Did the Chief Rabbinate move to the right? A case study: the mixed-choir controversies, 1880-1986*

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There are few institutions that have so affected the nature of Anglo-Jewry as the British Chief Rabbinate.1 Yet, bizarrely, its development and influence have been neglected by historians. Indeed, no substantial research was done on the Chief Rabbinate between Cecil Roth in the 1950s and Miri Freud Kandel in the past few years. Unsurprisingly, there are still large gaps. Roth examined no Chief Rabbi after J. H. Hertz (1913-1946) and Freud-Kandel examined in depth only the period since 1913, in what was a theological rather than a historical study. Apart from a biographical essay by Israel Finestein almost nothing has been written about Hermann Adler (1890-1911) or his father, Nathan Marcus Adler (1845-1890). There are no full-scale scholarly biographies of any Chief Rabbi. Such neglect has led to misunderstanding and mistakes that are repeated in the secondary litera? ture. There is need for a thoroughgoing revision and re-appreciation of the role of the Chief Rabbinate. This article takes a first step towards that, through a detailed investigation of a particular religious debate in Anglo Jewry, that over mixed choirs. If nothing else, it shows how much work needs to be done to develop a proper understanding of the subject.

The British Chief Rabbinate can trace its history back to the late seventeenth century, following the re-admission of the Jews to England under Cromwell in 1656. However, the modern Chief Rabbinate can be said to have been founded by Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi from 1845 until his death in 1890. Since him there have been five Chief Rabbis, Hermann Adler (1890-1911), J. H. Hertz (1913-1946), Israel Brodie (1948 1967), Immanuel Jakobovits (1967-1991) and Jonathan Sacks (since 1991).

1 It gives me great pleasure to thank the following individuals without whose help and guidance this article would never have appeared: Dr Tessa Stone, Dayan Ivan Binstock, Rabbi James Kennard, Rabbi Zvi Telzner, Rabbi Z. M. Salasnik, Dr Alexander Knapp and Edgar Samuel, not to mention many friends and family who have been unstinting in their encouragement and support.

N. M. Adler was recognized in his own day as one of the greatest rabbis of his generation and his reputation remains high today. However, the argu? ment is commonly made that after 1880, when Nathan retired to Brighton and his son Hermann became Delegate Chief Rabbi, and more especially after 1890, when Hermann became Chief Rabbi in his own right, the Chief Rabbinate became a liberal institution, lax, careless with Jewish law and more concerned with Anglicization and assimilation than religious obser? vance and piety.2 It is further argued that from the 1960s onwards, under pressure from right-wing elements in the community, the Chief Rabbinate took a sharp turn to the right. What had previously been permitted was banned and a liberal and enlightened attitude was replaced by one of narrow-minded religious bigotry and pedantry.

This article demonstrates that the view described above is indeed widely held, both by academics and by members of the Jewish community. Secondly it shows that the issue of mixed synagogue

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