Remembering a giant of British and Conservative Jewry
On July 1, Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs died at the age of 85. A founder of the British Conservative movement, he was a giant in the life of our coreligionists in the United Kingdom and in the annals of the Conservative movements International Rabbinical Assembly.
In a survey conducted last December by Londons The Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Jacobs was voted the greatest British Jew of all time. Well-known for his remarkable preaching and writing, he authored more than 50 books on topics ranging from Jewish mysticism and hasidic prayer to Jewish faith, theology, and Halacha.
Rabbi Jacobs was ousted in the early 1960s from Englands United Synagogue (Orthodox) establishment by former Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. The so-called Jacobs Affair represented Rabbi Brodies response to the publication of Rabbi Jacobs We Have Reason to Believe. This popular volume applied critical biblical scholarship to the Jewish understanding of Torah. The chief rabbinates ban meant that Rabbi Jacobs could no longer serve in a United Synagogue pulpit.
In response, Rabbi Jacobs supporters established the independent community based in the New London Synagogue, launching what became the United Kingdoms Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. Under Rabbi Jacobs guidance, the New London Synagogue came to offer a unique blend of tradition and modernity, traditional in practice and nonjudgmental in outlook.
Inspired by Rabbi Jacobs, the AMS blossomed into a small, yet growing, segment of British Jewry. More than 3,100 adults are served by 11 kehillot, AMS synagogue communities, located in London, St. Albans, Leeds, Oxford, and Manchester. These congregations are affiliates of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues.
Playing a pivotal part of the councils European region, the AMS has offered one of British Jewrys most dynamic youth movements, NOAM (Noar Masorti), serving 550 active members. This summer, 400 NOAM youths will participate in sleep-away camps in the British countryside or in Spain. An additional 120 young people will experience a multi-week NOAM Israel tour. More than 100 NOAM counselors will staff these programs and serve as NOAMs governing authority.
In addition, 15 post-high school NOAM students will study for the year in the 10-month Drachim program, a formal learning opportunity in Israel. NOAM alumni continue their engagement within the UK through MAROM (Mercaz Ruchani uMasorti), the British affiliate of the World Councils organization for young adults ages 18-30. Approximately 250 young adults are associated with British MAROM, which provides a weekly beit midrash, weekend seminars, and other educational, social, and cultural activities.
Adult learning as well as social justice projects thrive under the leadership of Rabbi Jacobs disciples and colleagues, among them community rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg, Chaim Weiner, Jeremy Collick, Reuven Hammer, Jeremy Gordon, and Joel Levy and cantors Stephen Cotsen and Jacky Chernett. The AMS engages in effective outreach to Jews in Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, and elsewhere in Europe. The organization disperses weekly Reflections on the Torah portion and makes available popular books by Rabbis Jacobs, Wittenberg, and Hammer. Conversions, divorce proceedings, and complex issues in Jewish law are tackled by Rabbi Chaim Weiner and the London-based European Masorti Bet Din.
The death of Rabbi Jacobs leaves a great void for British and world Jewry. His absence will be felt acutely by the International Rabbinical Assembly and by the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues. Rabbi Jacobs life and achievements inspired the birth and blossoming of a young, creative British Masorti movement. His authentic scholarship in the pursuit of truth embedded in an adherence to the Jewish tradition of Emet V'Emunah or truth and faith, the summing up of Conservative Judaisms statement of principles.
The memory of Rabbi Jacobs remarkable life and learning will remain a source of great blessing.
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