Hertz, Joseph Herman

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HERTZ, JOSEPH HERMAN (1872–1946), chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. Hertz, who was born in Slovakia, was taken in 1884 to New York. He was the first graduate of the *Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1894). After acting as rabbi in Syracuse, New York (1894–96), he was appointed rabbi of Johannesburg, South Africa. His outspoken opposition to Boer discrimination against the uitlanders (aliens) and religious minorities resulted in his deportation (1899–1901) but he returned to office on the conclusion of the Boer War. He went to the U.S. in 1911 as rabbi of the Orthodox congregation Oraḥ Ḥayyim in New York and in 1913 was elected chief rabbi of England. Here, he threw himself into the duties of his office with courage and energy, showing his profound sympathies with the recently arrived foreign elements. He publicly criticized Russian anti-Jewish policy, fought against Liberal Judaism, and his powerful advocacy of Zionism in the name of religious Jewry was partly responsible for the successful outcome of the negotiations which led to the *Balfour Declaration in 1917. Later, he fought courageously against Nazism and its echoes in England and strongly criticized the policies adopted by the Mandatory government in Palestine, which he visited frequently. In 1925 he attended the opening of the Hebrew University and later was a member of its board of governors. His works (apart from his doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Martineau) were principally of a popularizing nature, but filled a greatly felt gap, e.g., his Book of Jewish Thoughts (1917), of which hundreds of thousands of copies were printed, and his commentaries on the Pentateuch (1929–36) and on the prayer book (1942–45). A three-volume collection of his minor writings was issued under the title Sermons, Addresses and Studies (1938).

His appearances on the public platform were usually exceptionally impressive. He showed courage, and his brief occasional letters to the London Times, in times of emergency, the product sometimes of days of hard work, could influence public opinion. Characteristic was his letter published on May 28, 1917, in which he effectively and indignantly denied that the attack on Zionism by the two "official" leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community, C.G. *Montefiore and D.L. Alexander, represented "the views held by Anglo-Jewry as a whole or by the Jewries of the overseas dominions." He was no respecter of persons. The authoritative article in the Dictionary of National Biography quotes what was said of him: that he never despaired of finding a peaceful solution to any problem when all other possibilities had failed. He was made a Companion of Honour (c.h.) in 1943, the first British rabbi to receive an award of this kind. Probably no British Chief Rabbi in history was faced with so many unprecedented and insoluble challenges and crises.


Levine, in: Essays… J.H. Hertz (1942), 1–14; P. Paneth, Guardian of the Law: Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz (1943); I. Epstein (ed.), Joseph Herman Hertz, 18721946, in memoriam (1947). add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Cecil Roth]

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