COPY OF A LETTER ADDRESSED TO OSCAR B. DAVIS, ESQ., AND OTHERS FROM SIR ISAAC WOLFSON, BART., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED SYNAGOGUE
21st February, 1964
Dear Mr. Davis,
I have most carefully considered with my colleagues your letter of 17th February. In reply, I want to say that you have been rather sadly misled as to the purpose of the United Synagogue Byelaws. These Byelaws are not consulted by us for religious instruction. They are consulted when questions of administration occur within the affairs of individual Synagogues of the United Synagogue. In so far as they may incidentally refer to any religious matters, the Byelaws of the United Synagogue are based on the Shulchan Aruch.
Accordingly, when you read the last words of your quotation from the Preface to the Byelaws which say “as though our mutual relationships are not susceptible to change”, this means and can only mean relationships in regard to such things as membership, elections, appointment of officials, custodianship property, etc. etc. As an example of what I mean, I would remind you that, when in 1954 the Council decided to amend its Act of Parliament to give “Votes to Women”, the first part of our Byelaws relating to membership became “susceptible to change”. You won’t, however, find changes in that section which deals with the order of precedence of calling-up to the Reading of the Law or in that section which deals with the Service of the Synagogue or the superintendence of the Service. I am sure that when you reconsider the matter you will appreciate that in fact it should be my office to refer you to the Preface to the Byelaws to remind you of the duties you and your colleagues owe to the Council of the United Synagogue and to the Community as a whole.
You quote from a document of which you, obviously, had no previous knowledge, and then, quite out of context, and you refer to a certain aspect of the matter. The words you quote “when required”, in the Jews’ College Report, which was appended to the United Synagogue Report of 8th June 1953, were especially inserted in reference to the fact that there are many congregations for whom Jews’ College trains Ministers whose Constitution does not lay it down that the Chief Rabbi’s Certificate is required before a ministerial appointment can take place. It was because the members of the 1953 Joint Committee on Recruitment of Ministers were aware that the United Synagogue’s Constitution does call for this Certificate that the words “when required” were put in to emphasise the fact that there are other congregations which have not that constitutional requirement. I repeat—the words “when required” in their proper context do not mean as you and the other signatories would have it believed that there are occasions in the United Synagogue when the Certificate is not necessary. No such occasions can or do occur.
Since you were good enough to quote from the Report, I think you should, in fairness, have also quoted the foregoing. I am sure that you and the other signatories will now realise that the whole aspect of this matter has not been taken into account.
The United Synagogue, by its Constitution, defers to its Ecclesiastical Authority—the Chief Rabbi—on matters of the suitability and qualifications of a candidate for appointment to one of its congregations. The Chief Rabbi, once having said that his Certificate will not be forthcoming for an appointment, means that the appointment cannot be made. You and your colleagues are also aware that no appointment can be made unless the Ministerial Appointments Committee of the United Synagogue has first considered the matter and that that Committee cannot consider or put forward the name of any candidate unless the Chief Rabbi’s Certificate for his candidature has been obtained.
In those circumstances, the threat in your letter, whilst serious from the point of view of the challenge to authority that it constitutes, is quite ineffectual.
Concerning your earnest suggestion (I quote you) “Rabbi Jacobs has intimated his readiness . . . and work under the jurisdiction and to accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi”, I do submit that the time has come when we ought to examine what these words mean when looked at calmly. I understand them to mean that, in whatever the Chief Rabbi would direct Rabbi Jacobs to do—and, more important, not to do—he would concur and respect, but we, you and I, know that Rabbi Jacobs has made it quite clear that he does not intend to change his ways at all.
Having had pointed out to you how wrong your views are, my colleagues and I trust that you and the other signatories to the letter will now give tangible signs of your anxiety to maintain and enhance the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and integrity of the United Synagogue, as expressed at the top of the third page of your letter. This, in my strong opinion, can only be achieved by the New West End Synagogue proceeding in the normal way to the appointment of a Minister to fill the vacancy created by the departure of the Rev. Dr. Pearl.
(signed) ISAAC WOLFSON