Jews directed all their efforts to secure this appointment while Dr. Brodie and his supporters successfully frustrated it. Were it not for this there would have been no opposition to Dr. Jacobs’ theological views or, in any event, these would not have prevented him being appointed to the Principalship of Jews’ College or to the pulpit of the New West End Synagogue.
Those of us who have supported Dr. Jacobs deny categorically that it was our intention to see him occupying the position of Chief Rabbi, a position which in our view has no permanent significance amid the realities of Anglo-Jewish life nowadays. It is a wholly gratuitous slur on Dr. Jacobs’ integrity to imply that he was blithely prepared to accept the Principalship of Jews’ College for a brief period as a stepping stone to what Mr. Cohen evidently considers the more important office, we the less important.
Mr. Cohen, as one of the most articulate spokesmen for Dr. Brodie and his supporters, has now let the cat out of the bag. We now learn on the best authority that Dr. Brodie’s motives in vetoing Dr. Jacobs’ appointment were political. But the Anglo-Jewish community was led to believe that Dr. Brodie was acting all along in good faith in defence of a strongly held theological position.
Those of us who have built the New London Synagogue at considerable cost and with the expenditure of much time and effort have done so because we believe in justice and in the right of a congregation to determine for itself who is to be its Rabbi. We do find Dr. Jacobs’ theology “attractive” even though Mr. Cohen calls it “traditionalism without teeth.” Teeth can be used for more than one purpose. Backbiting is among the more unpleasant.
New London Synagogue,
Mr. Cohen Replies:
The “cat out of the bag” metaphor and general line of argument in Mr. Spears’ letter are taken from the pseudonymous column “Personal Opinion” in the Jewish Chronicle of 29th October 1965, which criticized views I had expressed in a South African journal. Had Mr. Spears taken the trouble to do his own thinking—no easy task for a man to whom the Principalship of Jews’ College is more important than the Chief Rabbinate—he would have realized that he is accusing me of two irreconcileable offences.
To let the cat out of the bag means to reveal an inconvenient truth. If I have done this, then my views were correct, whether or not they are welcome. If, however, my views are incorrect, I have revealed only my ignorance of the whole affair. I may be a fool or a rogue, but Mr. Spears, with his fastidious aversion to backbiting, should not try to make me appear both.
With regard to the categorical denial, I have my own sources of information regarding the New West End appointment and I am prepared to be just as categorical that, however straightforward Mr. Spears was in his loyalties, others had wider aims. In respect of Jews’ College, I cannot see that Mr. Spears is in any position to speak with authority. I have looked carefully through the Annual Report presented in 1961, when Dr. Epstein attended the Annual General Meeting for the last time as Principal and manoeuvres regarding the succession were well under way. Mr. Spears was not an Honorary Officer, nor on the Council. He does not figure among the members of any Committee, nor even as a subscriber.
Finally, I might mention that, in a “Daily Telegraph Supplement” some months back, Chaim Bermant, who is, I believe, a member of the Jewish Chronicle organization, expressly stated that Dr. Jacobs might have been Chief Rabbi, but for the Grace of God and some other reason. Did Mr. Spears write in decrying this as a baseless fabrication?