Synagogue histories inevitably focus on the roll-call of rabbis. Almost as interesting, but generally left out, are the rabbis the Great Synagogue, Sydney, never had – with the associated question, how different would things have been if one of them had been appointed? I am not speaking particularly about assistant rabbis who were passed over for the senior position. That is a subject all of its own and rather sensitive. But I know of several cases of rabbis who were approached and decided not to put their names forward.
Rabbi Leo Jung, for example. He relates in his autobiography (“The Path of a Pioneer: The Autobiography of Leo Jung”, 1980, page 42) that in 1919 his father, Rabbi Meir Jung of the Federation of Synagogues in London, received an enquiry about him from Sydney, Australia. Other positions offered to him were in Leeds, England; Shanghai, China; and Cleveland, Ohio. Chief Rabbi Hertz urged him to become chief rabbi of Capetown. Rabbi Jung was not attracted by Australia or Leeds. His father said that Capetown and Shanghai were too far away, so he accepted a post in the United States.
When Rabbi Cohen died in 1934 the Great Synagogue pulpit was offered to Rabbi Jacob Danglow of Melbourne, brother-in-law of John Goulston, the Synagogue president. Rabbi Danglow declined and stayed at St Kilda Synagogue for over 52 years.
After Rabbi Levy left Sydney amid much controversy in 1938, an approach was made to Rabbi Morris Swift, whose brother, Rabbi Isaac L Swift, later came to Australia as rabbi of the Central Synagogue. Rabbi Swift declined the offer.
To play with hypotheticals is only guess work, and no-one can be certain what would have happened had any of these rabbis become our incumbent.
The safest surmise is in relation to Rabbi Danglow. Under him the Englishness of the Great Synagogue is unlikely to have changed. St Kilda and the Great were and are similar – Minhag Anglia in action. Rabbi Danglow was in those days, like Rabbi Cohen, no great supporter of political Zionism, though Cohen was aggressive in his opposition. From Sydney Danglow would presumably have still supported Sir Isaac Isaacs’ campaign against Zionism, though he later came to terms with Zionism and visited Israel.
Rabbi Jung had a long career in the United States as the trailblazer for a revived orthodoxy and a dynamic speaker, writer and leader. Australia would not have been able to hold him, though he might have made the Great Synagogue more orthodox. He probably would have clashed with Rabbi Cohen much more than Rabbi Falk did.
Rabbi Swift served as a rabbi in Britain, South Africa and the USA, and became the often stormy face of the London Beth Din. He too would have tried to make the Great Synagogue more orthodox (it is highly unlikely that the Great would have had the opposite effect on him) and he would have left after a few years, possibly staying until after the war.