17th February 1964
Upper Woburn Place,
Dear Sir Isaac,
The following resolution was unanimously carried at a meeting on the 13th February of the Board of Management of the New West End Synagogue and of its representatives on the United Synagogue Council:
That this meeting expresses its protest at the decision of the Chief Rabbi to withhold consent to the recall of Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs to the pulpit of this Synagogue, a step which is unprecedented and, in the opinion of the Board, unjustifiable and contrary to the spirit of the Bye-Laws of the United Synagogue.”
The spirit of the Bye-Laws to which this resolution specifically refers is contained in the following passage which appears in the Preface to the current edition of the Bye-Laws.
The spirit which imbues the whole code of Bye-Laws is that of the Progressive Conservatism which the United Synagogue itself exemplifies, rejecting on the one hand the clamour of those who, in the desire for constant change, would recklessly cast aside Tradition, and on the other, the invitation of those who regard all things as settled, deluding themselves with the pretence that time and environment and circumstances are factors of no account, as though our lives and our mutual relationships are not susceptible to change.”
This is the spirit which now as in the past has motivated the New West End Synagogue. It is glaringly contradicted by the attitude which the Chief Rabbi has taken up on this matter and which, according to your letter of the 9th February, is apparently accepted without question by the Hon. Officers of the United Synagogue.
The implication from the Chief Rabbi’s refusal is that he does not regard Rabbi Jacobs as a “fit and proper person” (in the words of the Constitution) to occupy our pulpit. This we most emphatically reject. Rabbi Jacobs has served this congregation in the past with distinction and with success; his views then were known to be the same as they are now and throughout his Ministry he held the Chief Rabbi’s certificate. He has inspired the affection, loyalty and religious spirit of large numbers of our members, who know from their own experience and knowledge that Rabbi Jacobs is a pious and devout traditional Jew. They cannot accept the justice or the accuracy of any imputation to the contrary such as is implied in the Chief Rabbi’s refusal. The unanimous opinion of the Board of Management as well as of the Selection Committee (which included five members of the United Synagogue panel for the Appointment of Ministers) is in favour of the recall and Rabbi Jacobs has intimated his readiness to accept the recall and work under the jurisdiction and to accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.
We have been informed that the Chief Rabbi’s objection is to Rabbi Jacobs’ views, though how these are at variance with traditional Judaism, as always understood in the United Synagogue has never been specified. There has, until now, never been censorship of views in the United Synagogue which has prided itself on its toleration and has always considered itself an umbrella under which many shades of opinion have sheltered. We are fortified in this view by the statement made by the Chief Rabbi to a deputation from this Synagogue on the 12th February, that he was personally responsible for the appointment of Rabbi Jacobs to Jews’ College. As is well known, when Rabbi Jacobs went to the College under the Chief Rabbi’s auspices, his views had already been in print for several years. Moreover, we would point to the fact that the Report of the Committee on the recruitment of Ministers which was approved by the Chief Rabbi and accepted by the Council of the United Synagogue on the 8th June 1953, expressly refers to the purpose of the Chief Rabbi’s certificate “when required” as being limited to moral character. We therefore suggest that the Chief Rabbi’s action is contrary to established practice.
We are anxious to maintain and enhance the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. We are no less desirous of maintaining the integrity of the United Synagogue, and while not questioning the right of the Chief Rabbi to exercise authority over the ministry, we cannot accept a decision which we regard as an abuse of power and which, in consequence, does violence to the conscientious convictions of all of us. We hope that even at this late stage reason and moderation will prevail, and that the obstacle to our proceeding constitutionally with the appointment will be withdrawn. We are ready at any time to consider any plan or formula to achieve this object. If, however, none of this is possible, the Board of Management desires to inform you that it will not be deterred from taking whatever steps may be necessary to ensure that the Congregation obtains the services of the Minister of its choice.
All the members of the Board of Management and representatives of the Synagogue at the Council of the United Synagogue, who were present at the meeting on the 13th February, desire to be associated with this letter to which their names are appended. A signed copy of this is available.
Oscar B. Davis, Warden.
Bernard Spears, Financial Representative.
Hyman A. Leon.