Is­rael Finestein

BORN KINGSTON-UPON-HULL, APRIL 29, 1921. DIED LON­DON, OC­TO­BER 11, 2009, AGED 88.

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries -

A MA­JOR com­mu­nal fig­ure, Judge Is­rael Finestein was renowned for his fair­ness, in­tegrity, schol­ar­ship and con­cern for the com­mu­nity’s wel­fare and unity. His com­mu­nal ca­reer cul­mi­nated in the pres­i­dency of the Board of Deputies from 1991-94, where he was the longest­serv­ing mem­ber.

He started in 1945 as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the In­ter-Uni­ver­sity Jewish Fed­er­a­tion, now the Union of Jewish Stu­dents, switch­ing to United Syn­a­gogue in 1950. He re­signed for work rea­sons in 1980 but re­turned in 1987 when re­tired.

Though he had no chil­dren, he was con­cerned with youth from his stu­dent days, as pres­i­dent of the Cam­bridge Jewish So­ci­ety and chair­man of the Uni­ver­si­ties Zion­ist Coun­cil and IUJF.

He was a founder mem­ber in 1953 of the Hil­lel Foun­da­tion, set up to sup­port Jewish stu­dents in an of­ten alien en­vi­ron­ment. As pres­i­dent from 198194, he was in­volved in ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes and chap­laincy.

He was a gov­er­nor of JFS, the Jews’ Free School, re­built in 1958 af­ter war­time bomb­ing, and a coun­cil mem­ber of Jews’ Col­lege. Equally con­cerned for de­prived chil­dren, he sup­ported Nor­wood Child Care and was its pres­i­dent from 1983-90, cov­er­ing its 190th an­niver­sary in 1985, at­tended by the Queen.

In ex­ter­nal re­la­tions, he rep­re­sented Bri­tish Jewry on the Stand­ing Con­fer­ence on Is­rael and the Di­as­pora, Yad Vashem, the Claims Con­fer­ence and World Jewish Congress. In in­ter­faith, he was on the ed­i­to­rial board for Chris­tian-Jewish re­la­tions of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Af­fairs (now the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search).

In a 1959 JC in­ter­view on re­ac­tions to Brian Glanville’s novel, The Bankrupts, ex­pos­ing An­glo-Jewry’s low cul­tural and spir­i­tual level, he con­ceded that much of the colour and char­ac­ter had drained out of the com­mu­nity but saw sal­va­tion in the day-school move­ment. His char­ac­ter­is­tic “so­lid­ity and de­lib­er­a­tion” were al­ready noted.

Known as Sh­mul, Is­rael Finestein was the youngest of nine — seven boys and two girls — in a close-knit tra­di­tion­ally ob­ser­vant fam­ily in the Hull Old He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion. His par­ents came from the Minsk area in 1905, join­ing sib­lings al­ready set­tled in Hull.

A stu­dious child, he soon out­grew cheder. His fa­ther, Jeremiah, owner of a tai­lor­ing busi­ness, took him to Tal­mud lessons. From Kingston High School he won a ma­jor his­tory schol­ar­ship to Trin­ity Col­lege, Cam­bridge, grad­u­at­ing with a dou­ble first in 1943, be­fore be­ing re­cruited into se­cret war work.

Re­leased in 1946, he mar­ried Mar­ion Oster and be­gan his pupil­lage un­der Quentin Hogg, later Lord Hail­sham, at Lin­coln’s Inn. He was called to the Bar in 1953, spe­cial­is­ing in fam­ily law.

His­tory al­ways re­mained his great love. Twice pres­i­dent of the Jewish His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, he wrote and lec­tured pro­lif­i­cally on top­ics such as the Jewish con­tri­bu­tion to English law and com­mu­nal rifts of the Vic­to­rian era.

He chaired the Jewish Mu­seum from 1989-92 as it planned its move to new premises. His guid­ing prin­ci­ple was the bal­ance be­tween eman­ci­pa­tion and pre­serv­ing Jewish iden­tity.

In 1972 Lord Hail­sham, as Lord Chan­cel­lor, ap­pointed him south-east cir­cuit judge, cov­er­ing Lon­don. His work as a crown court judge and, later, as deputy high court judge in the fam­ily divi­sion, made him acutely aware of the ef­fect on chil­dren of fam­ily break­down. From 1983 un­til af­ter re­tire­ment he presided over the Men­tal Health Re­view Board, con­cerned with the release of pris­on­ers from psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tions.

He ac­knowl­edged his wife’s sup­port in his broad range of achieve­ments and was dev­as­tated by her death in 2004.

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

Judge Is­rael Finestein: law, his­tory and com­mu­nal ser­vice

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