Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Scholar and leader known for his prolific writing and intellectual integrity.

Print this page Print this page

Three years later, the pulpit of the New West End synagogue once again became vacant, and the congregation invited Jacobs to return as its minister. But under the bye-laws of the United Synagogue, all rabbinic appointments had to be approved by the Chief Rabbi. Once again, Israel Brodie vetoed the move. In protest, the majority of New West End members resigned from the congregation and in May 1964 formed a new, independent community: the New London Synagogue.

The acrimony, accusations and counter-accusations surrounding the Jacobs Affair filled the news and letters pages of the Jewish Chronicle, and the dispute was reported extensively in the non-Jewish press.

The Jacobs Affair had erupted along two critical fault lines running through British Jewry. In terms of theology, Jacobs and his followers believed they were fighting for the survival of the open, tolerant Anglo-Orthodox heritage in the face of their opponents' desire to impose a more insular and stringent type of religiosity. On the level of communal authority, the creation of the New London synagogue represented a revolt against the centralized power of the Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue and a call for the empowerment of individual communities and their rabbis.

The Legacy

The Jacobs Affair has left its mark on Anglo-Jewry. In time, the New London Synagogue spawned daughter communities, and these congregations united in the 1980s to create the Assembly of Masorti ("traditional") Synagogues--the British branch of Conservative Judaism.

The debates also continued. In the 1980s, the Orthodox London Beth Din (rabbinical court) warned the public that conversions and marriages conducted by Louis Jacobs were invalid in the eyes of Jewish law. Jacobs responded that he carried out these ceremonies according to the letter of the halakha and that the Jewish status of all those involved was unimpeachable. He counter-claimed that his involvement in the field had been prompted by the Beth Din's own unprecedented intransigence and inhumane treatment of candidates who wished to convert to Judaism.

In 1995, Jacobs was once more under attack. In an article for the right wing Orthodox Jewish Tribune, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks accused him of "intellectual thievery," alleging that Masorti's claim to represent authentic Judaism was a subterfuge aimed at the destruction of the tradition. The article prompted intense debate in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle and brought tremendous publicity to the previously little-known Masorti movement.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.