• Home
  • Parashah
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals
  • Freemasonry
  • Articles
  • About
  • Books
  • Media

    Solomon Hirschel – “High Priest of the Jews”

    The 2006 Rabbi LA Falk Memorial Lecture delivered by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO, RFD, at the Great Synagogue, Sydney

    1802 saw the appointment of Solomon Hirschel as rabbi of the Great Synagogue, London. He was a kindly person, but history does not view him too kindly. A certain “Anglo-Judaeus” wrote in the Jewish Chronicle in 1947 that only one chief rabbi up to that date had been born in England – i.e. Hirschel – “and that one of the least ‘English’ of all”.[1]

    Hirschel (the son of Hirschel Levin, sometimes called Hart Lyon) held office for forty years, but was not one of the great or influential names in the history of the rabbinate. Cecil Roth’s assessment in the Encyclopaedia Judaica takes two uncomplimentary sentences: “He was basically a European rabbi of the old type, with an imperfect knowledge of English and out of touch with the new currents beginning to permeate the community. He preached in Yiddish, opposed even mild reform, and his literary production was virtually nothing”.[2]

    His predecessor, David Tevele Schiff, had died in 1791. Conditions in Europe were too unsettled to bring a new rabbi from the continent, and the congregation had no money to pay one. In the interim, they deferred to Moses Myers of the New Synagogue. The first endeavours to find a rabbi for the Great Synagogue took place in 1794. In 1801 advertisements were placed in continental periodicals. There were three candidates: Solomon Hirschel (sometimes called Hirschell, Herschel or Herschell) gained 62 votes, Rabbi Aryeh of Rotterdam gained 18, and Rabbi Zevi Hirsch of Krotoschin 13. Hirschel had also been a candidate in 1794, though there is a popular view – unlikely to be correct – that his controversial brother Saul Berlin had been offered the position.

    Hirschel once informed the postal authorities that he had been chief rabbi of Poland,[3] but this was far from the case; he had merely been rabbi of Prenzlau in Prussia for nine years, not that this was an unworthy office to hold.

    He also made claims about his lineage, telling the European Magazine in 1811 that he was a direct descendant of the royal dynasty of David, but his critic, Solomon Bennett, ridiculed this claim with the remark that if it were true, then Hirschel’s pedigree must compensate for his lack of attainments.[4] A contemporary handwritten document, found among the EN Adler papers in New York, calls Hirschel “this reverend and truly pious gentleman” whose “family can boast of a long genealogy of learned Rebbis {sic) and trace the generations up to Rabbi Meyer of Padua, a renowned Rabbi who, in the preface of one of his celebrated printed works speaks of Rabbi Haai Geon (sic) as his progenitor. This Rab. Haai (sic) was the last of the primates of the dispersed Israelites who died in 1038; and all the primates and princes of the captivity were deemed the genuine produce of King David’s stock.” The authorship of this document is not recorded.

    But it was not its ancient lineage but the family’s English connection that was probably the deciding factor in Hirschel’s appointment, since he was born in London in 1761 during the incumbency of his father. Bennett, whose insulting comments on Hirschel would be amusing if they were not so wounding, may be right when he says that what brought Hirschel to London was the sponsorship of leading families like the Goldsmids, Keysers, Samuel Joseph and others.[5] Presumably such families would have remembered Hart Lyon and liked the idea of bringing his son back to England.

    Some contemporary sources call Hirschel “the Rev. Dr Solomon Hart”; one can understand the Hart, but he was no doctor. The title “doctor” was a mere courtesy on the part of the public, and an affectation when Hirschel himself used it.

    He was also styled “High Priest of the Jews” (or of the Jewish Nation) or some similar title; not because “the Jewish Nation” as a whole had appointed him, but when the rabbis of other congregations were not replaced – Hirschel “outlived every co­ordinate authority”, said the Jewish Chronicle [6] – “he, the survivor, became the natural heir to their jurisdiction and authority”.

    In 1804, Hirschel, following a conference to devise a means of union between the three City Synagogues of London, the Great, the Hambro’ and the New, was accepted as the spiritual head of the three. The Voice of Jacob said that it was “not from design or system, but from inevitable necessity that the late Rabbi was recognised as the spiritual head of most Jews claiming British origin”.[7] In addition, some of the immigrants knew or had heard of him, and it was natural for them to acknowledge him as their rabbi. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported his salary as four thousand pounds a year (in fact it was two hundred and fifty pounds, though even this is not unimpressive for the time), and said, “The new High Priest was born within the City of London, and the German Jewish Nation here in London must surely profit by his return”.[8]

    There was indeed some profit. Early on he helped to unify the community and influenced the treaties between the congregations; there had been such tension that a body lay unburied for days whilst the synagogues squabbled over who should pay for the funeral. He tried to raise the standard of Hebrew education in the Talmud Torah, forerunner of the Jews’ Free School, complaining that Talmudic studies were being neglected. He boldly countered the conversionist movement that had begun targeting Jews in general and their children in particular. He helped to unify the shechitah system. In his old age he joined in excluding the so-called Seceders (the early Reform leaders) from the official community. But the intellectual challenges of modernity were beyond his ken, and he believed that the answer to everything was the safe way of traditional custom and usage.

    He was the last of the old-type Ashkenazi chief rabbis: the Sephardi Hahamim were much more modern. Hirschel had had a Talmudic education, and he possessed a fine rabbinic library, possibly inherited from his father. This library was acquired after his death by the Beth Hamidrash, an ecclesiastical and educational institution; as recently as 1999, some of his books were put on sale by the United Synagogue.

    Bennett believed that the rabbi maintained an impressive library in order to conceal his meagre learning.[9] The library included twenty medieval manuscripts and seventy-seven kabbalistic works.[10]

    Though he was not known for scholarship, Hirschel’s Hebrew style was said to be correct and pure.[11] He had. however, no formal secular education. He was not “a lofty genius” like Mendelssohn, said the Voice of Jacob,[12] and he never overcame his cultural deficiencies, though he did show some interest in mathematics. He had no knowledge of music. Someone complained to him about a chazan using an air from “Don Giovanni” for the Sabbath eve service. Hirschel, however, had never heard of either Don Juan or the opera, and was indignant that a man of such a character should be introduced into a synagogue.[13]

    His concept of the rabbinate was circumscribed. He supervised shechitah (ritual slaughter of animals) and carefully tested shochtim; he regarded this as an important outcome of the fact that “it has pleased God to take me from afar and place me hither to guard the vineyard”.[14] Most of the agenda of his Beth Din related to conversion and divorce, including gittin (religious divorces) for convicts about to be transported to Australia.[15] He left no published responsa, though the decisions of his Beth Din are recorded in manuscript form in the Beth Din minute book extant in the Elkan Adler collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

    Bennett says that people consulted him about minor matters of ritual but preferred the general courts when they had civil disputes.[16] Even an 1818 dispute over a twenty-pound seat rental at the Westminster Synagogue went to the civil courts. “Every dispute, even between brother and brother,” said Bennett, “comes before the Magistrate and Law courts.”[17]

    Hirschel was shocked at the low standards of religious observance in the London community, but Bennett, who called him “a proud, savage and tyrannical Pontiff,” blamed the laxity on Hirschel himself: “Our pious grand Rabbi never rebukes the generality or any individuals…. because it would not answer so well his purpose, or because his followers would look upon him with a frown”.[18] Hirschel adhered to strict standards of personal piety, though decades later the community was still debating whether he used a sedan chair on the Sabbath and whether this was an infringement of the law against travel on Shabbat.[19] He would not allow any liturgical concessions. His discourses prior to Passover and Yom Kippur, and on some Sabbaths were in Yiddish. He encouraged a few promising young pupils at the Jews’ Free School, including David Woolf Marks, who later shocked him by spearheading the emergent Reform movement. Despite Bennett, the evidence is that Hirschel was kindly in attitude, generally accessible to the public, and on good terms with Sir Moses Montefiore and the lay leadership of the community, but he could not cope with change, challenge and new movements. The open revolt of the early 1840’s shattered his world.

    Broader concerns were largely beyond him. Yet he had an acquaintance with some public figures; the handwritten document which has been quoted in relation to Hirschel’s lineage says, “He has gained the respect of all the highest orders of this kingdom with whom he has had any communication.”

    A gentile writer, William Hamilton Reid, noted that Hirschel’s sermons “frequently dwelt on the duties of the universal toleration”.[20] Nonetheless, Hirschel was never a Jewish ambassador to the gentiles; he saw Jews, as indeed many Jews saw themselves, as a separate nation. He took no initiatives to provide guidance and religious facilities for overseas communities, though he arranged gittin (religious divorces) in order to free the wives of Jews about to be transported to Australia. He showed little concern for the Jewish convict group in Australia, though he gave a free settler, Phillip Joseph Cohen, authority to conduct marriages there, despite the latter’s relative incompetence in Hebrew. True, Rabbi Aaron Levy, Hirschel’s dayyan, did visit New South Wales, but not because of any initiative taken by Hirschel. In 1840, at the time of the Damascus Affair – a notorious blood libel in which Jews were accused of murdering a Capuchin friar and his Moslem servant in order to use their blood for Passover wine – Hirschel put his name to a statement in The Times denouncing the ritual murder accusation, but the statement was written for him by Morris Raphall, a well-read, articulate minister who soon moved to the United States, and one is uncertain whether Hirschel was fully aware of the politics of the problem. He did not understand the Haskalah, the Enlightenment movement with which his brother Saul had been affiliated. He was shocked that his enemy Solomon Bennett, though learned, was religiously unobservant – an intellectual who did not see the need for full observance of the tradition though he criticised others’ laxity. Hirschel was also shocked at the Reform movement, though it is said that he was reluctant to pronounce a ban against it. A younger, more vigorous rabbinical leader might have handled the crisis differently, but no self-respecting orthodox rabbi could have ignored a full-frontal attack on the Oral Law.

    Historians are exercised over the issue of whether Hirschel was competent in English. Solomon Bennett is scathing on the subject. He said, “Of one thing you may be assured, Hirschell (sic) could only have known my English publications at second hand because he could not even understand them in the original language, of which his knowledge is so slender”.[21] Hirschel could certainly conduct a conversation in English, though he was not a master of the language. He attended meetings conducted in English: for instance a Board of Deputies meeting in March, 1836, at which proposed marriage legislation was under consideration. However, advancing years diminished his ability to handle such problems: Israel Finestein writes diplomatically, “The declining years of Hirschel’s Chief Rabbinate were not the most propitious in which to pursue these matters”.[22] He wrote occasional English letters, but only with the assistance of secretaries. Hebrew was the language of his official communications with his synagogue wardens, who must have had enough Hebraic education to understand (and write) Hebrew letters.

    He very rarely preached in English, though Cecil Roth calls him a “learned and eloquent preacher”.[23] Roth’s Magna Bibliotheca lists only three printed sermons by Hirschel.[24] One marks the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and was translated for publication – the first Great Synagogue sermon to be published – by Joshua van Oven. An anti-conversionist sermon, warning parents not to send children to a missionary school, was also given in Yiddish and translated for publication. A nine-page address at the laying of the foundation stone of the New Synagogue in 1837,[25] beginning with an apology for its brevity (the result of the preacher’s “age and infirmities”) was probably delivered in English, though the text must have been crafted by others. This was presumably also the case with an English eulogy for Nathan Mayer Rothschild, given in the presence of gentile dignitaries in 1836. Concerning Hirschel’s eulogy for the Sephardi Haham, Raphael Meldola, the press noted that his address was “in English instead of his native Yiddish with which he is more familiar”.[26] Meldola himself was equally ill at ease in English, and though the two had a good relationship, it is not certain what language they spoke to each other – possibly Hebrew, maybe with different pronunciations: the one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardi.

    In his later years Hirschel recognised that he had an increasingly native-born community, and unlike some continental rabbis he did not actively oppose vernacular sermons by others. In this respect he was more flexible and realistic than some of the continental orthodox rabbis who remained highly suspicious of sermons in the language of the country, despite the ancient and medieval precedents. He encouraged HN Solomon to speak in English at the Jews’ Free School, and at the Great Synagogue. He would not, however, allow the historian Isaac Marcus Jost to preach in English at the Great Synagogue, not out of “hostility to English lectures; (he had himself) preached in English (and) encouraged others to do so”,[27] but because he feared that Jost’s ideas were too radical. Hirschel’s apprehensions were well founded; lost was a Reform sympathiser, to whom the English Reformers turned for advice about a rabbi for their congregation.

    Hirschel was certainly aware of national events. At the time of the Napoleonic wars he encouraged Jews to enlist. It was said that “The High Priest… expressed his highest concurrence in their taking the oath of fidelity and allegiance to our King and country”.[28] He secured permission for Jews to stay away from church parades and to be “sworn upon the Book of Leviticus instead of the New Testament”, though it was probably the whole Torah, not merely Leviticus, which he had in mind.[29] He had a special feeling for England. His New Synagogue address expressed gratitude that “providence permitted me to return to this my beloved native Land”.[30] But though he had occasional contacts with non-Jews, he was highly reluctant to enter into correspondence with Christians on religious issues or indeed to engage in open polemics of any kind.

    The one major exception to this rule was his energetic “counteraction of the dishonest activity of the conversionists: as exhibited in their attempts to entrap the poor and ignorant of his flock, by free schools and gifts of various kinds (even including Passover cakes) and the like”.[31] As a constructive response to the conversionists, he strongly supported the Jews’ Free School and visited it from time to time.

    The conversionist problem had become acute in the early years of the century, largely spearheaded by former Jews. Rev. Moses Margoliouth, a former Jew who had joined the established church, reports Hirschel’s serious concern that the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews had “robbed the synagogues of many able and learned members”.[32] How far the statistics bear out this contention is not certain. Margoliouth calls the rabbi “a most virulent enemy” of Christianity and claims to have seen a manuscript by Hirschel “which the late Rabbi took the trouble of making ‘with his own fingers’, (consisting) of the most blasphemous and inimical works that was ever penned (by) Hebrew hands, against Christianity. The work is entitled ‘Climath Hagoyim ‘ (The Reproach of the Gentiles). Some parts of that MS. are of so horrible a nature, that even well educated Jews must shrink from uttering them.”[33] Whether such a manuscript actually existed and what became of it we do not know. It is conceivable that it was Hirschel’s own private notes, put together to help him in formulating an answer to the conversionists. But Margoliouth himself admits that the rabbi had “a particular antipathy to public polemics”[34] and we presume Hirschel had no intention of publishing his notes.

    Hirschel gave two anti-conversionist Sabbath sermons in 1807, on 3 and 10 January. His warnings against sending children to missionary schools were summarised in a message in Yiddish and English, sent all over England. He also arranged or approved “an indignant deputation”, in J Rumyaneck’s words,[35] to the treasurer of the conversionist society. Not that the delegation was really necessary, says Rumyaneck: the conversionists were achieving very little. Yet Hirschel continued to warn against missionary activities and rebuked Jews who attended conversionist meetings.

    The conversionists had to admit that “notwithstanding the Gospel has been preached three years and is now preached four times a week professedly to the Jews, and yet there are not five or six of them that attend regularly, and though a free school has been opened for nearly two years, there are only six children that receive instruction.”[36] The writer of this passage was Samuel Christian Frederick Frey, “a converted Jew of dubious past, reluctant to go to darkest Africa, whither he had been sent, (who) had recourse to a prophetic dream in which a mysterious providence appointed him to remain in London and convert the equally barbarous Jew”.[37]

    Frey began with the Missionary Society and then, from 1807, ran the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. Few Jews allended his sermons: nor did other missionaries fare better.

    When the Rev. John Cooper “was imprudent enough to attempt a harangue in Duke’s Place (outside, not inside the synagogue), the children of Israel rose upon him, tore him from his pulpit, and it was with difficulty that he escaped.[38] Nonetheless, Hirschel gravely warned “every one of our nation not to send any of their Children to the newly-established Free School, instituted by a society of persons, who are not of our religion; until we had, by a proper investigation, determined if it be compleatly (sic) free from many possible harm to the welfare of our religion… Now having since been fully convinced… that the whole purpose of this seeming kind exertion, is but an inviting snare, a decoying experiment to undermine the props of our religion; and the sole intent of this Institution is, at bottom, only to entice innocent Jewish Children, during their early and unsuspecting years, from the observance of the Law of Moses; and to eradicate the religion of their fathers and forefathers.

    “On this account, I feel myself necessitated to caution the Congregation in general, that no one do send, or allow to be sent, any Child, whether male or female, to this, or any such School established by strangers to our religion; not likewise into any Sunday School of that nature.

    “All such persons, therefore, who … act contrary to this prohibition, whether male or female, will be considered as if they had themselves forsaken their religion, and been baptised; and shall lose all title to the name of Jews, and forfeit all claims on the Congregation both in life and death.”[39]

    “On Anglo-Jewry,” said Rumyaneck, “the formation of the London Society had a strengthening and cleansing effect. The threat to its unity compelled the community to concentrate on urgent problems of communal and religious reform. The free schools opened by the London Society led to the establishment of Jewish schools. In 1811 the Westminster Jews’ Free School was opened and in 1817 the Jews’ Free School. In 1820 was opened the Western Institute for Clothing and Apprenticing Indigent Jewish Boys. And in 1824 the Society for the Relief of Indigent Poor began allowances of five shillings per week to necessitous widows. The widespread poverty and the lack of industrial openings for Jews were investigated and reforms were suggested. The Synagogues agreed on treaties of co­operation when dealing with the poor, and the Jews’ Hospital, among other objectives, apprenticed boys and girls to useful trades. With the awakening of a greater consciousness in communal life no other result but failure was to be expected of the conversionist menace”.[40]

    Hirschel not only stirred himself to oppose the conversionists. He could act promptly to restrain Jews from acting inappropriately in public places. In 1812 the press reported, “The Rev. Solomon Herschell, high priest of the Jewish Synagogue, has caused one hundred itinerant Jews to be struck off the charity list for six months, for making a noise at Covent Garden Theatre. He has also warned them of excommunication in case they should be guilty of the like again.”[41] Had he really excommunicated the miscreants, however, it would probably have sent them straight into the hands of the conversionists.

    He was tall, with “an exceedingly high forehead, and a searching eye; and his countenance was both benignant and intellectual. His appearance abroad, in the Polish costume to which he restricted himself, commanded the reverence of the rudest hind (sic: should this be ‘kind’?) that walked the streets; and there were few but touched their hats, and made way for ‘the High Priest of the Jews’.[42] Among gentiles he cut a fascinating and impressive figure.[43] It must have been dramatic when the London Sessions heard in January, 1809, the case of three Jews accused of assaulting a synagogue beadle, and “the Jewish High Priest dressed in his robes, attended by several of the Elders, sat on the Bench”.[44]

    Within the Jewish community Hirschel had critics other than Solomon Bennett, as well as firm admirers and champions. The printer, Levi Alexander, for example, published a leaflet, which attacked “the ignorance and Superstition evident in the character of the Rev. S Hirschell”. There was rivalry between Alexander and the family of another printer, David Levi, who had published prayer books containing various errors. But Alexander’s prayer books also had their defects. Hirschel criticised Alexander’s work but did not mention Levi’s errors. In the Yom Kippur volume Alexander included critical comments about the rabbi, who kept his peace but persuaded the Spanish and Portuguese congregation not to give Alexander any more work. Hyman A Simons draws the reader’s attention to the fact that, “as a result of the printer’s bizarre campaign, on the Sabbath of Sabbaths many Great Synagogue worshipers had the unprecedented experience of hearing their Chief Rabbi preach and recite the Ne’ilah (concluding) service while at the same time utilising a prayer-book containing envenomed attacks on him.”[45]

    Simons may be right that Hirschel actually officiated from the controversial prayer book, but knowing how rarely Hirschel preached it is unlikely that he gave a Ne’ilah sermon then or at any other time.

    Hirschel’s fiercest enemy as we have seen was Solomon Bennett, a colourful and talented eccentric, Hebrew scholar, author, artist and engraver, who had lived in many parts of Europe, studied a number of languages and produced many literary and artistic works, especially portraits. He arrived in London at about the end of 1799. His long campaign against Hirschel [46] seems to have commenced with an engraving of the rabbi, made in about 1816-1818 and the subject of legal proceedings. Ostensibly the polemics began with Hirschel’s official endorsement of a catechism, Shor’shei Emunah (Elements of Faith), written by Salom ben Jacob Cohen and translated by Joshua van Oven, and criticised for inaccuracies by Solomon Bennett. Bennett’s weaponry included a 66-page pamphlet, “The present Reign of the Synagogue in Duke’s Place”, in which the rabbi is called “a proud, savage, and tyrannical Pontiff… in his orthodox piety on the one hand, and his ignorant malice on the other”.

    This time the rabbi did not hold back, but neither did he act openly. His reply was ostensibly penned by Myer M Rintel, whose son Moses was later a minister and schoolmaster in Australia. Bennett alleged, among other things, that Hirschel was indifferent to his flock and condoned their transgressions.

    Why, he asked, was the rabbi “so indifferent to the bulk of his Synagogue, the followers of his standard? – Seeing that the Royal Exchange, the Stock-exchange and the coffee-houses are all filled with Jew merchants transacting business on Sabbaths and Holy Days, quite public!”[47] Rev. Arthur Barnett’s telling of the controversy may err in the direction of bias for Bennett,[48] but it clearly shows the contrast between the worldly-wise critic and the more culturally limited rabbi.

    Jewish religious and intellectual restlessness on the Continent hardly penetrated Hirschel’s consciousness. With some delicacy the Voice of Jacob wrote, “Wholly occupied by discharge of those duties which, according to the notions of the old school to which he belonged, he but seldom found leisure to take an active part in those movements which were meanwhile agitating the Rabbins of the continent… (Yet) a younger generation had grown up, sprung up, imbued with views disagreeing from his own, which represented rather the spirit of a bygone age. Considerable dissatisfaction, principally with liturgical forms, manifested itself. Had this happened a few years earlier, the pious, prudent, and energetic man might have seized the movement, and given to it a turn widely different from what it subsequently assumed; but now, broken in body and mind, only a shadow of what he had been, he was unequal to the emergency.”[49]

    One is reluctant to take issue with such gracious writing, but the fact is that the ferment went far beyond the liturgy. The Reform minister, DW Marks (Hirschel’s former pupil), had a radical theological agenda that gravely challenged the tradition, and Hirschel would have been unequipped to debate or respond to the issues on an intellectual level. Hirschel’s successor Nathan Marcus Adler was able to do so. In that contrast we see the end of one era and the beginning of the next.

    Both the Jewish Chronicle and the Voice of Jacob offered evaluations of Hirschel, the Chronicle in 1844 [50] and the Voice of Jacob at the time of his death in 1842.[51] Neither paper, however, makes reference to the tradition current many decades later that “when Rabbi Solomon Hirschel was buried certain papers were buried with him in accordance with instructions he had left to that effect”,[52] or to other stories that were apparently told about him for generations. If such papers actually existed, did they have anything to do with the various conflicts in which Hirschel had been involved, with Saul Berlin or other family matters, or with Hirschel’s financial affairs which included English stocks and shares and foreign railway bonds? We shall probably never know.

    The Jewish Chronicle was thorough and blunt in its assessment of Hirschel.[53] It said he was a lesser figure in the rabbinic world in both learning and reputation. His jurisdiction had widened by reason of circumstances and was not necessarily good for Judaism; the lack of rabbinic rivals impoverished the community spiritually. Hirschel was well-intentioned and honourable but unequal to the needs of the times. He left no works of learning, charitable foundations or public institutions (a not entirely accurate assertion). He had hoped for peace in the community but saw schisms which he could neither constrain nor contain. His administration was not a model for the future, and his successor should be as unlike him as possible.

    The Voice of Jacob [54] acknowledged his firmness of character, prudence, ready wit and perception of character, but said he was limited by “the notions of the old school to which he belonged”. He took no part in wider movements, except in countering the conversionists. When schism erupted in his old age he was already physically and mentally impaired: it was “a crisis for which the decayed powers of Dr Hirschel were no longer equal”. He had an impressive personal appearance and innate dignity, but the community now needed a different kind of rabbinic leadership. History’s verdict is similar. He was a child of his time. In 1802 the Great Synagogue was not looking for a “modern” rabbi, nor did they get one. But history moves on. Forty years later, it was not a Hirschel who was needed, but an Adler.

    The contrast could not be greater. Nathan Marcus Adler held office from 1845 to 1890, though in his latter years he was represented by his son Hermann as delegate chief rabbi. Adler was university-trained, had experience as a vernacular preacher and ecclesiastical administrator in Germany, and thoroughly organised the Anglo-Jewish community and its synagogue life; no Jewish or general movement escaped his ken and though his successors were more visible public figures than he was, Adler founded the English rabbinic tradition of full participation in national debate.

    From 1891 the chief rabbi was Hermann Adler, urbane, civilised, at ease with the aristocracy and royalty, one of the “gilded gentry”, thoroughly involved in the intellectual, moral and social issues of the time: indeed a vigorous controversialist ready to cross literary swords when necessary. He presided over a well-organised Anglo-Jewish ministry that in most ways was thoroughly English. Because of the Adlers, the chief rabbinate underwent a thorough sea-change.

    1. Jewish Chronicle (subsequently “JC”), 28 March, 1947.
    2. Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 8, cols. 520-1.
    3. Letter 18 Nov., 1827, to Francis Freely of the Post Office Board, cited by HA Simons, “Forty Years a Chief Rabbi: The Life and Times of Solomon Hirschell”, 1980, pp. 89-91.
    4. Arthur Barnett, “Solomon Bennett, 1761-1838: Artist, Hebraist and Controversialist”, Trans. Jewish Hist. Soc. of England (subsequently TJHSE), vol. 17 (1951-52), p. 106.
    5. Barnett, op. cit., p. 106.
    6. JC 13 Oct., 1844.
    7. Voice of Jacob, (subsequently “VJ”), 11 Nov., 1842.
    8. VJ, 11 Nov., 1842.
    9. Barnett, op. cit, p. 105.
    10. JC 28 May, 1999.
    11. VJ 11 Nov., 1842.
    12. Ibid.
    13. One of many stories that circulated after his death.
    14. Letter cited by AM Hyamson, “The London Board for Shechitah, 1804-1954″, 1954.
    15. Beth Din minutes, 1805-36, held at Leeds University (HJ Zimmels, in HJ Zimmels, J Rabbinowitz & I Finestein (eds), (“Sefer HaYovel Tiferet Yisrael: Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie”, vol. 2, 1966; minutes 1833-45 are at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Adlers MS 2257).
    16. Barnett, op. cit., p. 106.
    17. Ibid.
    18. Ibid.
    19. Another long-cherished story about Hirschel.
    20. Cited by Cecil Roth, “The History of the Great Synagogue, London, 1690-1940”, 1950, p. 186.
    21. Barnett, loc. cit.
    22. Israel Finestein, “Jewish Society in Victorian England”, 1993, p. 65.
    23. Roth, op. cit., p. 185.
    24. Cecil Roth, “Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History”, 1937, p. 325 (nos. 29-30), p. 327 (no. 42).
    25. The title page calls him “The Rev. Dr Solomon Hirschel, Chief Rabbi of the German Jews in Great Britain”.
    26. Sunday Herald, 3 June, 1828.
    27. VJ 29 Oct., 1841.
    28. Simons, op. cit., pp. 33-34; Roth, TJHSE, Vol. 15 (1939-45), p. 14.
    29. Simons, op. cit., p. 33; Geoffrey Green, “The Royal Navy and Anglo-Jewry”, 1989, pp. 92-95.
    30. But see P 1, note 1 supra.
    31. VJ, 11 Nov., 1842.
    32. M Margoliouth, “The History of the Jews in Great Britain”, 3 vols., 1851, p. 194.
    33. Op. cit, pp. 192-93.
    34. Op. cit., p 193.
    35. Jewish Guardian, 29 May, 1931.
    36. 13th Report of London Missionary Society, 1807.
    37. Jewish Guardian, loc. cit.
    38. J Hughson, “London… and its Neighbourhood”, 1809, cited by WS Samuel, Jewish Guardian, 19 June, 1931.
    39. “Abstract of an Exhortation delivered by the Rev. Solomon Hirschel…”, 1807.
    40. J Rumyaneck in Jewish Guardian, 29 May, 1931.
    41. The News, Oct., 1812, cited in Jewish Guardian, 27 March, 1931.
    42. VJ 11 Nov., 1842: cf. A Rubens, Anglo-Jewish Portraits, 1935, pp. 53, 57, 67, 171, 176.
    43. The News, 15 Jan., 1809, cited in Jewish Guardian, 27 March, 1931.
    44. Simons, op, cit, pp. 80-82.
    45. Barnett, op. cit, pp. 91-111.
    46. Barnett, op. cit., p. 105.
    47. Barnett, op. cit, pp. 109–111.
    48. JC 18 Oct, 1844.
    49. JC 18 Oct, 1844.
    50. VJ, 11 Nov, 1812.
    51. “Israel”, Vol. 4 (1900), p 14.
    52. Roth, “A History of the Jews in England”, 3rd ed., 1964, p 478.
    53. JC 18 Oct, 1844.
    54. VJ 11 Nov., 1842.

    Comments are closed.