Officially I am entering to-night upon the post of President of the Jewish Historical Society of England. It is incumbent upon me to formulate as briefly as possible the views which I entertain about an Historical Society and about a Jewish Historical Society. We are as yet too young a Society to have established a tradition, and the variety of counsel which still prevails demands imperatively a personal confession. From the clash of opinions a wider view may be evolved, to the benefit, as I trust, of this Society. I find it the more necessary as I have always been opposed to anything that may tend to narrow our conceptions or to contract our sympathies. I hold to the widening of the horizon and to the broadening of our sympathies. The reason for these remarks is to be found in the fact that on the one hand we are expected to be an Anglo Jewish Historical Society, and on the other the objects of investigation have been or may be persons or things which in the perspective of a wider atmosphere lose of the greatness and importance which some may give to them and induce others to accept. Even within a stricter limitation, if adhered to, there is scope for a different and more embracing activity, and it is to this that I turn and this I wish to expound here on this occasion, both theoretically and by a practical example.
Let us, in the first place, realise what the study of history means. Why should we pore over the remnants of old and devote time and energy to call back to life things, events, and persons who no longer are among us, from whom we apparently have nothing more to expect, and from whom we have nothing to gain % Have we not problems enough of our own to occupy our attention % Have we not difficulties great enough and numerous enough to overcome, which require our undivided strength ? Why, therefore, waste it on apparently useless researches? In putting these questions, I am merely echoing what is said, unfortunately, by many. Is history to be only an intellectual toy, an amusing pastime to idle away leisurely a few hours and to be cast aside, forgotten, as soon as the things pass out of our sight? Wherein lies the true benefit wdiich we derive from the resuscitation of the past? I am not speaking of material benefit, but I ask : to what an extent can such studies influence and mould our activity and direct us in the very work which our time demands ? Of all the sciences there is none so serious and none so important as the study of history, the unfolding of the record of the past, the scanning with a trained eye and an open mind the annals of years gone by. For it is the study of man in the fullest sense of the word.