Chaim Heilpern


The Jewish Chronicle - - Features 23 -

ACOMMUNAL AND re­li­gious leader in Manch­ester for over 70 years, Rev­erend Chaim Heilpern was the last sur­viv­ing founder of the Machzikei Hadass Manch­ester com­mu­ni­ties, writes Dr Yaakov Wise.

He rep­re­sented var­i­ous Manch­ester syn­a­gogues and lat­terly the Ini­ti­a­tion So­ci­ety — the na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion of mo­he­lim (cir­cum­cis­ers) — on the Board of Deputies for a record 51 years from 1945 to 1996. He served on the Manch­ester She­chi­tah Board, of­ten con­tro­ver­sially, and on the Board of Deputies’ she­chi­tah com­mit­tee.

Chaim Ja­cob Heilpern was a younger son of Her­shel Heilpern, a Belzer Chas­sid from Brody, Gali­cia, who had mar­ried a daugh­ter of Eliezer Adler, founder of the Gateshead He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion.

Her­shel came to Eng­land in the late 19th cen­tury with his par­ents, es­cap­ing the eco­nomic hard­ship and en­trenched an­tisemitism of the Aus­troHun­gar­ian em­pire. In Brody they had im­ported cloth. Now they be­came tex­tile mer­chants in Manch­ester.

Her­shel moved to Gateshead on mar­riage. How­ever, the Na­tional Reg­is­tra­tion Act 1915 pro­hib­ited “en­emy aliens” from liv­ing close to the coast or a ship­yard. Her­shel, still an Aus­trian cit­i­zen and tech­ni­cally an en­emy alien dur­ing the First World War, was forced back to Manch­ester.

Young Chaim was ed­u­cated at Gre­cian Street School, Higher Broughton, Manch­ester Gram­mar School (where he ex­celled in English) and Manch­ester Yeshivah, whose ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in­cluded both his grand­fa­ther El­cho­nen (Chuna) Heilpern and his fa­ther. In sum­mer 1925 the Machzikei Hadass or­gan­i­sa­tion was founded by a small group of mainly Belzer Chas­sidim from Brody around Her­shel Heilpern’s din­ing room in Higher Broughton.

Chaim, aged 11, was al­lowed to sit “un­der the ta­ble” for his ini­ti­a­tion into Jewish com­mu­nal pol­i­tics.

In 1932 Chaim, aged 18, and his brother, Aaron, were sus­pended from the yeshiv­ah­forde­mand­ingth­attheschool re­scind its de­ci­sion to hire as Talmud lec­turer the Rev­erend Meir Wal­len­stein, a dis­tin­guished Lon­don Univer- sity grad­u­ate in Semitics. They deemed him not suf­fi­ciently Ortho­dox.

The aca­demic went on to lec­ture at Manch­ester Univer­sity and the boys were al­lowed back into class al­though their fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were forced to re­sign from the ex­ec­u­tive for sup­port­ing their off­spring’s re­bel­lion.

Whilst still a stu­dent, Chaim ob­tained part-time em­ploy­ment, with­out the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion of the Rosh Yeshivah (prin­ci­pal), as a chazan sheni, the sec­ond reader who reads the Shab­bat To­rah por­tion.

He did this in small syn­a­gogues be­fore tak­ing up the po­si­tion in the larger United Syn­a­gogue, then on Cheetham Hill Road. He had a fund of learn­ing but stayed in the tex­tile busi­ness to sup­port his fam­ily.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, his brief ser­vice as min­is­ter of the Aus­trian Syn­a­gogue, Hightown, al­lowed him to ap­ply for a cler­i­cal ex­emp­tion to callup. Qual­i­fy­ing, like his older brother Gad (Godol), as a mo­hel, he per­formed hun­dreds of cir­cum­ci­sions in the next 50 years.

Af­ter the au­thor­i­tar­ian Her­shel Heilpern’s death in 1947, Godol and Chaim­be­camem­o­re­promi­nentinJewish com­mu­nal pol­i­tics. Chaim joined the Manch­ester She­chi­tah Board, which ad­min­is­tered the Machzikei Ha- dass “glatt kosher” cer­ti­fi­ca­tion up till 1954, and quickly be­came the neme­sis of com­mu­nal lead­ers whose of­fi­cial motto was “unity is strength”.

Jewish politi­cians both lo­cal and na­tional, like Al­der­man Abra­ham Moss of Manch­ester, Al­der­man Sir Syd­ney Ham­burger of Sal­ford and Al­der­man Michael Fi­dler of Prest­wich, of­ten crossed swords with the Heilpern brothers over the stan­dards of kashrut, the af­fil­i­a­tion of non-Ortho­dox move­ments to com­mu­nal coun­cils, and the grant­ing of au­ton­omy to in­de­pen­dent, strictly Ortho­dox in­sti­tu­tions — pri­mar­ily the Machzikei Hadass.

Chief Rab­bis Is­rael Brodie and Im­manuel Ja­cobovits were not spared the wrath of the Heilperns on oc­ca­sion, nor were “softer” tar­gets closer to home, such as Manch­ester Com­mu­nal Rabbi Dr Alexan­der Alt­mann, who was made so un­com­fort­able that he left Manch­ester and the rab­binate for an aca­demic po­si­tion in the United States.

Chaim Heilpern’s over­rid­ing con­cern was the free­dom from in­ter­fer­ence by, in his eyes, far less Ortho­dox bod­ies, for the un­tram­melled growth of strict Or­tho­doxy in Eng­land.

Whilst he and he com­rades had to ac­com­mo­date the power of the state — slaugh­ter­house reg­u­la­tions, Sun­day trad­ing laws, mar­riage reg­is­tra­tion rules — they saw no rea­son to pan­der to what they saw as the mealy-mouthed dis­cre­tion of An­glo-Jewish lead­ers.

Chaim was a bril­liant self-pub­li­cist, writ­ing let­ters to the Jewish press, leak­ing in­for­ma­tion to jour­nal­ists and cam­paign­ing to cause max­i­mum em­bar­rass­ment to his less ruth­less op­po­nents, of­ten with dev­as­tat­ing suc­cess.

He achieved his ul­ti­mate goal in 1965 when he forced Chief Rabbi Sir Is­rael Brodie, on his last day in of­fice, to au­tho­rise the Machzikei Hadass’ slaugh­terer’s li­cence with­out the agree­ment or sanc­tion of the Manch­ester She­chi­tah Board. Full in­de­pen­dent Or­tho­doxy had been won af­ter a 40-year bat­tle.

The steady growth of in­de­pen­dent Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties in Lon­don, Manch­ester and Gateshead, is largely at­trib­ut­able to the in­domitable spirit of men like Chaim Heilpern. They fought with­out fear or favour for their vi­sion of truth and jus­tice.

Rev Heilpern is sur­vived by his wife, Vera née Hochhauser; four sons; and nu­mer­ous grand­chil­dren and great­grand­chil­dren. His one daugh­ter pre­de­ceased him.

Chaim Heilpern: growth of strict Or­tho­doxy

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