Col­lege col­lage

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - SO­CIAL HIS­TORY sets

THE NUMERICAL strength of the vi­brant Or­tho­dox Jewish pres­ence in con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain should not blind us to the fact that— his­tor­i­cally —Ortho­doxy in this coun­try has been weak and pe­riph­eral.

Shortly af­ter be­com­ing Ashke­nazi chief rabbi in 1845, Nathan Adler un­der­took a sur­vey of the com­mu­ni­ties over which he ruled. The re­sults per­suaded him that Ortho­doxy was too frag­ile to be left to its own de­vices: what were needed were lo­cally based func­tionar­ies who, firmly un­der Adler’s com­mand-and-con­trol, could teach in a cheder, lead a Sab­bath ser­vice, and de­liver a pass­able ser­mon in de­cent English.

It was to train such preacher-min­is­ters that Jews’ Col­lege was es­tab­lished. The fa­cil­ity, as orig­i­nally con­ceived, did not ed­u­cate rab­bis; rather, it pro­duced a suc­ces­sion of “Rev­erends”, com­plete with cler­i­cal dog-col­lars, who could min­is­ter and moralise within their con­gre­ga­tions but who were in no sense ha­lachic au­thor­i­ties.

It had, orig­i­nally, an­other pur­pose, as a gram­mar school to ed­u­cate an An­glo-Jewish mid­dle-class (and nat­u­rally all-male) elite. The school failed. The col­lege, how­ever, sur­vived — liv­ing a pre­car­i­ous handto-mouth ex­is­tence, al­ways short of money but se­cure so long as it had chief-rab­bini­cal pa­tron­age. Un­der Chief Rab­bis Brodie and Jakobovits it did in­deed ex­pe­ri­ence a golden age. Rab­bis were or­dained un­der its aegis. Its cur­ricu­lum was broad­ened. It at­tracted — as teach­ers — schol­ars of high cal­i­bre. But it could not com­pete with the yeshivas of Is­rael and the USA. Now re­branded as the Lon­don School of Jewish Stud­ies, it has repo­si­tioned it­self as a rather dif­fer­ent (though not un­suc­cess­ful) mixed-sex ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

This is the story Derek Tay­lor out to tell in De­fend­ers of the Faith (Val­len­tine Mitchell, £39.50, pb £18.95).

His style is con­ver­sa­tional and need­lessly polem­i­cal. More se­ri­ously, his use of source ma­te­ri­als is lim­ited. In re­count­ing the furore that fol­lowed the dis­missal from Jews’ Col­lege of its Cha­sidic se­nior lec­turer in Tal­mud (the late Sim­che Lieber­man), Tay­lor pleads that the rel­e­vant file has been em­bar­goed. Had he searched a lit­tle fur­ther, he would have found that a copy of the Deed of Sub­mis­sion (May 13 1985), by which the dis­pute was by mu­tual agree­ment re­ferred to an in­de­pen­dent Beth Din, is freely avail­able on the web.

Nor could I find any ref­er­ence to my own ac­count of this cause célèbre, which was pub­lished in 1990.

At one point, Tay­lor in­sists that Chief Rabbi Her­mann Adler “re­signed less than a year af­ter” the ap­point­ment, in 1907, of the bril­liant Adolphe Büch­ler as col­lege prin­ci­pal. I can as­sure him that Her­mann died in of­fice on July 18, 1911.


Orig­i­nally it was a gram­mar school but it failed

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