The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

HREVIEWED BY GER­ALD JA­COBS ISTORY PRO­FESS O R G e o f f r e y A l d e r man has , since March 2002, been the sit­ting ten­ant on what might be called Opin­ion Is­land, set as it is within a sea of opin­ions. As the JC’s res­i­dent weekly colum­nist, not only does he share space with such blood-stir­ring names as Aaronovitch and Finkel­stein, Freed­land and Phillips, but he also di­rects his views at a read­er­ship never too shy to of­fer its own thoughts, as can be seen in the Let­ters to the Ed­i­tor, which also abut his col­umn.

Al­der­man has now col­lected to­gether a gen­er­ous se­lec­tion of his JC col­umns un­der the whim­si­cal ti­tle, The Com­mu­nal Gad­fly. A gad­fly is of course a blood-suck­ing crea­ture, and there­fore far re­moved from the strictly kosher Pro­fes­sor Al­der­man. On the other hand, many who have felt the sharp­ness of his pen will doubt­less have come away from the ex­pe­ri­ence some­what pale and drained.

Sev­eral of his vic­tims — the Chief Rabbi, the Board of Deputies, Ken Liv­ing­stone, Harold Pin­ter, and an as­sort­ment of de­niers and di­vines, pun­dits and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans — are lined up here in a sin­gle vol­ume.

The col­umn has a dis­tin­guished lin­eage. It was writ­ten for many years by the late Chaim Ber­mant, prob­a­bly the finest — and fun­ni­est — of all Bri­tishJewish com­men­ta­tors. And, al­though Al­der­man would never claim to repli­cate Ber­mant’s bril­liant lit­er­ary style, he does share some of his great pre­de­ces­sor’s char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Like Chaim, Ge­of­frey is an ob­ser­vant Jew, a de­voted fam­ily man steeped in tra­di­tion and Jewish knowl­edge. If any­thing, he is po­si­tioned even closer to An­glo-Jewry’s com­mu­nal heart. And any re­sul­tant less­en­ing of de­tach­ment is more than com­pen­sated for by the un­apolo­getic can­dour of his con­clu­sions. He is also blessed with Ber­mant­like an­ten­nae for the de­tec­tion of hypocrisy, cant and big­otry.

With un­usual self-dep­re­ca­tion, Al­der­man owns up to hav­ing, “on oc­ca­sion, em­ployed sar­casm…” Noth­ing wrong with that, though, when it is em­ployed to such ef­fect as it was, for ex­am­ple, in Au­gust 2003 in a col­umn on the sorry story of Bournemouth He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion’s de­nial of an aliyah to the late Rabbi Louis Ja­cobs.

Ja­cobs — pos­si­bly the most learned and dis­tin­guished of post-war Bri­tish rab­bis — had long been side­lined by the United Syn­a­gogue (in the shape of Chief Rabbi Is­rael Brodie and Jews’ Col­lege prin­ci­pal, Isi­dore Ep­stein, who had, it seems, been re­luc­tant to re­tire from that post in favour of Ja­cobs) for his view that not ev­ery word of the Bi­ble was dic­tated di­rectly by God. And when Rabbi Ja­cobs was in Bournemouth that sum­mer for the wed­ding of his grand­daugh­ter and, on Shab­bat, nat­u­rally at­tended shul, he was re­fused an aliyah by the BHC’s then min­is­ter, Lionel Rosen­feld.

Al­der­man’s view of Rabbi Ja­cobs was that “in terms of in­tel­lec­tual great­ness, I would rank him much higher than Dr Brodie, Dr Ep­stein, Dr Jonathan Sacks, and even Mr Rosen­feld”. Jane Austen would be pleased to have placed in the mouth of one of her char­ac­ters a flour­ish as sar­cas­tic as to be f ound i n those last four words. As to Rosen­feld’s plea that he was merely do­ing what he was told by the Lon­don Beth Din, our colum­nist won­dered: “Does Mr Rosen­feld make a habit of con­sult­ing the Beth Din be­fore giv­ing each and ev­ery aliyah at his syn­a­gogue?”

Such mo­ments, where rab­bini­cal pol­icy re­places sim­ple hu­man­ity

Our man tak­ing up the case of He­len Sa­gal, whose son was re­jected by JFS

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