Jacobs, Louis 1920-2006

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Jacobs, Louis 1920-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born July 17, 1920, in Manchester, England; died of cancer, July 1, 2006, in London, England. Rabbi and author. A prominent rabbi in Britain who began a new conservative movement there, Jacobs was the center of the Jacobs Affair in the early 1960s, when the Orthodox chief rabbi Israel Brodie kicked Jacobs out of the rabbinate for publishing nontraditional theories about the Torah. A bright student at a young age, Jacobs convinced his parents to let him attend school rather than becoming a printer. Earning a rabbinical diploma from Manchester Talmudical College in 1941, he went on to complete a B.A. at University College, London, in 1946 and a Ph.D. in history in 1952. Jacobs served as rabbi at Manchester's Central Synagogue from 1948 to 1952, then at London's New West End Synagogue from 1952 to 1960. He was working as a tutor at Jews' College in London when the controversy erupted. The central issue concerned Jacobs's writings about the Talmud that had been published years before in We Have Reason to Believe (1957). The rabbi had noted that many Jewish scholars believed that Moses did not receive the text of the five books of the Torah directly from God; rather, he agreed that the first books of the Old Testament were divinely inspired and written by other men of God. Nothing came of his views until 1961, when Jacobs was nominated to be the new principal of Jews' College. Rabbi Brodie rejected the nomination outright, citing Jacobs's earlier writing. He then went even further, denying Jacobs the chance to return to the New West End Synagogue and then kicking him out of the United Synagogue. Many Jewish leaders did not agree with this decision, and the debate, which continues today, has come to be known as the Jacobs Affair. A number of rabbis, lamenting the fact that a man they considered to be a great religious leader, speaker, and scholar would never become chief rabbi of the Orthodox rabbinate, formed the Masorti. The Masorti is a modest-sized Jewish movement in Britain that is similar to Conservative Judaism in the United States. Jacobs was named head of the New London Synagogue, a conservative congregation with no ties to the Orthodox Jews, and here he remained until his retirement in 2000. Highly respected among Jewish scholars worldwide, Jacobs was a popular lecturer and prolific author of over fifty books that have been praised for their clarity of thought, accessibility to general audiences, and erudition. Among his works are Principles of the Jewish Faith (1964), A Jewish Theology (1973), The Book of Jewish Belief (1984), and A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion (1999).



New York Times, July 9, 2006, p. A23.

Times (London, England), July 4, 2006, p. 57.