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    United Synagogue – religious founders & leaders

    a century of anglo-jewish life 1870 1970 united synagogue raymond apple salmond levinThe following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared as a chapter in A Century of Anglo-Jewish Life: Lectures to Commemorate the Centenary of the United Synagogue, published by the United Synagogue, 1970.

    In 1870 the religious and lay leadership of the community rested alike in strong hands. The lay leaders will be described by Mr Finestein: my task is to portray some of those who were responsible for religious leadership during the first couple of generations in the history of the United Synagogue.[1]

    Nathan Marcus Adler was Chief Rabbi from 1845-90. In fact he and his son and successor, Hermann Adler, occupied the Chief Rabbinate for a total of sixty-six years, and some thought the office might have remained in the family for a third generation had Hermann’s son, Solomon Alfred Adler – minister in Liverpool and later in Hammersmith – survived his father.

    The Adlers had a firm hold on the community, and their policy – called by its critics “Adlerism” – of strong centralised religious government, to some extent still characterises Anglo-Jewry. Their impact on the British public is indicated by this Press comment: “Among possessors of Galton’s ‘Hereditary Genius’ there must be some who have amused themselves by adding to Galton’s table of kindred. One addition to his ‘Divines’ table might well be the Adler family, springing from Dr Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi from 1845 to 1890.”[2]

    The writer of this comment was not to know, but the family’s yichus goes back long before 1845.[3] They were kohanim and their surname was originally Kahn or Kayn. An ancestor was the author of the Yalkut Shimoni and they counted among their relatives and connections Rabbi Nathan Adler (“the pious”, 1741-1800), David Tevele Schiff, Chief Rabbi of London from 1765-91, and the Rothschilds and Worms. Their motto was k’nesher ya’ir kino, “as an eagle (=Adler) stirs up her nest” (Deut. 32:11) – a phrase to which, as we shall see, someone once gave an ingenious and uncomplimentary twist.

    Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler

    Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler

    Nathan Marcus Adler was born in Hanover on 15 January 1803. From an early age he was known as a rabbinic scholar: he obtained his rabbinical diploma in Würzburg in March 1828, and his doctorate from the University of Erlangen later in the same year. After a year as Rabbi of Oldenburg he became Chief Rabbi of Hanover, and on the death of Solomon Hirschell in 1842 he was one of thirteen candidates – none of them from England – for the English Chief Rabbinate. With 121 votes, Adler easily defeated the other two finalists – Hirsch Hirschfeld (13 votes) and Samson Raphael Hirsch (2 votes). The factors which weighed in Adler’s favour included his family connections with England, his Hanoverian birth, his combination of secular and rabbinic learning, his experience as an ecclesiastical administrator in Germany, and the fact that he was known to the Duke of Cambridge, who had previously been Viceroy of Hanover.

    He was the first Chief Rabbi to be elected on a broad basis of nation-wide congregational representation, and he set himself the task of systematically organising the religious life of the community. Within a month of his installation he wrote to congregations throughout the British Empire setting out his plans and priorities, which would be:

    1. Educational establishments, “from those which are calculated for infants… up to such as are to extend their salutary influence to the future, by training proper and efficient teachers;”

    2. Houses of worship: “it is necessary that quiet and decorum, dignity and solemnity should prevail there during divine worship, so that it may awaken the fear of the Lord, foster feelings of devotion, and promote brotherly union;”

    3. “Institutions which are of a purely religious character, and those which are established for the furtherance of charity and benevolence, for the cherishing of industrious habits and useful activity among our co-religionists.”

    He sent congregations a detailed questionnaire, to which replies came from the remotest parts of the British colonies, enabling him to make contact with many communities and to give them advice and assistance. He established himself as the almost unquestioned authority in everything that concerned Jewish life throughout England and the colonies. To his religious “empire-building” applies the Biblical verse, “At his word shall they go out, and at his word shall they come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him and all the congregation” (Num. 27:21). In 1847 he issued a booklet of laws and regulations for synagogues, making it clear that everything – the conduct of services, the appointment of an officiant, the formation of a congregation, the erection of a synagogue – was to be under his control.

    He was anxious that his authority should not be undermined in areas such as shechitah (where necessary, he insisted that a community dismiss a shochet, and at least once he was sued – unsuccessfully – for withdrawing a butcher’s licence), and marriage and divorce (even the Lord Chancellor was prepared to follow Adler’s view that a Jewish religious divorce should be valid per se in English law, but lay leaders such as David Salomons and Lionel de Rothschild opposed it).

    Cecil Roth called Adler “the father of the Anglo-Jewish pulpit.” He had come from a milieu in which preaching was becoming an established feature of the Orthodox synagogue; Adler himself was deemed “advanced” by Leopold Zunz because his inaugural sermon at Oldenburg in 1829 was in German. In England the situation was very different. The synagogues had readers but hardly any preachers. In 1846 a Jewish periodical complained that the “readers or so-called officiating ministers are, with a few exceptions, elected for their vocal capabilities.”[4] The need for preachers was stressed not only on its own merits but also as a weapon in the struggle for emancipation. The Jewish Chronicle declared on 12 January 1849: “We are anxious to obtain full emancipation; and would it not be a disgrace if we were told by our Christian opponents, that the Jews of England are so ignorant that they cannot find a lecturer in their community?” It should also be added that preaching was popular in nineteenth-century England, and this made the lack of “lecturers” in the Jewish community even more evident.

    Adler stressed and encouraged English preaching but it was clear that there was an urgent need for an institution to train ministers and teachers, and without this there would never be an adequate supply of preachers. Hence the establishment in 1855 of Jews’ College, at which there was also a day school until 1879. The JC ended its report of the meeting which launched the plan for the College with the words, “Thus ended the most important meeting ever held by the Jews of England.”[5]

    We must consider in detail Adler’s part in the foundation of the United Synagogue, which Cecil Roth called “perhaps Dr Nathan Adler’s greatest monument.” Dr Newman was right, in his opening lecture, to remind us that decades of development led up to the establishment of the U.S. and it did not all begin with some new, wonderful idea first propounded by the Chief Rabbi in his sukkah in 1866. But it is important to realise that the trends which grew over the years and culminated in 1870 were both in keeping with and influenced by Adler’s record of thinking and activity.

    We do not know exactly what was said in the sukkah in Finsbury Square, but what may have happened was this. The moves to unite the City Synagogues had struck difficulties, and bitter incidents had occurred which set the negotiations back. Sitting in his sukkah, the Chief Rabbi may have told the communal leaders how concerned he was at the situation. He may have said: “Is it not time for us to resolve to avoid such problems in the future, and to persevere energetically towards the final union of the congregations, allowing no obstacle to stand in our way?” Thus admonished, the lay leaders may have decided to throw themselves with fresh vigour into the movement for union.

    This interpretation of events is suggested by the preface to the first edition of the United Synagogue bye-laws, which states:

    Two members of one of the contracting Synagogues, … inadvertently accepted by another Synagogue, declined to resume the membership of the one to which they had originally belonged. A conference ensued between the Executives of the Great and New Synagogues on the point … endeavouring to prevent the possibility of a similar occurrence in the future. With the view of ensuring so desirable a consummation, the Revd Dr Nathan M Adler, Chief Rabbi, suggested to and impressed on the Wardens of the Great Synagogue, assembled round his table on the morning of the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, 5627-1866, the advisability of endeavouring to unite the Congregations under one management.

    This preface was drafted by Dr Asher Asher, the first secretary of the United Synagogue, and it appears to be the first literary reference to the “sukkah” story. The chances are that he was himself present in the sukkah and was describing events as they happened. The story is also told in the JC obituary of Adler: men must then still have been alive who were present in the sukkah, and they would surely have attempted to correct the facts had the story been false.

    In 1879 the now ageing Chief Rabbi must have sensed that his hold on the community was weakening. With reluctance he had to sanction some modifications in the synagogue services; and he also saw the closing of the Jews’ College school, which had been so dear to him. He went into semi-retirement in Hove, there to continue his literary work – his magnum opus, Netinah LaGer, an extensive commentary on Targum Onkelos, had appeared in Vilna in 1872.

    He died on 21 January 1890. The JC said in an editorial comment: “Had a man of smaller ability and with a less commanding personality occupied the Rabbinical chair, it is probable that the wholesale reforms and the undesirable extravagances that characterise American Judaism would have found their way into our community.” It is largely due to him that JH Hertz could say in 1931, “The United Synagogue has given its distinctive character to English Judaism.”[6]

    There were a few in the community who opposed Hermann Adler‘s succeeding his father in office, but his election was a foregone conclusion: indeed The Times solemnly informed its readers that Dr Hermann was a hereditary high priest.

    Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler

    Hermann Adler was born in Hanover on 29 May 1839 and he came to England as a child when his father became Chief Rabbi. He was educated at University College School and at University College and obtained his doctorate at Leipzig in 1862. He himself wrote concerning his Hebrew education, “Dr Hermann Adler’s first and last Teacher was his late lamented Father… 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…” He gained his rabbinical diploma in Prague in 1862.[7]

    On his return to England he acted as his father’s secretary and taught at Jews’ College and privately. When the Bayswater Synagogue was established, he became “lecturer” there, defeating AP Mendes of Birmingham in the election for the post. Bayswater was a large congregation and many of Hermann Adler’s members were men of influence. Hence “his pulpit utterances,” as his successor, Sir Hermann Gollancz, declared, “frequently set in motion those new departures in communal action which have now become hallowed by time and usefulness.”

    Though he involved himself in the lives of his congregants and was affectionately known by them as “Dr Hermann,” Hermann Adler’s services were from the beginning placed at the disposal of the whole community, and as the Crown Prince he took on an increasing share of his father’s rabbinic and public work. Thus the United Synagogue Council said of him in 1880, when he was officially appointed Delegate Chief Rabbi: “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 responsible duties from which Dr (NM) Adler is compelled to seek relief.”

    Hermann Adler brought English preaching to a peak. He produced a tremendous output of sermons, which were frequently published. A Liverpool paper declared: “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… which is often observable in deep students of Oriental literature.”[8]

    He wrote a great deal but made no major contribution to Jewish literature. His most significant literary efforts were as a polemicist. He was the leading nineteenth-century Jewish figure to use the pen in defence of Anglo-Jewry in time of attack. His literary controversies with Professor Goldwin Smith, in particular, were widely followed.[9]

    His polemical writings show that a post-emancipation rabbi could feel free to present the Jewish case (“for defence, and not for offence” as he put it) and at the same time hold office in public bodies and be on friendly terms with Church and public figures. It was his association with leading ecclesiastics that prompted his adoption of clerical garb and his assumption of the title, “The Very Reverend” (one wonders why he did not put himself on a par with at least 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.”

    He was Chief Rabbi from 1891-1911 and gave the office a high, unique dignity. But his succession to the Chief Rabbinate coincided with a change in the order of things within the community. The vast immigration from Eastern Europe was changing the character of Anglo-Jewry. Hermann Adler – “a typical product of the placid Victorian era in Western Europe,” as Cecil Roth called him – could not fully understand the immigrants, and they for their part could not fully understand a Chief Rabbi who was so different from the rabbis to whom they were accustomed.

    He feared that the uncultured ways of “our East End brethren” might threaten the Jewish position in England. Some may think he was unduly sensitive in this respect, but it is a fact that the immigrants did not always pay much attention to the requirements of English law in matters such as marriage and divorce. He did not always show much understanding of the problems of the East End working men. He had a constant fear of anarchism among them, and shared the prevalent prejudices against socialist movements. He also had little sympathy for the emergent Zionist movement which he stigmatised as “an egregious blunder,” warning the Anglo-Jewish Association: “We must be on our guard against fostering fantastic and visionary ideas about the re-establishment of a Jewish State and a Jewish nation.”

    The major religious controversy involving Hermann Adler and the immigrants was the Machzike Hadath battle. Ostensibly this concerned the standards of kashrut supervision in the community, and the fact that the establishment gradually tightened up its supervision shows that the immigrants did have a point, but the battle was fundamentally a kulturkampf between East and West. It took years before the dispute came to an end: and even then it was partly external factors which brought the parties together.[10]

    A further challenge to Hermann Adler’s authority is seen in the agitation that surrounded appointments to the London Beth Din. The early history of the Beth Din is obscure, but we know that in NM Adler’s time there was only one permanent dayan – Aaron Levy, who retired in 1872. Shortly afterwards the United Synagogue agreed to take over the Beth Hamedrash of which the Beth Din formed part.[11] Bernard Spiers was appointed a dayan in 1876 and before long Jacob Reinowitz, the original of Zangwill’s “Reb Shemuel”, began to serve as an unofficial dayan, succeeding (as the honorary officers of the U.S. said in 1890) in “wielding a powerful influence over the foreign element in the East End, an influence invariably exercised in the interests of peace and union.”

    After Reinowitz died, his son-in-law, Susman Cohen, was appointed in his place. (Cohen’s son-in-law was dayan HM Lazarus – thus providing three generations of dayanim from one family). Spiers died in 1901 and Cohen retired in 1906. The Beth Din was busier than ever before and the East Enders insisted on any new dayanim being Continental rabbis of unquestioned stature – but the Chief Rabbi appointed two “Englishmen” (Asher Feldman and Moses Hyamson). There was a furore, and finally Moses Avigdor Chaikin, minister of the Federation of Synagogues since 1901, was appointed a dayan in 1911. It was thus that the Beth Din developed the tradition of having at least one so-called “foreign” member, who did not always play the same part in communal life with the U.S. as did his colleagues.

    Other challenges confronted Hermann Adler. From the left-wing came the new theology propounded by Claude Montefiore in his Hibbert Lectures in 1892, developing into a movement out of which grew the Jewish Religious Union and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue. Even the middle-of-the-road establishment produced its signs of revolt in that major congregations, especially the newly-established Hampstead Synagogue, sought major concessions on matters of liturgy and ritual.

    There was restlessness in the ministry too, especially over the Chief Rabbi’s resistance to the idea of ministers assuming full rabbinical status. The Chief Rabbi, it was 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 a rabbinical diploma he had to go abroad to get it, and even then there was no guarantee that the Chief Rabbi would allow him to be called “rabbi”.

    The first U.S. minister to obtain a Continental hattarat hora’ah was Simeon Singer. His motive was not personal. He wanted to show that Englishmen “were competent to secure the Diploma from the greatest of European authorities” and he did not seek to embarrass the Chief Rabbi in any way.[12] Hermann Gollancz, however, was more of a fighter. In 1897 he gained the rabbinical diploma in Galicia and insisted on his right to be recognised as a rabbi. For years he refused to be called to the Torah at Bayswater (where he was the minister) as a mark of protest, and he often spent Shavuoth in Leeds, where he could be certain of being called up as “Morenu Harav”.

    Rabbi Hermann Gollancz

    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.”[13] Eventually, in 1901, it was agreed that rabbinical diploma examinations could take place within Jews’ College, presided over by the Chief Rabbi. No longer were Solomon Schechter’s words quite so damning: “The Jewish Clergy… is rapidly losing touch with the venerable Rabbi of Jewish tradition, whose chief office was to teach and to learn Torah. With us the duty of learning (or study of the Torah) seems to be of the least moment in the life of the minister… In his capacity as full Reverend, he is expected to divide his time between the offices of cantor, prayer, preacher, book-keeper, debt-collector, almoner, and social agitator… Occasionally rumour spreads anent some minister, that he neglects his duty to his congregation, through his being secretly addicted to Jewish learning. But such rumours often turn out to be sheer malice…”[14]

    Ahad Ha’Am described Hermann Adler in 1900 as “the most influential rabbi in all Judaism.” There is no doubt but that Adler’s tenure of the Chief Rabbinate gave the office great prestige, though at his death in 1911 some vital problems remained unsolved. It may be this that Dr Redcliffe Salaman had in mind when he said: “Of them (the Adlers) it might be said that if their crest was ‘an eagle stirring up her nest’, their motto might have been ‘let sleeping dogs lie’.”[15] It is a clever comment but an unfair one. Hermann Adler held office during the greatest period of transition in the whole of Anglo-Jewish history and the fact that he had his failures as well as his notable successes was perhaps inevitable.

    If we are to add the Adlers to any list of hereditary genius, we cannot omit the Gollanczes. Their lineage was not undistinguished and in England they became notable figures. Samuel Marcus Gollancz served the Hambro Synagogue for forty-five years; his eldest son, Hermann, succeeded Hermann Adler at Bayswater and was the first practising rabbi to be knighted; another son, Israel, who was also knighted, was a leading figure in the world of scholarship; and among other members of the family was the publisher, Victor Gollancz.

    Samuel Marcus, born in Witkowo, in the province of Posen, was both an accomplished chazan and a rabbinic scholar (one of his certificates of competence was from Hirsch Hirschfeld of Wollstein, who was one of Nathan Marcus Adler’s rivals for the position of Chief Rabbi in the 1840s). He came to England from Bremen in 1852 and remarked in his autobiography, “I soon made myself useful in my congregation and in others.”[16] This is an understatement. His family, as his son Hermann wrote, “in the course of time learnt what his congregation… never knew, namely the genius they possessed in their Chief Minister, the man who was a Hebrew and Talmudic scholar, an exceptionally fine writer (in composition and calligraphy) in Hebrew and German, a man of musical talent, an artistic designer, a carver by hand of objects in ivory and amber, specimens of which were on exhibition in the Museum at Bremen… He came to England at a time when German was scarcely taken up as a subject of study… He might easily have occupied the post of Professor in that department… No public official was ever held in greater regard by high and low, by rich and poor, than he was. He had a broad heart, without the least tinge of fanaticism, and he was a favourite with the many… He was, indeed, a persona grata with members of the various sections of the community, respected alike by the orthodox and ‘reform,’ by the foreign as well as the English element…”[17]

    Much can and must be said about his son Hermann Gollancz: or, one should say, Rabbi Professor Dr Sir Hermann Gollancz.[18] As a scholar, preacher, writer, and public figure he wielded an influence barely second to that of the Adlers. Born in Bremen in 1852, he gave his first sermon in his father’s Synagogue at the age of 20, and then held ministerial posts at St. John’s Wood, the New Synagogue, South Manchester and Dalston, and in 1892 he won an exciting election for the position of minister of the Bayswater Synagogue.

    He was the first Jew to obtain the highest degree of the University of London, namely the Doctorate of Literature, and he subsequently became Professor of Hebrew at University College. Can there ever have been an Anglo-Jewish minister whose contributions to Hebrew, Oriental and classical scholarship were as many and as important as those of Hermann Gollancz? (Thirty major items, including a number of critical editions of texts, are listed in his bibliography.) Nor has there been a minister with such a record of Jewish and general public activity and on such close terms with so many Church leaders and national figures.

    Gollancz retired from his position at Bayswater in 1922, when he was made Emeritus Minister of the United Synagogue – the one and only time this honour has ever been conferred by the U.S. A remarkable and unusual book records every stage of his career. Compiled by himself and published in 1928, it is entitled:


    The Story of a Professional Man’s
    Career told in Certificates, Testimonials, Congratulatory Messages,
    Letters and Addresses, Reports and Presentations, etc.,
    relating to
    M.A., D.Lit., Rabbi,
    Emeritus Minister of the United Synagogue, London,
    Emeritus Professor of Hebrew in the University of London
    University College

    Reading it through, it is clear that, but for his age, he may well have succeeded to the Chief Rabbinate in 1911 when Hermann Adler died.

    Sir Hermann’s brother, Sir Israel Gollancz, was lecturer in English at University College and then at Cambridge, and subsequently Professor of English at King’s College, London. He was a noted Shakespearian scholar and made a number of contributions to the study of English literature and philology. He was one of the founders of the British Academy, and its secretary from 1902 until his death in 1930, and he also had a hand in the establishment of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

    In the view of the Jewish Chronicle, “the typical Jewish clergyman of the Emancipation era” and indeed “in many ways the representative Jew of that period” was Aaron Levy Green.

    Born in London in 1821, he was officiating at the Great Synagogue at the age of 14. In 1838, when barely 17, he became reader at Bristol, where he gave occasional sermons in English. In due course he became such an eloquent and witty preacher that it was said of him, “He was certainly the minister who established in England the Jewish pulpit and made it felt to be a necessary adjunct of the Synagogue. There had been preachers before him, but when one heard some of them, one felt inclined to say ‘Thank God we have no Jewish pulpit’…”[19]

    In Bristol he became involved in public work and participated in the struggle for Jewish emancipation: one of his first writings was an attack on Dr George Croly, who had opposed the admission of Jews to Parliament. He returned to London in 1851 to be second reader at the Great Synagogue, and he became reader at the Portland Street Branch Synagogue (later renamed the Central Synagogue) on its establishment in 1855. One of his successors at the Central, Michael Adler, wrote that: “The Central Synagogue owed its prominence in the community as much to the remarkable personality of its minister as to the social status of its worshippers.”[20] His ministry developed into the kind of pastorate that Anglo-Jewry made distinctively its own, and his nephew, AA Green, said of him that it was he who, “more than any other man, created the position of the Jewish minister in this country.”[21] He played a leading role in communal life – at Jews’ College, to the library of which he left his books; in the Jewish Association for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge, the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Board of Guardians, the prison and hospital visitation scheme, and in a number of other institutions.

    He was a prolific writer. He was “Nemo” of the Jewish Chronicle and in that capacity was particularly influential at a time when the JC was a great agent for the fashioning of Jewish public opinion. The history of the JC records concerning his contributions: “They were especially appreciated for their sly hits at the foibles of the leaders of the community; the style was racy but not undignified; and the author showed that even rabbinic learning could be worn lightly and used, not without effect and not without diversion, as a missile.”[22] On religious matters he had liberal views and was often strongly criticised for them. Yet despite his attitude to Orthodoxy, he was highly respected by the Adlers.

    Like the Adlers and the Gollanczes, the Greens were prominent in the community’s religious leadership over two generations. AL Green’s nephew, Aaron Asher Green (born in London in 1860), shared his outlook in very many ways, and was in his turn the acknowledged representative figure of the Jewish ministry.[23] After holding posts in Sheffield and Sunderland, AA Green became minister of the Hampstead Synagogue in 1892, and a former pupil could testify that “he loved his flock and his flock loved him.”[24]

    AA Green was renowned for his quick wit, and memories of his effective repartee are still current in the community. But he was far from being merely a comedian. Within and far beyond the confines of his own congregation he carried out a great deal of welfare work. He was a frequent and popular lecturer on Judaism to Christian groups, and he also believed that young Jews should know something of the New Testament, though his attempt to introduce lessons on this subject into the syllabus of his senior class at Hampstead aroused tremendous controversy and had to be dropped. For some time Green was a regular contributor to the Jewish Chronicle, writing a weekly feature, “In the Communal Armchair”, signed with the pseudonym “Tatler”.[25] He was more favourably disposed towards Zionism than were some of his colleagues: in 1898 he wrote that he was “an ardent Zionist, anxious to see Palestine once more in possession of our people.”[26]

    Green was especially concerned with the welfare of the provincial minister and with the role of the ministry as a whole. Speaking of the Anglo-Jewish concept of the ministry in 1923 he declared: “However greatly such a ministry as ours has ultimately justified itself, its necessity originally arose not as a sign of strength and growth in Jewish feeling, but as a sign of recognisable weakness and decadence.”[27] And a few years later he said, in a lecture presided over by the president of the United Synagogue, that it would have been better for Jews’ College to have aimed at producing rabbinically qualified ministers from the start.[28] It is significant that Green and others of his colleagues, for all that they are said to represent a certain type of concept of the ministry, recognised their limitations and the inadequacies of the kind of ministry which had arisen in Anglo-Jewry.

    The first U.S. minister to obtain a rabbinical diploma – and hence by implication the first to try to narrow the gap between the pastor and the rabbi – was Simeon Singer.

    Rabbi Simeon Singer

    Like many of his contemporaries, Singer (born in London in 1848), was largely self-taught. After serving as headmaster of the Jews’ College school and as minister of the Borough Synagogue, he became minister of the New West End Synagogue on its foundation in 1879. He became known as the most eloquent preacher in the Jewish community, and the three volumes of his Literary Remains [29] indicate that he had a considerable homiletical flair. He was a loved and skilful teacher, he was involved in a wide variety of Jewish and general public work, and was also – in the words of the JC – “a champion beggar – one of the most successful that the community has ever possessed.”[30]

    He set himself the arduous task of becoming equipped to pass – on the Continent, since it was not possible in England – the rabbinical diploma. He did not use the title “Rabbi” (though Michael Friedlander, principal of Jews’ College, referred to him in an obituary tribute as “Rabbi Simeon Singer”).[31] Singer’s son-in-law, Israel Abrahams, wrote that Singer felt that the Jewish ministry in England “was drifting into an anomalous position… The absence of the (Rabbinical) Diploma in the case of the great majority of English ministers… was a far-reaching evil. In the minister in tended to produce indifference to learning, and in the laity disrespect of the minister.”[32]

    Singer’s great literary monument is the Authorised Daily Prayer Book, the publication of which in 1890 set the seal on the Adler policy of religious centralisation. Yet his religious views were often progressive and he advocated a number of innovations in the synagogue service. With AA Green and JF Stern, he associated himself with the Jewish Religious Union, established under the leadership of Claude Montefiore and Lily Montagu, though the three Orthodox ministers soon acceded to pressure to withdraw. Simeon’s withdrawal came after an appeal by Samuel Montagu (Lily Montagu’s father), in a letter dated April 1903; and indeed his participation in the JRU was his only major cause of controversy with his community.

    Singer was not a Zionist though it was in his home that Herzl first expounded to Anglo-Jewry his idea for a Jewish State. He also criticised the Yiddish language (though he spoke it himself), but this did not prevent him from championing the cause of the Jewish immigrant.

    In Morris Joseph we have a case of a minister who twice nearly served the U.S. – the first time, because his congregation did not join the United Synagogue until after his resignation, and the second time, because Hermann Adler vetoed his appointment.

    Joseph was born in London in 1848. He was minister of the North London Synagogue from 1868-74 (North London was not admitted to the U.S. until 1878) and of the Old Hebrew Congregation, Liverpool, from 1874-82. He resigned from the Liverpool position to take a long rest after a breakdown in health, and, moving to London, he was tutor in homiletics at Jews’ College from 1887-93.

    At the end of the 1880s, when the first moves were made to establish a synagogue in Hampstead, Joseph was among a number of Jewish intellectuals living in St. John’s Wood. After Nathan Marcus Adler had refused to concede some of the major points which the Hampstead committee had desired to introduce into their new synagogue, some of the disappointed local residents started Sabbath afternoon services on radical lines, with Morris Joseph usually officiating. Many people felt that Joseph would be the right man to become minister of the new congregation. He, however, had expressed unorthodox views at the Sabbath afternoon services, especially concerning the restoration of sacrifices. The Chief Rabbi therefore refused to sanction his appointment, and in 1893 Joseph became senior minister of the Reform Synagogue, though remaining on good terms with Hermann Adler and the Orthodox establishment.

    For forty years (1887-1927) JF Stern was minister of the East London Synagogue. Perhaps the most renowned social worker among the Anglo-Jewish ministry, he is still often spoken of as “the Jewish bishop of Stepney.”

    Stern, born in Bedford in 1865, never laid claim to scholarship or eloquence, but he succeeded in building up a network of social service which benefited Jews (and gentiles) throughout the East End. He was an active worker for, and in many cases had a hand in founding, organisations such as the first Jewish orphan aid society, the Jewish branch of the Children’s Country Holiday Fund, the Committee of Workers among the Jewish Poor, the Mile End Board of Guardians, and the Jewish Board of Guardians. He was a member of Stepney Borough Council and a well-known public figure in the district, receiving the CBE in 1929 for his social work.

    Stern’s dearest love was the children of the Stepney Jewish School: he knew almost all of them and maintained contact with them long after they had left school. To the Stepney Jewish Lads’ Club he was similarly devoted, and there are still many of his former proteges who recall him vividly and with affection.

    Like a number of his colleagues, Stern had a rather lenient attitude to some aspects of Jewish practice, and there was something of a furore in the community when it became known that he had expressed a wish to be cremated after his death.

    Francis Lyon Cohen, born in Aldershot in 1862, held ministerial office in South Hackney and then in Dublin, returning to London in 1886 to become minister of the Borough Synagogue. In the same year he became tutor in chazanuth at Jews’ College. During his association with the United Synagogue Cohen involved himself deeply in visitation and educational work, and his memories of Aldershot led to his taking an interest in military matters. He was an honorary officiating chaplain to the forces, organised Chanukah military services, and at the time of his death was chaplain to the Australian forces. He was also chaplain to the Jewish Lads’ Brigade from its establishment until he left England for Australia in 1905.

    Cohen was an authority on Jewish music. He wrote extensively on the subject, and contributed a large number of articles to the Jewish Encyclopaedia. With BL Moseley, he compiled a handbook of synagogue music and, with DM Davis, The Voice of Prayer and Praise, which to this day governs the musical tradition of the United Synagogue. It should be noted that it was at the Borough, during Cohen’s ministry, that the first mixed choir was introduced into a synagogue belonging to the Orthodox camp.

    In 1905 Cohen became chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and chairman of the local Beth Din, and held office for nearly thirty years. He became such a well-known religious leader and public figure in Australia that thousands of people turned out to attend his funeral, which was conducted by Rabbi Israel Brodie, who was then chief minister of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation.

    When the United Synagogue came into being, the first reader at the Great Synagogue was Simon Ascher, who was shortly to retire after forty years of service. (His letter thanking the U.S. Council for granting him a retirement pension is attached to the minutes of the first meeting of the Council, held in December 1870.) Ascher had a fine tenor voice. Morris Duparc, secretary of the Anglo-Jewish Association and managing editor of the Jewish Chronicle, wrote of him: “He was a ‘Master of Prayer’ in the truest sense of the term. Disdaining the vocal pyrotechnics, of which some of our present-day Cantors are so fond, his intonation of the Services was so beautiful that he enthralled the worshippers. To such an extent was this the case that the Synagogue was thronged at the mid-day service on Yom Kippur Katon, not alone by City men, but also by others who foregathered from all parts of London in order that they might hear him render the Selichoth appointed to be read that day.”[33]

    Ascher’s successor was Marcus Hast, who had been chief cantor in Breslau. Like Ascher, Hast served the Great for forty years. Hermann Mayerowitsch, in an essay on the chazanim of the Great Synagogue, wrote that Hast was “admired and revered by everyone” and added that he “inspired his congregation not by vocal feats of virtuosity, but by deep piety, extreme refinement of manner and by strict adherence to tradition.”[34] Hast was such an accomplished Hebraist that Nathan Marcus Adler said of him to the first Lord Rothschild: “His Hebrew is too good!”

    Hast was a prolific composer. His compositions, and those of JL Mombach, his choirmaster, form part of the repertoire of many English synagogues today. In his major work, Avodat Hakodesh, he carefully recorded the Great’s musical minhag, which still remains the United Synagogue pattern.

    Hast’s daughter, who was musically gifted in her own right, was the wife of Francis Lyon Cohen.

    Many dedicated and able men have toiled in the vineyard of the Lord as “religious founders and leaders” of the United Synagogue. They all deserve to be mentioned in a paper such as this. Limitations of space make this impossible, and I have had to content myself with making a selection (probably an invidious one) from among the notable figures who served in the U.S. ministry up to about the time of Hermann Adler’s death in 1911, portraying in outline their life, work and outlook. I am well aware that I have probably left out some names which I ought to have included. I hope the opportunity will be taken by the U.S., perhaps in conjunction with the Jewish Historical Society of England, to commission a full history of the Jewish ministry in England. Perhaps this would be an appropriate project to launch in 1972, which marks the centenary of the birth of Hermann Adler’s successor, Joseph Herman Hertz – a great leader and teacher in Israel, a man decisive and incisive, who gave firm, sometimes controversial, leadership to Jewry throughout one of the most momentous periods in the whole of Jewish history.


    1. I have limited myself to a selection of U.S. ministers in the period up to about the death of Hermann Adler in 1911. For the sake of the record I give here a list of the ministers of the constituent Synagogues in 1870:
    Dr Nathan Marcus Adler
    Reader: Revd Simon Ascher
    Reader and Secretary: Revd Moses Keizer
    Reader: Revd Samuel Marcus Gollancz
    Reader: Revd Abraham Barnett
    Reader and Secretary: Revd Isaac Cohen
    Reader: Revd Aaron Levy Green
    Reader and Secretary: Revd Samuel Lyons
    Preacher: Dr Hermann Adler
    Reader: Revd lsaac Samuel
    Reader and Secretary: Revd Raphael Harris

    2. East Anglian Times, 6 July 1963, in a review of The History of the Bayswater Synagogue, 1863-1963 by Olga Somech Phillips and Hyman A Simons, London, 1963.

    3. The Adler Family, by Marcus N Adler, London, 1909; and material in Adler collection at Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

    4. Cup of Salvation, vol. 1, no. 1, March 1846, ed. by DM Isaacs and Moses Samuel. Cf. History of Jews’ College, by Isidore Harris, London, 1906, pp. iv-vi; Jews’ College, London, by Albert M Hyamson. London, 1955, pp. 15-16.

    5. JC, 9 January 1854.

    6. Sermon at joint anniversary service of Jews’ College, the Jewish Religious Education Board and the United Synagogue, Great Synagogue, London, 23 March 1931.

    7. Hermann Adler, Yeshivah Bahur, Prague, 1860-1862, by A Schischa, in Remember the Days, ed. John M Shaftesley, London, 1966.

    8. The Porcupine, Liverpool, 8 May 1886.

    9. Some of the controversies in which Hermann Adler was involved centred around questions such as whether Jews were really patriots, whether Jews were tribalistic, whether Judaism was a missionary religion, etc.

    10. Different points of view are presented in A Fortress in Anglo-Jewry – the Story of the Machzike Hadath, by Bernard Homa, London, 1953, and The London Board for Schechita, 1804-1954, by Albert M Hyamson, London, 1954.

    11. Historical Sketch of the Beth Hamedrash, by Philip Ornstein, London, 1905.

    12. The Literary Remains of the Revd Simeon Singer: Sermons, with Memoir of Singer by Israel Abrahams, London, 1908, pp. xxix-xxx.

    13. Personalia, by Hermann Gollancz, London, 1928, p. 25.

    14. Studies in Judaism, 2nd series, p. 196 (from Epistles to the Jews of England, published in the JC, 1901).

    15. Lucien Wolf Memorial Lecture, 1953, p. 10.

    16. Biographical Sketches, by Samuel Marcus Gollancz, London, 1930, p.134.

    17. Ibid., pp. xiv-xvi.

    18. Personalia, by Hermann Gollancz, London, 1928.

    19. JC, 16 March 1883.

    20. Michael Adler, The History of the Central Synagogue, 1855-1905, London, 1905, p. 14.

    21. JC, 24 March 1911.

    22. (Cecil Roth,) The Jewish Chronicle, 1841-1941, London, 1949, pp. 85-86.

    23. Raymond Apple, The Hampstead Synagogue, 1892-1967, London, 1967, ch. 4.

    24. Henrietta Adler, in Sermons by the Revd A. A. Green, London, 1935, p. 12.

    25. (Cecil Roth,) The Jewish Chronicle, 1841-1941, London, 1949, pp. 136-8.

    26. Young Israel, Jan. 1898.

    27. Dedicatory sermon, Conference of Anglo-Jewish Preachers, 1923.

    28. JC, 10 Jan. 1930.

    29. ed. by Israel Abrahams, London, 1908.

    30. JC, 24 Aug. 1906.

    31. Ibid.

    32. Literary Remains, op. cit.

    33. JC Supplement, Jan. 1932.

    34. Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England, part 4 (Essays presented to EN Adler), pp. 91-2.

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