Presentation to Jewish Historical Society of England Israel Branch on Sunday, 30 May, 2010, by Rabbi Raymond Apple, emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue, SydneyIn September, 1897, Hermann Gollancz, preacher of the Bayswater Synagogue, came back to England from Galicia with rabbinical diplomas issued by great scholars. The community was in uproar because he had been unable to become a rabbi in England itself. He tells the story in a book published in 1928, “Personalia: The Story of a Professional Man’s Career told in Certificates, Testimonials, Congratulatory Messages, Letters and Addresses, Reports and Presentations, &c.” He comments:
“The acquisition of these ‘Certificates of Competence’, known as Hattarat Horaah, from … outstanding ecclesiastical authorities abroad, gave rise to a storm in the hierarchical Chair which practically ended an anomalous and unsatisfactory state of affairs – there was no system – in the Jewish community here, and in reality revolutionised the entire status of the Jewish Ministry in England. Once and for all there were defined, by means of a clear-cut Syllabus, the requirements in Hebrew and Rabbinics necessary to obtain the Diploma of Rabbi in this country, which had hitherto not been granted – a stronger term might be used – to any student or scholar, however competent. Those interested in the subject are referred to the letters of ‘Historicus’ who championed the cause in those days. Are they not written in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle?” (pages 23-25).
Up to the mid-19th century Anglo-Jewry had derived its rabbis from abroad. There were a few learned laymen, though few were born in England. The only English-born rabbi was Solomon Hirschell, who spent his youth on the Continent and returned as chief rabbi, but forty years in London did not make him into an Englishman. Synagogue functionaries had little Hebrew knowledge, and few were able to preach at any level or in any language.
But by the 1840s the community was sufficiently anglicised to keep its records in English, and the Jewish press resounded with calls for “lecturers”, i.e. preachers. Jewish knowledge was at a low ebb, missionaries were enticing some Jews into Christianity, and there was no orthodox answer to the reform minister David Woolf Marks, who was developing a powerful pulpit.
Sermons were also believed to be necessary to the movement for political emancipation. The respectability of Anglo-Jewry would continue to be at stake whilst synagogue services were chaotic and when Jewish ministers could not expound the Scriptures to their English-speaking congregants.
Some officiants possessed Talmudic knowledge brought from across the Channel, but they lacked English education. A few who spoke reasonable English picked up a smattering of rabbinic learning. But none was able or encouraged to seek ordination, and some were simply not interested. There were exceptions – often self-taught – such as Tobias Goodman, Morris Raphall, Henry Abraham Henry, Abraham Pereira Mendes, David Aaron de Sola and Asher Levy Green, but most congregations were uninterested in having a scholarly functionary. Even after 1855 when Jews’ College began training ministers, many students could not afford to spend long years in study. DW Marks had been Solomon Hirschell’s protégé and even read the Mishnah to Mrs Hirschell when her sight failed. But when Marks publicly attacked rabbinic tradition, Hirschell regarded him as a traitor and would have been aghast had he sought a rabbinic title.
Hirschell’s successor, Nathan Marcus Adler, turned the ministry into a profession, but rabbinic ordination was not even on the agenda. The ministers – even members of the Beth Din such as Aaron Levy, Jacob Reinowitz, Susman Cohen and Bernard Spiers – were all styled “Reverend”.
This led communal wits to remark that the chief rabbi had no rabbis over whom to be chief: one writer called him a general without an army. The “Reverend” title was part of the Anglicanisation of the synagogue: k’lei kodesh were clergy, chazanim were precentors, parnasim were wardens, and shammashim beadles or sextons. Minhag Anglia, “The English Usage”, believed that Jews were not only in England but of England. Everything English was their model. When Sir Moses Montefiore set off on his journeys with the blessing of his sovereign, Jews in less emancipated countries were lost in awe. It almost seemed out of character for the British queen to decline to make him a peer or for anyone to argue against having Jews in parliament.
Nathan Marcus Adler did not create Minhag Anglia, but he seemed to. He also appeared to be the father of the Anglo-Jewish pulpit, though vernacular preaching began before his incumbency, and he was also credited with fashioning the United Synagogue and other leading institutions and standardising the English Ashkenazi liturgy. By the end of his long reign, however, Minhag Anglia was already under challenge, and his son and successor Hermann Adler could not always handle the attacks.
Both the Adlers had been ordained in the traditional halachic manner and the father in particular maintained constant correspondence and other contacts with rabbinic figures on the Continent. He was certainly equipped to bestow rabbinic ordination, and there might have been a handful of candidates, but he never chose to do so. According to his son Elkan, he held back from ordaining anyone out of modesty, presumably fearing that he might grant the rabbinic title to unworthy candidates. A less charitable view regarded the Adler policy as a means of maintaining his grip on power.
Yet in his last years Adler was not unscathed. A particular issue was the status of immigrant rabbis and maggidim (preachers). Adler decreed that anyone who wished to exercise religious functions needed his sanction. When the “Polish Maggid” (the nickname later changed to “Russian Maggid”), Zvi Hirsch Dainow, began to function in the East End of London in 1874, Adler insisted that he place himself under the rabbinate’s authority. Dainow objected, and the “Jewish World” (10 July, 1874) observed, “It is surprising with what pertinacity this gentleman defies the charge of the Rev. the Chief Rabbi that he not be permitted to preach under ecclesiastical sanction… The Maggid is represented to us as being a man of portly and noble presence, a king among men, eloquent, impressive in his didactic teachings, and a person of the greatest intelligence and mental capacity. His influence among his countrymen is extraordinary.”
Then the paper changed its tune and said, “The action of the Chief Rabbi with respect to this individual appears to us inexplicable. It has aroused among Poles of the East End of London a large amount of antagonism…” It must be said that Dainow had been a controversial figure in Russia, where it was alleged that under the guise of a maggid he had been promoting untraditional doctrines. Adler eventually relented to some extent and allowed Dainow to preach, though not in synagogues under his direct control. However, the misgivings were not universal. Some of the official ministers were impressed by Dainow’s oratory, several of the anglicised lay leaders contributed to his upkeep, and the Maggid’s death in London in 1877 was deeply mourned.
The immigrant population in the East End was still relatively small at this stage, and Adler and the official community were sure of themselves. But by the 1890s there was a new and more complicated situation. The immigration wave had grown and brought many strictly orthodox Jews to Britain. Anglo-Jewry was no longer a relatively homogeneous community, and having only one rabbi was no longer an option.
The immigrants included Continental rabbis who challenged the religious standards of the establishment. The Machzikei HaDath congregation arose out of this culture of defiance and set up its own kashrut system. The orthodox complained that there was no-one in England to whom they could bring a religious question. They were used to rabbis, not “ministers” who dressed, acted and spoke like Christian preachers and often lacked Talmudic knowledge, who had neither the erudition of the Talmudist nor the charisma of the maggid (JC, 6 May, 1932). A Yiddish weekly, “Hatzophe”, was sure that a cheder boy knew more than a “Reverend” (though it also kept an eye on the “real” rabbis in case of religious backsliding).
Still there were some strange alliances, such as the friendship between the Kamenitzer Maggid, Chaim Zundel Maccoby, and the anglicised minister of the Hampstead Synagogue, Rev Aaron Asher Green. A champion of Minhag Anglia, Hyman A Simons, said that “The old-fashioned ministers may not have been the greatest of Talmudists – though some undoubtedly were – but they were men of wide learning, breadth of vision, humanity and above all were imbued with a sense of service” (JC Supplement, 28 September, 1977).
Those ministers who possessed rabbinic learning, such as Simeon Singer of the New West End Synagogue (previously minister of the Borough Synagogue), realised they had to go abroad for ordination. Singer had begun rabbinical studies with Dayan Jacob Reinowitz of the London Beth Din in 1879, and obtained his rabbinical diploma in 1890 from Isaac Hirsch Weiss of Vienna, author of “Dor Dor V’Dor’shav”. He had followed a demanding three-year course of study with Weiss and underwent a series of written and oral examinations. Singer had feared that Anglo-Jewish ministers were becoming indifferent to traditional learning and believed that the community would suffer in the long run. (One might, however, ask how Singer, despite his orthodox affiliation and ideology, could support the liberal Jewish Religious Union.)
Nonetheless Singer did not seek personal aggrandisement and continued to call himself “Reverend”. Hermann Gollancz was more confrontationist and would not acquiesce in an anomaly. He insisted that his rabbinic title be recognised, and he would abandon his Bayswater pulpit every Shavu’ot and go to Leeds, where he could be called to the Torah as HaRav. Gollancz’s brother Israel was the great champion of change in the system; he may have been the “Historicus” to whom his brother alluded. (They were the sons of Rabbi – known in England as Rev – Samuel Marcus Gollancz, minister of the Hambro’ Synagogue; both were knighted for services to scholarship.)
Yet years before, people were already calling for local facilities for rabbinic ordination: a Jewish Chronicle writer asked, “Must a man go to Breslau to learn to be a rabbi?” (JC, 12 Jan, 1872). The teachers at the Breslau seminary, established a year before Jews’ College, included some of the great names in Jewish scholarship, and no-one seems to have argued that the title “Rabbiner” harmed German-speaking Jewry – though there was a bon mot that said that when the rabbis became doctors, Judaism became sick.
The Sephardi Haham, Moses Gaster, a holder of Continental ordination, saw no reason to support a policy which he thought limiting and demeaning. He was a strong character who did not always see eye to eye with the Adlers. At Montefiore College, Ramsgate, he began by ordaining two former Jews’ College students (Henry Barnstein and William Greenburg) in 1895, but when both became reform rabbis in the USA, he had to desist, though he later ordained a United Synagogue minister, Harris Cohen (who had first been examined by Gollancz), against the strong protests of the chief rabbinate.
At Jews’ College the original scheme of studies had not envisaged ordaining rabbis. What changed the policy was a strange set of circumstances. In order to affiliate with London University, a new academic structure had to be formulated in 1883. This envisaged a three-level course that in theory would lead up to ordination, though students who passed the “third examination” and earned the title of Fellow of Jews’ College, were to receive their rabbinic authorisation from the chief rabbi and not the college.
Nonetheless, the new structure was not activated for some years. The first to pass the “third examination” were Solomon Levy (1896), Asher Feldman and Abraham Wolf (1898), BN Michelson (1899), Michael Adler (1900) and Maurice Simon (1901). None used the title of rabbi; all continued to be styled “Rev”.
Even when Feldman joined the London Beth Din he was known as “The Rev Dayan Feldman”. Wolf was kept on the list of rabbinical graduates even when he became minister of the Manchester Reform Synagogue in 1901 – a strange anomaly when two later graduates were stripped of the rabbinic title after they left orthodoxy. It must be said, however, that by this stage the bitterness toward the London Reform Synagogue had waned, and in Manchester orthodox and reform ministers occasionally occupied each other’s pulpits.
Some United Synagogue ministers including Simeon Singer had an early association with the emergent Liberal movement, though Hermann Adler insisted they withdraw. Of the other names on the College list, Maurice Simon never practised as a minister but wrote and edited scholarly works.
Under pressure from Israel Gollancz, the College decided in 1900 to provide an internal course of study for rabbinic ordination so long as the candidate also had a university degree. The College Council resolved, “That Jews’ College, in pursuance of its objects as a Training College for Jewish Rabbis, shall take the necessary measures to obtain the Rabbinical Diploma, as the result of the Examination conducted within the College for students who are worthy of the same, by reason of their religious and moral life and of their learning”. Yet not until 1908 were such students called “Rabbi”: the first were Barnet Isaac Cohen of Sheffield (1908) and Harris M. Lazarus of Brondesbury (1909). Lazarus was later a member of the London Beth Din.
In 1905 Francis Lyon Cohen of the Borough Synagogue was ordained by the Chief Rabbi. Appointed to the Great Synagogue, Sydney, he was required to gain ordination, though Hermann Adler and some of the dayanim doubted the orthodoxy of his views. Cohen had been a Jews’ College student and was now a part-time lecturer at the College. Like others of his colleagues, his orthodoxy appears to have been somewhat elastic, and later in his career he was prepared to endorse changes in halachah which even his own lay leaders suspected would not meet the favour of the chief rabbi.
Cohen’s rabbinical diploma was regarded as essential to the functioning of the Sydney Beth Din, which hitherto had lacked an ordained chairman, necessitating the referral of most issues to London or at least to Melbourne, where the head of the Beth Din, Dr Joseph Abrahams – also known as “Rev” – had a Continental rabbinical diploma.
On the other hand, in 1899 Adler bestowed rabbinical status on a scholarly orthodox minister, Moses Hyamson, a former student of the College. Like Feldman, Hyamson became a dayan of the Beth Din. He was acting Chief Rabbi from 1911 until the appointment of Joseph Herman Hertz in 1913. Disappointed that his own candidature was unsuccessful, Hyamson went to New York and became rabbi of Orach Chayyim Congregation, the synagogue from which Hertz had come to London. He was also professor of Codes at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the institution which had ordained Hertz.
The ordination of both Feldman and Hyamson had been conditional on not exercising rabbinical authority other than under the supervision of the chief rabbi, but many in the College Council and the community felt that Adler was allowing personal feelings to intrude upon matters which should be governed by evident objectivity.
The first Jewish Year Book, issued in 1899, recorded 49 ministers (there actually were at least double that number since the list generally omits the leaders of the immigrant chevrot). More than half were not English-born: only 20 had studied at Jews’ College and 12 had university degrees. Six were named as rabbis; the May and June, 1899, issues of the magazine “Israel” listed the following rabbis, all ordained on the Continent:
Dr Hermann Adler, Chief Rabbi
Dr Moses Gaster, Haham
Dayan Bernard Spiers
Dayan Susman Cohen
Rabbi Simeon Singer (the only one born in England)
Rabbi Samuel Marcus Gollancz
Rabbi Hermann Gollancz
Rabbi Joseph Kohn Zedek
Rabbi Abraham Werner
Rabbi Moses Avigdor Chaikin
Rabbi Dr Joseph Strauss (incumbent of a reform pulpit)
Rabbi Dr Berendt Salomon
Rabbi Moses Hyamson
Rabbi N Lipman, chief shochet
There is no mention of the early rabbinical graduates of Jews’ College, Solomon Levy (1896), Asher Feldman (1898) or Abraham Wolf (1898).
The “foreign” rabbis functioned mostly in the East End and were often in conflict with the chief rabbi (even those he most respected such as Dayan Moses Avigdor Chaikin had to be known as “Reverend”). Adler was seen as so aloof from the immigrant community that there were suggestions that he appoint a rabbi to represent him in the East End.
The “foreigners” objected to the Jews’ College rabbis: H Jerevitch wrote in the JC that nothing would “induce the foreign Jew to recognise the rule of English-manufactured rabbis”. To Adler’s credit his message to the community before his death in 1911 was to find a successor who would be acceptable both to the East and the West.
Was there any common ground between the Reverends and the “foreign” rabbis? Were the Reverends – whom a later principal of Jews’ College, Adolph Buechler, called “half-baked products of unsuccessful training imposed upon a helpless congregation” – really satisfied with their lot as pastors and functionaries? Some must have been; but a different perspective is provided by Solomon Schechter, a trenchant critic of the Anglo-Jewish scene.
He blames the system, with the power it vested in the petty tyrants who often became synagogue wardens. In his “Four Epistles to the Jews of England” (1901, pages 11-15), Schechter calls the minister “the most hard-worked m(a)n… labouring under a cruel system, reducing man to a mere plaything of politico-economic forces, … 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… seems to be of the least moment in the life of the minister. As long as he is in statu pupillari, most of his energies are directed towards acquiring the amount of secular learning necessary for the obtaining of a University degree, whilst 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. No leisure is left to him to enable him to increase his scanty stock of Hebrew knowledge acquired in his undergraduate days. Occasionally rumour spreads anent some minister, that he neglects his duty to his congregation, through his being strictly addicted to Jewish learning. But such rumours often turn out to be sheer malice…”
It took another forty-odd years for Jews’ College under Rabbi Dr Isidore Epstein to open a full rabbinical faculty with Rabbi Kopel Kahana in charge. In the meantime the College continued to produce ministers with the title “Reverend”, though in Buechler’s time many students with a BA degree took synagogue posts without completing the minister’s diploma. Not all College students entered the ministry; a number became synagogue wardens and did not always give their ministers an easy time. In time, many ministers upgraded their qualifications to become rabbis. Some received the title “rabbi” honoris causa in recognition of long service to the community.
In the meantime, whilst the reign of the Reverends continued, unqualified officiants secured positions against the protests of both the chief rabbinate and the real Reverends. There were even poultry sealers and minyan men who assumed the title of Reverend and started wearing the clerical collar which most of the ministers used. The communal wits even said of certain ministers that they did not even remove their collars in bed at night.
A century after Gollancz’s storm, hardly any Reverends were left. In the orthodox community almost every minister was a rabbi, many having studied at yeshivot – not only in Britain, but in Israel, USA and other places. In recent years Jews’ College, after changing its name to the London School of Jewish Studies, ceased publishing the list of men who had passed the minister’s diploma, and enumerated only its rabbinical graduates. Eventually the College closed its rabbinic department altogether, to the dismay of alumni who remembered with affection and admiration the scholars and chochmat yisra’el which they encountered at the College.
The role of the British rabbi is now much more traditional, and halachic knowledge and observance are much more highly esteemed. Hyman A Simons wrote, “The Anglo-Jewish minister was a peculiarly British phenomenon who flourished in the 19th century… The congregational rabbi… is an entirely different figure” (JC Supplement, 28 Sep., 1977). It is a new world.