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The Task Ahead by Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Few and far between are those who have made as great an impact upon a community and upon the Jewish world at large as our teacher and mentor Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs. This congregation – New London Synagogue – would not exist were it not for him. There are, however, many congregations that were founded out of loyalty to a particular rabbi, but in this case it was not only the personality of the rabbi but the teachings of the rabbi – his Torah – that created and sustained the Synagogue. He was not interested in creating a cult of the personality. It was not him as such but his ideas that he was promoting. That does not negate the fact that his unique personality, his individual efforts, his love of people and interest in them, his erudition and wit attracted followers and created feelings of loyalty to him – of course they did – but that was not what interested him. His mission was to learn as much about Judaism as he could, to absorb as much general knowledge as was available, to blend the two and to pursue the truth wherever it would lead him – and then to convey this to others and guide them in their quest for Torah and truth – for the Torah of truth – the two being inseparable.
 
Rabbi Jacobs did not believe in using force and coercion to build loyalty to Judaism. That does not mean that he did not adhere to the requirements of Jewish Law – he did – but to its real requirements, not to every stringency, every ‘humrah’ that could be found. In that he followed in the way of Hillel who believed in showing love, tolerance and patience and thus bringing people to the Torah .
 
Hillel himself was following the way of Aaron – as depicted in rabbinic midrash - Hillel taught “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humankind and drawing them to the Torah ” (ADRN-A 12).
 
Aaron, we are taught, would greet every person with honour. He would walk along the road and go out of his way to greet one he knew to be a sinner, and try thus to instil in him a feeling of worth and self-pride so that they would turn “back from iniquity” (ibid).  .
 
Aaron, we are taught, would go from house to house teaching people how to recite the Sh'ma, how to pray and how to study Torah (Seder Eliyahu Rabba 14).
 
So too did Rabbi Jacobs treat all human beings, showing them their worth. So too did he spend his days teaching people so that Torah would become the possession of all. He did not live in an ivory tower.
 
Regarding Aaron the rabbis taught that all Israel wept for him, while only the men wept for Moses “Because Moses rendered judgment strictly according to the truth, but Aaron never reproved anyone saying, you have acted offensively.” (ADRN-A 14).
 
Rabbi Jacobs too always emphasized the positive in regard to Jewish observance, not the negative.
 
For many people Louis Jacobs and the rejection of a fundamentalist approach to the Torah are synonymous. That is understandable. He was the first traditional rabbi in Britain to espouse that view and to teach Biblical criticism while still maintaining loyalty to the Torah as divine revelation, a stand that had already been taken in other countries by thinkers such as Heschel. Here it was revolutionary, a thunderstorm that aroused British Jewry and split it asunder. It was only because of the fact that he was such a great scholar and such an observant, traditional Jew that it made such a great impact. When he said it, it could not be ignored.
 
In some ways, however, it is to be regretted that he is remembered for that, because it obscures the deeper message of his teachings. His book is not entitled “We Have Reason Not To Believe,” but We Have Reason To Believe. His mission was not to negate but to affirm. Permit me to quote a few lines from Rabbi Jacob’s preface to that book to illustrate what I mean:

 "A true Jewish Apologetic, eschewing  obscurantism, religious schizophrenia,  and intellectual dishonesty, will be  based  on the conviction that all truth, ‘the seal of the Holy One, blessed  is He,’ is one,  and that a synthesis is  possible between permanent  values and truth of tradition  and the  best thought of the day.
If [this book] stimulates its readers to think seriously about their faith and even helps some of them to declare ‘We have reason to believe’ this will be its justification".

 
It would be a tragedy if Rabbi Jacobs were to be remembered only for what he rejected, and not for what he affirmed. It would be a tragedy if he were to be remembered only for his personality and not for his teachings. It would be a tragedy if the Synagogue he created were to lose its reason for existing with his passing. He did not build and create for personal glory but for the ideals in which he believed. Nor did he ever intend for things to be frozen forever. He himself was constantly searching. As he wanted to be able to blend the past, the tradition, with modern knowledge and modern concerns, so he would want those who follow him to continue that task. Nothing that lives is static. Movement, change, growth, these are a necessary part of life.
 
All of us are experiencing a feeling of deep loss, of lack, of emptiness at his passing. No one and nothing can fill that gap. Nevertheless there is a task to be undertaken; there is work to do – for the task did not end with his life. His teachings, his way, must be carried on further and there is no better or more important way than through the continuation of the Synagogue he created, the congregation he formed. Building and strengthening New London as a place dedicated to true Torah , to encouraging belief and observance of meaningful Judaism, teaching Torah in a way that can be accepted and believed by modern people, encouraging observance through love, tolerance and understanding, in short “loving human beings and bringing them to Torah ” – this is the heritage and the task that is ours. That is the living memorial to the man to whom we owe so much. Let us not shirk from it.

Service Times

Friday night: 6:30pm
Shabbat morning: 9:15am
Sunday: 9:00am

Rosh Chodesh:

7:15am weekdays
followed by breakfast
or 8:45am Sundays

Minyan Chadash:

9:45am monthly
(Egalitarian)
See calendar.


Candle lighting based on 18 minutes before sundown; Havdalah based on 8.5 degrees below horizon (Shitat HaG'onim).

Connect With Us

New London Synagogue
33 Abbey Road
London
NW8 0AT

E-mail: office@newlondon.org.uk
Tel: 020 7328 1026

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