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Louis Jacobs, one of the English-speaking world's foremost Jewish scholars, died last Saturday at the age of 85. Paul Shaviv of Toronto has kindly sent us the following obituary -- Jonathan D. Sarna: Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs ztz”l The passing of Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, just a few days before his 86^th birthday, deprives the British Jewish community of the most knowledgeable, the most versatile – and most controversial scholar it has ever produced. Louis Jacobs was born in 1920 to a working-class, not particularly observant family in Manchester, England. He was identified as a child as an ‘iluy’ – a Talmudic prodigy – and as a teenager was the outstanding student at the Manchester yeshivah. He later became one of the early fellows of the Gateshead Kollel, and in the late 1940’s came to London as the assistant Rabbi at Rabbi Dr. Eli Munk’s strictly Orthodox ‘Golders Green Beth Hamedrash’. Up to this point he had had no University education, and he enrolled in the Jewish Studies Department at University College London. His exposure to critical scholarship and the wider academic world irrevocably changed his intellectual faith, although not his Jewish allegiance. After a short period as a Rabbi in Manchester, he returned to London as a Rabbi at the fashionable and intellectual congregation of the historic New West End synagogue. The New West End in the mainstream Orthodox United Synagogue, and not long afterwards began teaching at Jews’ College, the then training seminary for Orthodox rabbis. In 1957, Jacobs published ‘We have Reason to Believe’ – proposing a rationale of how Jews could accept modern scholarship, but still regard traditional Jewish halachic practice as authoritative. In the Anglo-Jewry of the time it was unexceptional. But times were changing, and, in retrospect, what followed was a British harbinger of the worldwide militant Orthodoxy that has characterised Jewish life ever since. The details of the ‘Jacobs Affair’, where as a result of his writings and beliefs he was excluded first from Jews’ College, and then from the United Synagogue Rabbinate altogether, are intricate and labyrinthine, and have been recounted many times – including by Rabbi Jacobs himself. Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, pushed by the Dayyanim of the London Beth Din (in particular Dayyan Moshe Swift), made Louis Jacobs a leper in his own beloved Anglo-Jewry. In the process Brodie wrecked Jews’ College and split the community. Rabbi Jacobs’ supporters resigned en masse from the United Synagogue and founded an independent congregation, the New London Synagogue. In the decades that followed, Louis Jacobs published a staggering array of both scholarly and popular works on Judaism. His knowledge covered medieval philosophy, theology, Talmudic studies, responsa literature, Kaballah, mysticism and Hassidism. Few scholars worldwide equalled his range of scholarly activity. He was a visiting fellow at Harvard Divinity School, and a distinguished lecturer and teacher all over the world. His detractors could never criticise his knowledge or scholarship. In 1985, when the American Lubavitch Hassidim sued a nephew of the Schneersohn family regarding ownership of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s valuable library, the issue hinged on whether in Hassidic doctrine gifts to a Rebbe became the Rebbe’s personal property or communal property of the Hassidic movement. Louis Jacobs was the expert witness retained by Chabad as the world expert on Hassidic doctrine. (He found it piquant that the judge in the case had been married to the daughter of the renowned Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr!). Louis Jacobs never sought controversy, and never sought ‘machlokes’. In his personal life he was a gentleman – shy, reserved and unfailingly gracious to all. Unlike some of his detractors, he remained civil, polite and dignified throughout his life, suffering major and minor insults – continuing up to very recent times - with reserve. His New London Synagogue generated the British ‘Masorti’ movement, which sits awkwardly somewhere between the American Conservative Movement and traditional Orthodoxy. Yet Rabbi Jacobs distanced himself from the movement, and was never comfortable with its radical tendencies. He turned down several opportunities for leadership in non-Orthodox institutions, believing always that Halachah could and should be the basis of Judaism, and that Halachic Judaism could be explained in terms that fully faced the implications of modern thought and scholarship. It was a refined position that could only ever appeal to a small circle. In 2005, readers of the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ voted him as the most distinguished Jew in Anglo-Jewry’s 350-year recent history. It was a fitting tribute, and telling in the regard that the community retained for a respected thinker and scholar – and telling in the lingering feeling of solidarity and sympathy for a Rabbi and scholar who, whether you agreed with his theology or not, had been disgracefully treated by the Establishment. Jonathan D. Sarna Director, Hornstein: The Jewish Professional Leadership Program @ Brandeis //Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History/ /Department of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies Brandeis University Mail Stop 054 Waltham, MA 02454 ______________________________________* /*Announcing new opportunities at **Hornstein: The Jewish Leadership Program @ **Brandeis** **University* /*Recruiting talented students today to shape Jewish life tomorrow! **http://www.brandeis.edu/jcs/ **