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    Tobias Goodman – pioneer preacher

    Lecture by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, at the Jewish Historical Society of England Israel Branch, 22 January, 2012.

    Let me begin with a personal reminiscence. My ministerial career commenced in London at the old Bayswater Synagogue in Chichester Place, Harrow Road. The great Anglo-Jewish preachers were amongst my predecessors: Hermann Adler and Hermann Gollancz were famous for the power of their preaching. But by my time Bayswater was not what it was. I was an untried young man and my warden-president was unsure of my abilities. He told me bluntly, “We don’t want a sermon every week. Once a fortnight will do!”

    Five years later I moved to Hampstead. It too had been prestigious; it still was. Its ministers had been famous; they still were. My immediate predecessor, Isaac Levy, was even my teacher of homiletics at Jews’ College. Soon after I took up office at Hampstead it was the festival of Shavu’ot and on the second day I did not give a sermon. The warden-president asked me why there had been no sermon and said with a grin, “I think we should dock your pay”. I was a quick learner and thenceforth, throughout the seven and a half years I spent there, I preached every Shabbat and every day of every festival, not for the sake of my pay but because the pulpit was highly important in Hampstead.

    Whatever your position on sermons, in favour of more of them – or less – it’s not me you should praise or blame but Tobias Goodman, who was the pioneer of vernacular preaching in Anglo-Jewry at the beginning of the 19th century. Cecil Roth was right, for reasons we will see in a few moments, to assert that Goodman “delivered the earliest English sermons ever heard in any synagogue in this country” (i.e. Britain). Nonetheless, a different view was current at one stage, with the credit for the first Jewish preaching in English being wrongly accorded to David M Isaacs. Isaacs was not born until 1810, by which stage Goodman had already been in England for some years and was already able to preach and write in competent if flowery English. In any case Isaacs did not begin his own preaching career until long after Goodman’s first published English sermons of 1817. Goodman had actually already been preaching in English for some ten years or so.

    Roth’s Anglo-Jewish bibliography lists very few Anglo-Jewish sermons of any kind or in any language between the Resettlement in 1656 and the end of the 18th century, but there was more preaching than is generally recognised. Roth’s bibliographical entries are not the whole story. He listed only published sermons available to him. From the Adler collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America I learnt that there had been ample material in manuscript, much of it now lost. As Duschinsky shows in his book on the rabbis of the Great Synagogue, England had its maggidim (itinerant preachers), and both they and at least some of the synagogue officiants gave regular d’rashot of the traditional kind, in Ladino amongst the Sephardim and in German or Yiddish amongst the Ashkenazim. As English was not yet well known amongst the congregants of both communities there was little point in addressing them in language they did not understand. In any case the potential preachers themselves were often poor in English.

    The Sephardim, it must be said, were reluctant to endorse vernacular preaching even when knowledge of English had improved, probably for fear that something might be said which would arouse the government against the Jews and jeopardise Jewish social and political acceptability. The rules of their congregation required daily expositions of Jewish laws and practices; these were sometimes in Hebrew but generally in Portuguese. However, the often cultured and urbane Hahamim (chief rabbis) of the congregation were able to preach in a variety of languages. The greatest early Haham, David Nieto, who held office from 1701-28, was a highly cultured and multilingual rabbi who aroused considerable controversy as the result of a (non-vernacular) sermon in which he was said to have promoted heretical ideas of God and Nature.

    The Ashkenazim had Sabbath afternoon Torah exegesis and Talmudic expositions, sometimes in German, mostly in Yiddish and occasionally in Hebrew, such as the d’rashot of Moses ben Judah of Minsk (published in his Sefer Even HaShoham, 1772) and of Pinhas ben Shmu’el (published in his Midrash Pinchas, 1795). The lists of chief rabbis of the Great, Hambro’ and New Synagogues include significant rabbinic scholars who would have appealed to the small number of Talmudists. Few of the general body of the community, however, were interested in traditional Jewish learning.

    The rabbinic expositions were not modern sermons, though there was a tinge of topicality when the Sabbath afternoon preacher, for example Hart Lyon (Hirschell Levin), chief rabbi from 1756-64, castigated the congregation (but not in English) for abandoning the laws of the Sabbath, of permitted and forbidden foods, and of decorous dress and conduct. Manuscript sermons by Hart Lyon are extant in the Adler collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Political or quasi-political preaching was studiously avoided, though events such as floods, famines and epidemics did occasion comment, as did events involving the Royal Family.

    Those addresses which were printed were generally on patriotic subjects, and though these were given in other languages, some were translated into English in order to demonstrate the loyalty and respectability of the Jewish community. Such evidence was clearly necessary if Jews were to earn political emancipation. It should also be said that in the early 19th century there were many complaints that synagogues were unaesthetic and services unappealing, as against the respectability of the churches and the dignity of Christian worship.

    In seeking evidence of sermons, we should not ignore the many orders of service in Roth’s lists. These quite often included special prayers in Hebrew that are really tantamount to discourses, and they cannot be entirely discounted when we look for evidence of preaching.

    None of this, however, suggests that sermons had become an integral and important synagogal event, nor that those sermons that were given were modern in style, language and approach. That initiative was the achievement of Tobias Goodman.

    So now we are ready to speak about Goodman, but we have to say that there is very little known about his life and personality. We cannot say anything about his wife and children, though we do know that he had at least one daughter, and in the 1870s another Tobias Goodman, presumably a grandson, announced in the Jewish press the birth of his own children.

    The community knew Tobias Goodman as Reb Tuvya, though he had a second name, Shmu’el. He was born in central Bohemia about 1760, the son of Rabbi Israel Gutman or Gutmann of Kolin, and died in England in the late 1830s. He had a good Biblical and rabbinical education, probably under the aegis of his father, whom he calls haga’on hagadol, “the great genius”, from whom he is likely to have received rabbinic ordination. He knew Haskalah (Enlightenment) writings, as is clear from quotations and concepts in his books. He must have arrived in England in the late 18th century, giving him time to learn English well enough to be able to translate a Hebrew philosophical work into fluent English in or before 1806. He became an Anglophile and even quoted English poets and essayists in his writings.

    He was a Hebrew teacher – possibly a private tutor to the sons of the gentry – amongst the London Jewish community. As well as teaching he could have dabbled in other occupations such as buying and selling. He was on good terms with his contemporary, Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, who took up office at the Great Synagogue in 1802. Goodman’s English was considerably better than Hirschell’s, and it is possible that he acted as Hirschell’s secretary (possibly unpaid) for a time. Hirschell was actually born in England in 1761 during the brief rabbinical incumbency of his father Hart Lyon (Hirschell Levin) but was brought up on the Continent, served as a rabbi in Poland and though holding office in London for forty years picked up few English skills and very rarely gave addresses in the language.

    Reb Tuvya had an association with various congregations in London and Liverpool, though he was not a congregational minister in the modern sense – the Anglo-Jewish ministry did not develop until the time of Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, who assumed office in 1845. In the Hebrew preface to his translation of Bechinat Olam, which we will soon discuss in detail, Goodman refers to a London congregation, Chevrat Machazikei HaTorah, “Society of Upholders of the Torah” and calls himself their maggid mesharim (“preacher of righteousness”). Maggid denotes something less modern than a preacher and in that capacity he probably gave Divrei Torah (Torah expositions) in Yiddish. But he also gave modern (sometimes polemical) sermons in English as well as his Yiddish d’rashot. With his considerable command of English he would not have limited himself to Yiddish, and his published sermons in English give no indication of being translations. Yet in 1817, in a eulogy of Princess Charlotte, he still – after what could have been two decades n England – calls himself a foreigner.

    He was a mild supporter of the Haskalah. A number of the leading maskilim such as Moses Mendelssohn also knew English and could read and write it. However, any modernistic tendencies that Goodman possessed did not entail the rejection of tradition, though he had a broader religious outlook than many other orthodox rabbis (actually until the early 19th century there were no reform rabbis). Where Hirschell and others were aghast at the activities of Christian conversionists, Goodman took up the cudgels and engaged in literary controversies with these Christians, claiming that they were opposed to Judaism without understanding it. He also sadly pointed out that Jews themselves had too little knowledge of Jewish beliefs and teachings to be able to resist and rebut the missionary arguments.

    The second geographical focus – after London – of Goodman’s work was Liverpool. This was the principal Jewish community after London and seemed a good place to make a mark as an intellectual, a preacher and schoolmaster. In addition it may have offered him business opportunities.

    We know that he spent various periods there. A Liverpool communal leader of a later generation, Bertram B Benas, wrote that “The Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation had at a relatively early stage in its career definitely an Anglo-Jewish consciousness”, adding that by 1836, when Goodman was probably already deceased, “the first regular appointed minister-preacher in English was installed in the Seel Street Synagogue”. (Seel Street, opened in the 1790s, later became the Princes Road Synagogue, which is still functioning). The preacher appointed in 1836 (actually 1835) was David M Isaacs, whom some – incorrectly – claimed to be the pioneer English preacher in Anglo-Jewry. As late as 1869, when some still called sermons chukkat ha-goy (a gentile usage), the Jewish Chronicle stated that the vernacular sermon “existed even as far back as the reign of George IV… The Liverpool Synagogue was one of the first Jewish places of worship in which an English sermon was delivered a a regular element of Sabbath ritual”. However, the JC was wrong about the date; English sermons began before George IV. One of Goodman’s most striking addresses was his eulogy in London on 16 February, 1820 for George III, whom he described in superlatives that gave little hint of the deceased king’s fragile mental state.

    An incidental question must be asked at this point. Did the synagogues where he or anyone else preached in those days have a fixed or even temporary lectern? The answer is no. Pulpits became part of synagogue design only when regular preaching made them necessary. Initially the preacher spoke from the reading desk. As early as 1827 Seel Street – perhaps motivated by memories of Goodman’s addresses – erected a pulpit. In London, Bayswater was the first synagogue to have a formal pulpit, though the bulky structure obscured the congregation’s view of the Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Torah scrolls). Questions arose about the propriety of the preacher having his back to the Ark, but in a sense the Ark spoke through the preacher and the sermon was the words of the Torah.

    During the periods when Goodman was not in Liverpool, regular preaching was maintained by the congregational secretary, Moses Nathan Nathan. Nathan was succeeded as secretary in 1833 by David Woolf Marks, who was also assistant reader and occasional preacher. Marks’ reform tendencies became evident early in his Liverpool career and earned him the appointment of minister of the West London Synagogue of British Jews, the first British reform synagogue, founded in 1841. He became a powerful and eloquent preacher, often using his pulpit to argue with the orthodoxy of Nathan Marcus Adler. Unlike Goodman, Marks was born in England and self-taught, though in his youth he had been a protégé of Solomon Hirschell.

    Marks’ three volumes of sermons read better than do Goodman’s published addresses, but it is unfair to compare them. Goodman had begun preaching roughly three decades before Marks and cannot be judged against the standards of a later time. The late 18th and early 19th century saw preaching become a major cultural force in British Christianity and when you look at Goodman’s Jewish efforts in the light of those of the Christians you see highfalutin words and phrases, heavy convoluted sentences, long-winded paragraphs and sometimes interminable perorations. Much the same judgment applies to Goodman, and we can probably conclude that he studied Christian material and modelled himself on it.

    In London Goodman had an association – possibly as chazan – with the Denmark Court Synagogue in the Strand, the first synagogue in the West End. After many years as the Western Synagogue it is now the Western Marble Arch. His Faith of Israel calls him “Public lecturer to the congregation of Israel”. Does this mean that he lectured in the Jewish community in general, or is it a reference to the Hebrew title of the Western Synagogue, Knesset Yisra’el Westminster – “Congregation of Israel, Westminster”? We do not know whether in 1834 when the book appeared he was still associated with the congregation. In earlier years, however, Goodman spoke regularly at Denmark Court on some Sabbaths and festivals. In 1828 the congregational Vestry resolved “that Reb Tuvya be permitted to deliver a discourse in the synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah… prior to t’ki’at shofar (the sounding of the shofar during the morning service), and not to exceed half-an-hour”. In those days a half-hour address was modest: Christian sermons could go on for an hour or more.

    He was brought to the Western for state occasions. His published address on “the universally regretted death of the most illustrious Princess Charlotte of Wales and Saxe-Coburg” on 19 November, 1817, is said to be “the earliest sermon printed in English of which any record exists”. Denmark Court would have been proud of this distinction.

    He was not the only preacher at the Western. Other sermons were given by Myer Solomon, a calligrapher and antique dealer who was synagogue president from 1824. The JC says, “Though his sermons were not learned, they were certainly remarkable considering the times in which he lived, and the fact that he was a layman engaged in business, and they were well delivered.” Against the published evidence, the JC added, “Myer Solomon preached a sermon, which is in print, on the death of George IV.” Other laymen who preached at the Western were Sir Francis Goldsmid, AA Lindo, Henry N Solomon, Marcus H. Bresslau, GP Beyfus, Dr Abraham Benisch (editor of the JC), and Abraham Hort. This makes the Western the first London synagogue to foster regular vernacular preaching and shows that Tobias Goodman was the leading communal preacher.

    His regular preaching activity seems to have settled down by 1824 at the small Rosemary Lane Synagogue near Tower Bridge – one of the first two synagogues (the other was the Western) outside the City area. There he gave homely d’rashot in Yiddish. It was the centre of the Jewish old-clothes trade, and most or all of the congregation were not too fluent in English. Nonetheless he continued to give occasional English addresses, especially on State occasions. He may have been paid something for preaching and officiating, but most of his living came from other pursuits. He continued his Hebrew teaching, though he failed to gain a teaching post at the Jews’ Free School. Nonetheless, he was probably a better Hebrew linguist and grammarian than most of the community’s other teachers.

    His Liverpool connections were renewed from time to time. He spent some time there in 1819, whilst presumably living in London. On 2 May that year he preached on “The Faith of Israel” at the Seel Street Synagogue. The text – supplied with a preface dated 24 May – was printed in Liverpool with a dedication to Moses Samuel and ML Mozley, “elders of the Jewish congregation of Liverpool”. The sermon “seeks to remove the odium that has been cast upon the Jewish people, to show the principles upon which their religion is founded and to impress a strict adherence to that sacred code which contains the immutable decrees of God”. The event which motivated this sermon must have been a conversionist campaign. He mentions (and rebuts) what “a clerical gentleman in this town has asserted from the pulpit”. At such times everybody must have said, “We need Reb Tuvya!” The published address aroused further exchanges of pamphlets. One William Smith, for example, published in 1826 a lengthy Letter… to Rabbi T Goodman… containing remarks upon his discourse… entitled “The Faith of Israel”. Goodman may have participated in these exchanges: we are not certain. But he did reshape the material into a book which became his final literary work, a significant restatement of Jewish belief that makes it one of the first Anglo-Jewish religious textbooks.

    Goodman’s polemical writings had actually begun a decade before this 1819 episode in Liverpool. The commencement of the 19th century, as we have already indicated, saw an upsurge of missionary activity aimed at bringing Jews to Christianity. Goodman found himself capable of taking a leading role in the Jewish response. In 1809 he issued a pamphlet (possibly based on a sermon that may have been given in London), entitled Address to the… London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews: in which… their attempt to overturn the Jewish system of worship proved to be unwarrantable and counter to Divine revelation. The polemics were not stilled and went to and fro. On the Christian side, “Investigator” – whoever he may have been – produced in 1810 a pamphlet, Five minutes conversation recommended to Mr T Goodman, or strictures on his pamphlet addressed to the London Society. Goodman’s message to the conversionists was blunt, unambiguous and challenging: “Do you mean to teach us a better system of morals than the law and the prophets teach? Believe me, Gentlemen, when you can, I will most cordially adopt it, and become a proselyte to your faith.” He also told them, “While the Gentile race are carried away with every new fangled system of religion, you pine at the firmness of the Jew, who, in spite of every artifice and temptation, has for so many thousand years, denied himself many things, which others call luxuries, because he is commanded to do so by his God.” Goodman shows himself as a fine debater; his over-sprinkling of commas can be pardoned as a mark of the style of the time.

    It remains for us to analyse his two books, both worthy of the appreciation of a later generation. The first is a translation of the Bechinat Olam, “Investigation of the World”, a medieval work of Jewish philosophy. A didactic poem first published in Hebrew in 1306, it has been often reprinted, with translations into many languages. It appears, however, that Goodman’s English version, published in 1806 – presumably to mark the 500th anniversary of the book – is the one and only English translation. Sections of the book have been rendered into English by Benzion Halper, Harris M Lazarus and others, but only Goodman translated the whole work. There was apparently a reprint in the United States in the 1980s by a Rabbi Elefant, but I have not been able to trace a copy. The 1806 edition I have used is in the library of the London School of Jewish Studies (formerly Jews’ College). The printer is L Alexander of Whitechapel; the translation is dedicated to Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell “on whose word depend all the Jews of England – kol b’nei hagolah dimedinat Angleterra”. The translator calls himself Hatorani Harav Rabbi Tuvya Shmu’el – “The Torah scholar Rabbi Tobias Samuel”. The Hebrew text and English translation are on facing pages.

    The original author was Yedaiah Hapenini Bedarsi (Beziers) – c.1270-c.1340 – poet, physician and philosopher of Barcelona. There may be a link between his name and the name Toviah, which could be why the work appealed to Reb Tuvya. Yedaiah ponders on the world, man and time, and asks how the human being is to handle the experiences of life. Time – according to Chapter 8 – is a tumbledown bridge over the tempestuous sea which is the world. Any careless act can plummet man into the water. What use are the pleasures of the world when they cannot protect us from harm? Man’s only hope is to follow the commandments of the Lord.

    Here is Goodman’s version of the first part of the chapter:

    “This world is a tempestuous sea; unfathomably profound; and the boundaries are without comprehension.

    “Time forms the bridge over which man must pass. The extremeties (sic) are suspended by attenuated cords. While travelling its extent, the object should be to behold the beauties of God; and discover the splendour of the Eternal which shines conspicuous. The breadth of the bridge is the measure of a man, and the borders fail.

    “From the moment man exists, he begins his journey. The path is narrow, and the road direct. There exists no avenue to the right hand or the left.

    “In what, O man, wilt thou glory? In what wilt thou rejoice? The rampart on thy right hand is death! On thy left, destruction! Can then thy heart sustain its ordinary courage? Or, thy hands remain firm?”

    The translation is not incorrect, but its English style does not read so well. For comparison, here is a rendering by Dayan Harris M Lazarus:

    The WORLD is an angry sea
    Exceeding deep and wide;
    TIME the frail and ancient bridge
    Which binds its distant shores:
    One end thereof rests in the Vanished Past,
    The other leads to the abiding light,
    Within the Presence of the King.
    The width thereof is the span of MAN,
    And guarding sides has none.
    Unasked, O man, art sent to live,
    Thereon must wend thy way.
    Since thou as MAN wast born,
    Thy vision is short,
    Thy path is strait:
    Wilt thou glory in might and fame?
    With peril and death on either hand, Will thy heart stand still?
    Will thy hands hold fast?

    Presumably because of the lack of a Jewish periodical press it is hard to assess what the Jewish community thought of Goodman’s work. A non-Jewish publication called The Monthly Catalogue refers to the book in uncomplimentary terms, not criticising the translator but denigrating the original work and asking why Hirschell deserves Goodman’s praise.

    Goodman’s second book appeared in 1834. I used a copy in the Rabbi LA Falk Memorial Library at the Great Synagogue, Sydney. Called The Faith of Israel, the book builds upon Goodman’s sermon given in Liverpool in May, 1819, defending Judaism against the conversionists. The printed version of the sermon is introduced in these words: “The following pages offered to the notice of a generous and enlightened public, contain nothing that can offend any sect, or ridicule any religious doctrine: their object is to remove the odium that has been cast upon the Jewish people to show the principles upon which their religion is founded, and to impress a strict adherence to that sacred code which contains the immutable decrees of God”. The main proposed audience is the Christian “infatuated enemies” who misrepresent Judaism, but the preacher also has in mind the Jewish reformers who advance the “erroneous hypothesis” that parts of Jewish law can now be discarded. The British reform movement had not yet surfaced but the views of the Continental reformers were not unknown in Britain. Towards the end of the address Goodman pays tribute to British freedom of religion, though he makes no mention of the Jewish political disabilities which remained in effect until 1858.

    Goodman must have worked on an extended version of this material for many years before the book finally appeared in 1834. He had to defer publication for reasons of “expence” (sic), added to his own increasingly unreliable health. After 25 years, the book version finally appeared – sponsored by Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore and dedicated to them in an author’s preface dated February, 1834. This date proves that Goodman was still very much alive and had not, as some sources claim, died in the 1820s (Roth thought he died in 1824). His address at that time was 8 Rix’s Court, Church Lane, Commercial Road, London. However, Goodman is not heard of after 1834. He was over 70 and probably died during that decade. There were no Jewish newspapers in England, so we have no obituaries to access.

    The book is still polemical, but his efforts are now directed not so much at Christians but at Jews: the purpose is “to rescue the sacred words of God from the attacks of the enemies of Holy Scripture and Revelation, and, without interfering with any other religious doctrines, to shew the true sense of the Divine Law.” The book has two sections, Hamadda (“Knowledge”) and Hama’aseh (“Practice”). The hoped for readership is “those Israelites, who unfortunately are deficient in the knowledge of the Divine Law”. He urges them to spend at least an hour every day studying his text.

    He assembles a great deal of material from Biblical and later sources and often seems to emulate the approach of Maimonides and other classical medieval writers. His style weaves through explanation, exposition, exegesis, dialogue and disputation. His approach is orthodox in its thinking but modern in its style. It uses the methods of the Haskalah but objects to its irreligion. He pours scorn on those who would never deny that the Romans and Normans invaded Britain but feel free to treat the Bible with scorn. All in all it is a very readable book even though the sentences are sometimes rather convoluted.

    It is a pity that neither Goodman’s name nor his works are known today. He played a significant role in the spiritual, intellectual and social history of the Jews of Britain, and he deserves to be rescued from near oblivion.


    I am most grateful to Erla Zimmels of the London School of Jewish Studies (Jews’ College) Library, who helped me a great deal with copies of Goodman material. My student years at Jews’ College brought me increasing admiration for the riches of the Library and nothing compensates for being too far away to enable daily discoveries of its treasures.

    I have also used material in the Rabbi LA Falk Memorial Library at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, where I was senior rabbi for 32 years. Like Goodman himself, the Falk Library is an unclaimed treasure, and I often ask my friend Joe Kensell to look up things for me.

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