Unpublished, personal record of events leading up to Louis Jacobs’s meeting with Immanuel Jacobovits, July-August 1966.
Thursday July 28th 1966:
At around 7 p.m. there was a telephone call from Captain Meyers, Sir Isaac Wolfson’s secretary, to say that Rabbi Dr. Jacobovits would like to meet me. I said that I would be glad to see Rabbi Jacobovits and we fixed as the time for the meeting Monday August 1st at 11 a.m. When Captain Meyers asked where the meeting should take place I replied that I would be delighted to see Rabbi Jacobovits at my home and this was agreed.
Friday July 28th 1966:
At around 10 a.m. there was a further telephone call from Captain Meyers to say that Rabbi Jacobovits had many engagements on Monday and found it impossible to come to my home. It was suggested that instead I met him at the same time as originally arranged but at his hotel, the Hilton. I said that I would be prepared to see Rabbi Jacobovitz at any time suitable to him but I had to insist that the meeting took place at my home. Captain Meyers then said that he would pursue the matter further.
Friday July 29th 1966:
At around 11.30 a.m. Captain Meyers telephoned again to ask if I would agree to meet Rabbi Jacobovits at the Tottenham Court Road offices of Sir Isaac Wolfson. In any event, he said, Sir Isaac would like me to come to see him because we had not met for some time. I replied that I was always glad to see Sir Isaac but that this had nothing to do with my meeting with Rabbi Jacobovits which I felt ought to take place at my home since if I visited New York I, as the visiting Rabbi, would naturally call on Rabbi Jacobovits if I wished to see him. Captain Meyers then put my call through to Sir Isaac himself who repeated the request that I meet meet Rabbi Jacobovits at his offices, as Sir Isaac put it, ‘to shake hands with him’ . I repeated that it seemed to me to be wrong to have the meeting arranged in this way and that I would be glad to welcome Rabbi Jacobovits to my home. Sir Isaac asked me to leave the matter with him for further consideration.
Monday August 1st 1966:
At 9.30 a.m. Rabbi Cyril Shine, Rabbi of the Central Synagogue (Sir Isaac’s congregation) telephoned to say that Rabbi Jacobovits, a contemporary of Rabbi Shine at Jews College, was to have tea with him on Tuesday, August 2nd and Rabbi Shine invited me to come along and meet Rabbi Jacobovits. I had to repeat that I did not think that a meeting of this kind should be arranged in this way and that I would be glad to welcome Rabbi Jacobovits to my home. Rabbi Shine thought that I was being unreasonable. When I said that in my opinion it was Rabbi Jacobovits who was being unreasonable Rabbi Shine said that this may be true but that I should be ‘big enough’ not to insist on any rights in this matter. I replied that it seemed wrong for me, with the prestige of the New London Synagogue to be considered, to agree to Rabbi Shine’s suggestion.
Monday August 1st 1966:
Rabbi Dr Solomon Goldman, of the St John’s Wood Synagogue, telephoned to the New London Synagogue Office to speak to me at around 10.30 a.m. Rabbi Goldman said that Rabbi Shine had acquainted him with the situation and he, Rabbi Goldman, begged me in my own interests to meet Rabbi Jacobovits at Rabbi Goldman’s home. I had to repeat again that I did not consider this the correct way of arranging the meeting.
Monday August 1st 1966:
Rabbi Jacobovits telephoned me at 1.30 p.m. to say that he had heard that matters were getting out of hand and that he saw the difficulty about my coming to see him but that there were difficulties in him coming to see me. He suggested that we meet on neutral ground and I suggested meeting at the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington on August 2nd 1966 at 11 a.m. Rabbi Jacobovits agreed.
Tuesday August 2nd 1966:
At 11 a.m. I met Rabbi Jacobovits at the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington. It being a fine morning we decided to walk in nearby Holland Park and we had a friendly discussion for about an hour after which I drove Rabbi Jacobovits to his hotel. The following contains the gist of our discussion as I recall it.
Rabbi Jacobovits said that he would like us to be good friends if he came to England to be the Chief Rabbi. He did not think that differing views on the nature of Revelation (‘Torah Min Ha-Shamayyim’) were a bar to cooperation and he felt that I would have a role to play in the Orthodox Community. In his opinion the unifying force was that of acceptance of the traditional Halakhah. He asked me if I had any criticisms of the manner in which the Halakhah was currently interpreted by the London Beth Bin. I told him of the injustices that were being perpetrated in the Beth Bin’s refusal to accept the children of mixed marriages or adopted children brought up as Jews. He felt that a situation in which the rulings of more liberal-minded Rabbis (such as the religious authorities in Israel) were adopted could possibly be arranged in this country. He saw no reason why the enmity and bitterness in the Community should not be gradually overcome but for this to happen there would have to be ‘give and take’ on both sides. Without Rabbi Jacobovits spelling this out he seemed to be suggesting that I would be allowed to officiate at funerals, weddings, tombstone consecrations and the like even under the auspices of the United Synagogue but in return the New London Synagogue would have to recognise the religious authority of the Chief Rabbi with regard to such questions as marriage, divorce and conversion. But he felt that all this would have to come about gradually and the beginning should be that a greater spirit of friendship and cooperation should be fostered.
My overall impression was that Rabbi Jacobovits was quite sincere in his quest for friendship and cooperation but that the price he would demand would be complete acceptance of the Shulhan Arukh at least in its more liberal interpretation. On the personal level I found him charming and considerate. But his general views on religion strike me as very reactionary, even though he poses as a ‘modern’. For instance, he said that he was convinced that the future of Judaism was with the people in Stamford Hill and that ultimately his religious guides must be the Gedole Ha-Dor i.e. the famous Heimische Rabbanim. I found his attitude here frankly appalling. Our guides are to be R. Moshe Feinstein etc. and although one may have certain reservations about their attitudes these must hardly ever be expressed because otherwise Judaism would vanish. He appears to hold that theological questions are not terribly important but that ‘acceptance of the supremacy of the Halakhah’ is of supreme importance. Moreover, there is not really much room for a liberal interpretation of the Halakhah since the authority of the Gedole Ha-Dor must never or hardly ever be publically questioned. If this means anything at all it means that the ultimate religious authorities of Anglo-Jewry will be Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Soloveitchik and other famous Rabbis of the old school in Israel and in the U.S.A. Probably, at first, there will a semblance of liberalism in thought (quite sincere I believe) but the fat will be in the fire as soon as practical questions of any significance arise.
All this was recorded on Tuesday August 2nd 1966 while the various conversations were still fresh in my mind and the impressions vivid. It is notoriously difficult to recollect accurately conversations of this kind but I have done my best to be faithful to what actually transpired.