Part 3 of the debate on the Jacobs Affair organized by B’nai B’rith First Lodge on 5th October 2011 at Avenue House in Finchley, with Dr. Jonathan Wolfson, lecturer at the London School of Jewish Studies.
Dr. Wolfson reviews the Orthodox position on the doctrine of Torah min hashamayim and the various efforts made by modern and contemporary Orthodox thinkers to come to terms with the challenge of biblical criticism. He notes that Rabbi Jacobs was the first British rabbi to attempt a synthesis of academic biblical studies and Orthodoxy, first in We Have Reason to Believe and subsequently in numerous other publications.
He also offers some historical context regarding the Jacobs Affair, mentioning the dynamics at work in Anglo-Jewry in the second half of the twentieth century: the impact of the Holocaust; the tumultuous relationship between Chief Rabbi Hertz and Robert Wayley Cohen, President of the United Synagogue; the growth of the power of the Beth Din under the leadership of Dayan Ambramsky; and the appointment of Chief Rabbi Brody, whose schoalrly credentials were somewhat inferior to his predecessor’s. All these factors, Dr. Wolfson explains, combined to create a ‘perfect storm’ at the centre of which stood Louis Jacobs.
The speaker concludes by offering a more nuanced judgment on the Jacobs Affair, noting that while the United Synagogue’s behaviour towards Louis Jacobs was condemnable, their decision not to appoint him at the head of Jews’ College and future Chief Rabbi was justifiable in light of his beliefs. He argues that it would be inappropriate for someone to hold the highest position in the community while publically holding views which diverge from the mainstream Orthodox position.