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    Hermann Adler: Chief Rabbi

    The following by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared as a chapter in Noblesse Oblige: Essays in Honour of David Kessler OBE, published by Vallentine Mitchell, 1998.

    Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler

    To borrow Shakespeare’s words about a certain cardinal, Hermann Adler “undoubtedly was fashioned to much honour from his cradle” (Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene 2). The Adlers had a wonderful lineage as kohanim (priests) and as members of a great rabbinic family. Indeed, The Times once solemnly informed its readers that Hermann Adler was a hereditary high priest. The richness of the family yichus (marital connection) is illustrated by Adler’s bookplate. The hands of the priest are surrounded by the eagle (“Adler”, in German) and topped by the priestly mitre and the Hebrew letters kaf tav, standing for keter torah (crown of the Torah). There is also the family motto: k’nesher ya’ir kinno, “As an eagle stirs up her nest” (Deut. 32:11) and a further verse, Naftali s’va ratzon, “Naphtali (Herman Adler’s Hebrew name) is sated with favour” (Deut. 33:23), the initial letters of which make up the word nesher, “an eagle”.

    Shakespeare’s cardinal was “exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading”. Even Adler’s critics admitted that he had presence, dignity and urbanity, and was an impressive spokesman and an effective ambassador. Not everyone would apply to him Shakespeare’s further assessment: “He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one” but, although he could not rival his father or other forebears in terms of original contributions to rabbinic learning, he was certainly well equipped in both religious and secular knowledge and, in some fields, there is no doubt that he was a “ripe and good” scholar.

    The United Synagogue Council said of him in 1880, when he became his ageing father’s delegate:

    If Dr Hermann Adler were entirely unconnected with the Chief Rabbi by the near ties of relationship, his great learning and high abilities, his conciliatory disposition, and the manner in which he has succeeded in gaining the affection of a large and important congregation, would designate him as eminently fitted for the discharge of the important duties from which Dr Adler [i.e. Nathan Marcus AdIer, his father] is compelled to seek relief.

    Hermann Adler was born in Hanover on 29 May 1839. He was the fifth, and the youngest, child of Nathan Marcus Adler, Landrabbiner of Hanover, and his first wife, Henrietta (nee Worms, who died in 1853). Hermann came to England as a child of six. He recalled in his installation sermon as Chief Rabbi on 23 June 1891, how he attended his father’s installation in 1845: “My dear brethren, it is just 46 years ago since I sat in yonder gallery, nestling close to my dear mother, gazing with childish wonder on the strange ceremonial that was being enacted below – the installation of a new Chief Rabbi.”

    He gained his secular education at University College School, matriculating in 1857, and at University College, where his fellow students included Lord Morley, Lord Herschell, Professor Stanley Jevons, Sir George Jessel and Sir Julian Goldsmid. He obtained his doctorate of philosophy at Leipzig in 1862. His Hebrew education is summarised in some notes he compiled about himself, probably at the time of his election as Chief Rabbi:

    Dr Hermann Adler’s first and last teacher was his late lamented father zatzal [i.e. may the memory of the righteous be a blessing]. He began to teach his son the Decalogue when he was four years old, and studied Talmud with him practically to the very last day of his life. His other tutors were the Revd Barnett Abrahams, B.A., Dayan of the Portuguese Congregation, a man of profound piety, and an excellent mathematician, Dr David Asher of Leipzig, and Dr Kalisch.

    In Prague, where he remained from 1860-1862, he devoted himself exclusively to the study of Shass uposkim [Talmud and rabbinic responsa] under the guidance of Chief Rabbi Rapoport, the Dayan, or Oberjurist as he was called, R. Samuel Freund, and of R. Simon Ausch, at whose home he stayed. During that time he wrote chiddushim [elucidations] on Gittin, Baba Metzia, and the more difficult portions, sugyot, of the Gemara. He also attended at the University the lectures of Professor Kampf on Isaiah, and of Professor Wessely on Hebrew philosophy.

    On his return to England he read the Moreh N’vuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) with Mr Zedner. During the period of his connection with Jews’ College (1863-1879) he taught Talmud, Poskim and the other branches of Rabbinical literature. He received his hattarat horaah [rabbinic ordination] from Chief Rabbi Rapoport and Rabbi Samuel Freund.

    He gave his first sermon in Swansea in 1859, when he was twenty, deputising for his father, who was unwell. After his return from abroad, he acted as his father’s secretary, taught Hebrew to the sons of the gentry and lectured at Jews’ College. He gave occasional sermons and took part in services on occasions such as the Ramsgate celebrations in 1862, when the Montefiore Synagogue was re-opened after repairs, and Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore, who were dear family friends, marked their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

    (On his copy of the order of service he wrote: “Had the honour to offer up this Prayer at Sir Moses’ Synagogue in Ramsgate on Sabbath. Hermann Adler.”)

    In 1863, the Bayswater Synagogue was established in Chichester Place, off the Harrow Road, to cater for Jewish migration beyond the West End. Two “Readers” were appointed, the Revds Isaac Samuel and Raphael Harris; Hermann Adler was elected to the then novel post of “Lecturer”, defeating A.P. Mendes, an impressive rival candidate who, as minister in Birmingham, was one of the first Jewish preachers to publish a collection of sermons in English. Adler remained at Bayswater for 27 years. He entered into his congregants’ affections to such an extent that he was “Dr Hermann” to everyone, and the anecdotes told about him became ever more apocryphal. (It is said that a lady worshipper at Bayswater requested a minister of another congregation to visit her husband, who was suffering from typhoid. “Surely you should go to Dr Adler,” said the minister concerned. But the lady explained, “I am far too fond of Dr Adler to let him run any risks!”)

    At this period the Anglo-Jewish pulpit was stabilising itself. Hitherto, vernacular sermons had been rare, and Bayswater showed advanced thinking in expecting regular preaching and selecting a minister largely on the basis of oratorical and not vocal talents. Adler’s sermons – some later published as Anglo-Jewish Memories, in 1909 – played a seminal role in creating a classical style of Anglo-Jewish preaching.

    To be sure, Cecil Roth called Nathan Marcus Adler “the father of the Anglo-Jewish pulpit” but, to be more accurate, Nathan Marcus was the grandfather. His sermons were long and ponderous and often lacked structure. He published no sermon collection although, from the time of his accession to office in the mid-1840s, the Jewish press reprinted or reported on his pulpit utterances at some length, reflecting the contrast with his predecessor, Solomon Hirschel, who rarely preached and was never comfortable in English. It was Herman Adler who was “the father of the Anglo-Jewish pulpit”. He kept a careful note of the sermons he gave and recorded exactly where and when each was delivered. Significantly, as this was the period when the great institutions of Anglo-Jewry (the United Synagogue, the Board of Guardians, etc.) were being shaped, his sermons, as his successor, Hermann Gollancz, said, “frequently set in motion those new departures in communal action which have now become hallowed by time and usefulness.”

    Adler’s sermons were well-prepared, well-reasoned and well-constructed. A Liverpool paper described his preaching in these terms:

    Dr Adler has a slight Hebrew accent in his voice, which, however, in preaching is scarcely perceptible. In the pulpit he is an eloquent and most fInished speaker, and commands a broad vocabulary of classical English. He possesses that peculiar chromatic richness of language – if I may use the phrase – which is often observable in deep students of Oriental literature.

    Another description (probably more realistic) of his presence in the pulpit is given by Dr Cyrus Adler, of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (a namesake but no relation). In his memoirs he writes:

    I also attended the Central Synagogue, as Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler was to preach there. He was a very sensible, plain-speaking preacher, far from being an orator. Very great respect was shown him when he was called up to the Law. The whole congregation rose as he walked to the Tebah, the reading desk, where he recited the prayer for the government.

    Adler’s Anglo-]ewish Memories indicates a broad concern with the problems of the time, by no means limited to the inner Jewish world of the preacher and his congregation. Thus, he writes in his preface that he has given prominence to sermons “delivered on occasions which moved our hearts both as Englishmen and as Jews”. Some of his sermons boldly confronted theological and ideological controversies. In 1869, he published a book of sermons refuting christological interpretations of the Bible. In the preface he emphasises that the book, though trenchant in its attacks on Christian scholars, “is intended for defence and not for offence.” (The British Museum catalogue devotes a page to a list of replies to this book. The New York Public Library catalogue states: “Suppressed by request of the British government”, though I have been unable to verify that this was the case.)

    Adler’s most significant literary work was as a polemicist. A last message to his family and community said: “I have tried to do everything in my power to check the growth of anti-Semitism”. He was in fact the major Victorian Anglo-Jewish leader to use the pen in defence of his people and faith.

    Even prior to his book refuting christology in Biblical interpretation, he had, as a very young man, collaborated with Dr Abraham Benisch, the scholarly editor of the Jewish Chronicle, in a Jewish reply to Bishop Colenso’s criticism of the Pentateuch. Later, he entered into literary controversies on issues such as religious evangelism, Jewish patriotism and shechitah. His debates with Professor Goldwin Smith were closely followed in Britain and abroad. He took part in several literary symposia, for example on “Immortality of the Soul” and “Irresponsible Wealth”; on the latter subject he shared a literary platform with Cardinal Manning and Prime Minister Gladstone. This material presents important evidence that a post¬emancipation rabbi could feel free to present the Jewish case (“for defence, and not for offence”) and at the same time hold office in public bodies and be on friendly terms with Church and public figures.

    Over the years, many stories circulated concerning his friendship with Christian ecclesiastics such as Cardinal Manning. On one occasion, Manning asked him when he would eat pork, and Adler replied: “At your wedding, Your Eminence!” He might have had to find a different answer today in view of the attacks on priestly celibacy. It was his association with ecclesiastics that prompted his adoption of clerical garb (and gaiters too, it is said) and his assumption of the title “The Very Reverend”. One wonders why he did not go higher and equate himself at least with a bishop, who is styled “The Right Reverend”. There was, as Cecil Roth put it, “an inevitable tendency for him to interpret his position almost in Anglican terms”.

    With all of this he raised the status of the Jewish ministry considerably vis-a-vis the gentile world. He gave the Chief Rabbinate a high, unique dignity, ensuring that the Jews would be accorded official representation in national life. Historians of Jewish emancipation in Britain rightly focus on the attainment of parliamentary emancipation in 1858, but need to give attention to the emergence of the Jewish minister as a public figure, and also, later in the century, to the official recognition of Judaism as a recognised faith in the navy and army, making it possible in 1892 for the first Jewish chaplain to be appointed in the person of the Revd, later Rabbi, Francis Lyon Cohen. As an indication of royal and national acknowledgment of Hermann Adler and the Chief Rabbinate, his friend Edward VII appointed him CVO. He had a slit made in his rabbinical tobes to conceal a section of the CVO insignia, thus ensuring that it no longer looked like a cross. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Oxford and St Andrews. Vanity Fair accompanied a magnificent Spy cartoon of him with a text which called him “the greatest Jew divine in the world”.

    Hermann Adler “undoubtedly was fashioned to much honour from his cradle”. All his life until 1890, when his father died, he was being groomed as a crown prince. As he said in his installation sermon as Chief Rabbi:

    I have grown up in your midst … In my paternal home, as a disciple and student, and subsequently, during a period of gradually increasing responsibilities, every detail has become familiar to me of the exalted office which I have been called upon, by the Providence of God and the voice of the community, to occupy.

    Between 1880 and 1890, still holding office at Bayswater, he was Delegate Chief Rabbi. His ageing father had moved to Brighton, though he kept in touch with affairs and did not hesitate to comment on the way Hermann was managing important issues. The old man was frank, in letters to his son, in his assessment of communal leaders; he sometimes criticises someone identified only by the Hebrew initials resh shin. The fact that once or twice he places the title Lord before the Hebrew initials shows that he was writing about Lord Rothschild, president of the United Synagogue. Hermann must have suffered from the long years in the wings, but retirement for Chief Rabbis had not yet been thought of. Hermann’s successor, JH Hertz, who had bitter battles with Sir Robert Waley Cohen, is said to have remarked: “Chief Rabbis never retire and rarely die”. Nathan Marcus Adler was in his early forties when he became Chief Rabbi; Hermann was only just over fifty, but there were signs of burnout, though he called a group of Jewish unemployed “fellow working men” and said that he worked longer hours than any of them.

    Elected Chief Rabbi in June 1891, he wrote to the Bayswater Synagogue:

    My official connection with your congregation has been to me a source of unqualified satisfaction. It has proved to me a well-spring of spiritual joy and mental comfort, more especially during the last twelve years, when the anxieties caused by the discharge of the duties of the Rabbinate began to press upon me. Pray be assured that I shall ever treasure, as the sunniest memories of my life, the considerable indulgence, the warm appreciation, the loyal friendship which has been evinced towards me by every worshipper at our beloved Synagogue.

    He assumed his new role under no illusions that Anglo-Jewry was still as it had been a generation earlier. It was a community in transition. Due to mass immigration, its numbers had multiplied over and over again: from 65,000 in 1880 to 300,000 in 1914. New congregations and institutions had arisen, “each of them”, as he put it, “needing some supervision, and making some rightful claim on the Chief Rabbi’s time and thought”. But it was not plain sailing. The community was not manageable any more. “How different are the elements of this population,” he said, “widely differing in their culture, ranging between the two extremes of the religious thermometer, each section needing a different kind of handling …” He told Ahad Ha’am that the Russian immigrants were not like the English and German Jews who made up the community in the days of his father. They were always quarrelling among themselves and finding fault with the religious standards of the establishment, and nothing he did would satisfy them.

    The lack of real communication between East End and West End (though the Chief Rabbi had residences in both places – one in the City and the other in Craven Hill, Bayswater) became an increasing problem. A newspaper columnist once dubbed Adler “the willing captive of the gilded gentry”. It is a clever phrase but rather unkind. After all Adler was, as Cecil Roth wrote, “a typical product of the placid Victorian era in Western Europe”. He had little experience of the turmoil and tribulations of life in Eastern Europe. Nor did he feel at home with noisy, untidy piety. His attempts to understand the newcomers were not enough. He and they moved in different worlds.

    Bookstamp of Rabbi Adler

    He feared that the East Enders would jeopardise the Jewish position in England. The communal gentry had worked so hard to cultivate an image of urbanity and breeding, but the newcomers did not place much store on such qualities. Some may think he was being too sensitive, but it is a fact that some practices of the immigrants could have put at risk the special status allowed to Jews in the areas of marriage and divorce law. To hasten the newcomers’ acculturation, he exerted himself as energetically as he could. His advice was always well-meaning; sometimes it was helpful. He urged the establishment of English classes, and gave a sermon in Yiddish urging immigrants to support them. He encouraged them to gain trade qualifications and enter industrial occupations. But sometimes his advice was bitterly resented. In 1889, Jewish victims of the East End sweatshops were involved in strike action. Adler preached a sermon on the issue, but showed little sympathy for the real grievances of the workers. He was more concerned to warn his audience against Socialist agitation. It might be added that the secular Jewishness of the agitators puzzled him, as it did many others who were unused to the spectrum of East European Jewry. By way of contrast, the different approach of the Haham, Moses Gaster, was more sensitive and better received by the working population.

    A major issue dividing West and East was the emergent Zionist movement. Adler had visited Palestine in 1885 and had given a warmly sympathetic sermon on his return. He also gave his blessing to a Maccabean pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1887. Indeed, Ahad Ha’am had the impression that the Chief Rabbi was in favour of the Hibbat Zion movement.

    But when it came to political Zionism, Adler stigmatised the movement as “an egregious blunder” and told the Anglo-Jewish Association: “We must be on our guard against fostering fantastic and visionary ideas about the re-establishment of a Jewish nation”. A few years earlier he had told Cassell’s Saturday Journal that “nobody whose opinion is of any weight” advocated that Palestine should be acquired by the Jewish people or that Jews should gather there as a nation, at least until the coming of the Messiah.

    The East End thought differently. In his history of Zionism in England, Paul Goodman writes:

    The public appearance of Dr Herzl in the East End of London set the teeming Jewish population in a state of ferment. The apocalyptic vision of a Jewish State about to be established … took hold of the Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who, in the drab lanes, courts and alleys of Whitechapel, were yearning in vain for that social and economic happiness which they had expected to find in the promised land of freedom … In the London Ghetto, as all over the vast Pale of Settlement in Russia, there was a revival of the dry bones, the awakening of a people that saw within its ken and grasp its long-lost freedom won again and its age-long martyrdom ended.

    The Chief Rabbi was impressed by Herzl’s personality, but would not support his proposals. Herzl alluded to him sarcastically as “a man from Germany … who would undoubtedly like to think of himself as a descendant of the Anglo-Saxons”. However, Herzl also met Solomon Alfred Adler, the Chief Rabbi’s son, who proved much more sympathetic to the Zionist cause.

    The major controversy between Hermann Adler and the immigrants was the Machzikei Hadath battle. The founders of the Machzikei Hadath communitywere determined to persuade the Chief Rabbi and the establishment that serious infringements of the laws of kashrut were occurring in London. But Adler (and his father) had to go to court on more than one occasion to defend the continuance of shechitah, and he feared that the attacks of the Machzikei Hadath could jeopardise the whole practice of kosher slaughter. Further, he argued that the system had not changed since the days of his father, and he would not admit that there were deficiencies that needed attention. The immigrants were not impressed. They had little confidence in an ecclesiastical system which had, they believed, “almost no one of whom to ask any question in Jewish law”.

    Each side asked eminent continental rabbis for letters of support. Hand-bills and posters containing accusations and counter-accusations inundated the East End. The dispute dragged on for years, although the establishment finally conceded a number of major points and eventually the Chief Rabbi found a more cordial reception in the East End. The Revd B. Schewzik was exaggerating somewhat in a memorial address for Adler, when he asserted that, to the East End Jews, the Chief Rabbi was “a father, a leader, a benefactor” and added: “Dr Adler had worked 16 hours a day of which he devoted 15 to the interests of the foreign Jews”. More realistically, the Jewish Chronicle wrote of “the markedly reverent reception accorded the departed ‘Rav’ when visiting a place of worship that had in the past been somewhat of a thorn in the body ecclesiastic.”

    Yet difficult though the East End was, it was not the only front on which Adler had battles on his hands. In the West too, there was restlessness, not emanating from what Zangwill called “rabid zealots, yearning for the piety of the good old times”, but from the complacent, respectable elements of the community, whose quest was for a more modern form of worship in the synagogue. A major example was the Hampstead movement, which came into being in 1889 in the hope of creating a synagogue combining elements of Orthodoxy and Reform, Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions. One of the last official decisions made by Nathan Marcus Adler was to reject many of their demands. Hermann Adler, still his father’s Delegate, was approached to see if a compromise could be reached. On some issues, he produced formulas ambiguous enough to uphold the letter of his father’s ruling but also able to satisfy the Hampstead committee. Further liturgical modifications were conceded soon after he assumed office as Chief Rabbi. But this was not the end of his problems with Hampstead. The committee wanted the Revd Morris Joseph as their minister, but Joseph had publicly opposed the restoration of the sacrificial system. Adler therefore refused to approve his appointment, stating that his views were “not in accord with the teachings of traditional Judaism”. The press and the community reverberated with the sound of the supporters of each party. But the ruling stood and, in 1893, a year after the Hampstead Synagogue opened, Morris Joseph became senior minister of the Reform Synagogue, although he and Adler remained on good terms personally. The Hampstead appointment went to the Revd A.A. Green.

    A more radical challenge came from the Jewish Religious Union, further to the religious left than the Reform movement. Led by Claude Goldsmid Montefiore and Lily H. Montagu, its original aim was not to create a new theology, but to win back to Judaism the drifters who were not attracted by traditional practices. Three United Synagogue ministers joined the movement, and the whole matter was treated with tolerant amusement by the community. But, before long, there came a manifesto indicating that this was not one more attempt to modify the liturgy, but an ideological movement that was bent on a radical theology based on principles which echoed those formulated by Montefiore in his controversial Hibbert Lectures.

    The Orthodox ministers were asked to withdraw, and Adler made a ruling denying the movement access to United Synagogue premises for their services. The Reform congregation was prepared to allow use of its building but its conditions were unacceptable to the Union. Adler gave a sermon called “The Old Paths”, in which he attacked the new movement, but with dignity and restraint. Later he declared that it was a new Judaism the Union was promoting, with many essentials of tradition being omitted or drastically whittled down. Instead of reclaiming the drifters, he said, the movement was promoting assimilation and encouraging disloyalty.

    His own ministers had immense respect for Adler. But even they had a problem with him or rather with the system which its detractors called Adlerism. The problem was the question of the rabbinical diploma.

    The Chief Rabbi, it has been well said, had no rabbis over whom to be chief; both Adlers followed the principle that one rabbi was enough for the community. If a minister sought hattarat hora’ah, he had to go abroad to get it, and even then there was little chance of the Chief Rabbi recognising his title. The first United Synagogue minister to go to the Continent for a rabbinical diploma was Simeon Singer. His motive was not personal aggrandisement or defiance of the Chief Rabbi. He wanted to show that English ministers “were competent to secure the Diploma from the greatest of European authorities”. Hermann Gollancz, by way of contrast, was a fighter. In 1897 he gained hattarat hora’ah in Galicia and insisted on his right to be called rabbi. (He refused to be called to the Torah in his own synagogue in Bayswater, where he had succeeded Adler, if he could not be called up as morenu harav, our Teacher, the Rabbi). Gollancz’s agitation, as he himself wrote, “gave rise to a storm in the hierarchical Chair which practically ended an anomalous and unsatisfactory state of affairs”. Eventually, in 1901, it was agreed that rabbinical diploma examinations could take place within Jews’ College, presided over by the Chief Rabbi.

    Hermann Adler’s 20 years as Chief Rabbi witnessed the greatest transition ever known in Anglo-Jewry. Ahad Ha’am called him “the most influential rabbi in all Judaism”. That he failed to solve all the problems that confronted him was inevitable in view of the new complexity of the community and the rise of new movements which he did not always fully understand.

    There were times when he scored triumphs of diplomacy within and outside the Jewish community. There were times when he was in hindsight too stubborn. There were also times when, as Zangwill put it, he “could scarcely do aught else than emit sonorous platitudes and remain in office”.

    That he worked himself hard is undeniable. To the end of his life he had a crowded schedule of appointments from morning to night. He paid pastoral Visits to innumerable congregations and appeared on countless platforms. His personal acceptability in ecclesiastical and court circles brought prestige to the Jewish community and made him one of the great figures of the land. The Revd Arthur Barnett, in his history of the Western Synagogue, tells how the Chief Rabbi managed to attend Edward VII’s coronation on a Saturday:

    In order that the Chief Rabbi could attend the ceremony he became the guest of the Congregation over the week-end. On that Sabbath morning a specially early Service was arranged, at which Dr Adler preached a Coronation Sermon, and after being entertained at a small breakfast, party, walked to the Abbey in his official robes, accompanied by Revd (H.) Davids (also in canonical garb) and honourably escorted by a posse of police. Unfortunate to relate, while he was away in the Abbey his travelling-case was stolen from the home of his host, as well as a pair of silver Sabbath candle-sticks – a sad reward for his loyalty!

    His seventieth birthday in May 1909 was widely celebrated. The long press reports of a reception given by Lord Rothschild indicate that, after all the storms, the occasion had brought forth an amazing sunshine of communal unity. But Adler’s last years were clouded by sadness. His only son, the Revd Solomon Alfred Adler, minister at Hope Place, Liverpool, and then at Hammersmith, was young and gifted, but suffered from chronic ill-health. He died in 1910; a posthumous book of his sermons was, with tragic appropriateness, entitled The Discipline of Sorrow. Some say that, had he lived, he might have established a chazzakah (precedent) by continuing into the third generation the Adler hold on the Chief Rabbinate.

    “Dr Hermann” was advised by his doctors to slow down, but this was a notion he did not understand. Yet, at the beginning of 1911, he must have been feeling very low. His son had just died. His own will was dated 31 January. On 25 February, his eldest brother, Marcus, died. On 27 February, he wrote a farewell message to his family and community. This began: “The death of my dear brother Marcus admonishes me to write these few lines with full trust in the goodness of Almighty God who I have endeavoured to serve all my life, though fully conscious of my weakness and imperfections.” He speaks movingly to and of his wife and children. He concludes: “I confess I think of the future of Anglo-Jewry with much misgiving … I am strongly convinced that to ensure the welfare of Judaism in this country, it is essential that a successor in the Rabbinate should be appointed with the least possible delay after my demise.” Knowing how demanding the burden was, he went on: “He must be a strong personality, strong in piety and learning, one who will be equally acceptable to the East and the West, and one who will preserve a good and cordial understanding between the East and the West, the native and the immigrants.”

    He died, aged 72, at his home at 6 Craven Hill, on 18 July 1911. In an obituary, David I Sandelson wrote:

    Never since the death of Dr Herzl, the great Zionist leader, has the Jewry of the world been so deeply stirred as now through the death of Dr Hermann Adler.

    Never was the community in greater need of his wonderful powers of organisation, his boundless tact than now. Never was his mature judgement, his sound counsel, his ripe experience more needed than now.

    How he dedicated his life to the service of his people! Truly was he called the hardest worked man in the Jewish community. His office in the city was the scene of incessant industry.

    His strength lay in his people s conviction that he was their representative, a type of their genius, an embodiment of their aims … He had a high and noble ambition: he sought the welfare of his oppressed brethren in dark lands and tended his flock – the Jews in the British Dominions, basking in the sunshine of freedom and liberty. The high office he held, he himself created. He invested it with a power equal in extent to the suzerainty of the British Crown itself. His life and work are as a radiant gleam of idealism amid a welter of materialism.

    Fulsome, maybe. But not an unfair summing up of “the most influential rabbi in all Judaism.”


    This owes a great deal to the Adler family papers in the Elkan Adler Collection in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. See Raymond Apple, Adleriana in Elkan Adler’s Collection: Preliminary Report for the Jewish Memorial Council on Research at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (November 1970).

    See also Rabbi Apple’s articles:
    Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler – “Willing captive of the gilded gentry”?
    London Jewry in the 1890s: The Religious Controversies.

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