Pacifism, Rev. John Harris and the Jewish Peace Society
Tuesday, 23 March 2021 | 7:45 pm - 9:00 pm£5.00
On 23rd March 2021 Sussex branch welcomes Dr Jonathan Lewis, who will speak about a little known Jewish minister, Rev. John Harris of Liverpool, who adopted a pacifist position in the First World War. The cantor of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (Princes Road), Reverend Harris, was an unassuming and religious man of conviction, who came to a pacifism which was personal and religiously inspired, not political.
With the introduction of conscription in 1916, appeals against compulsory military service were heard by appeal tribunals. It was important for an objector who based his conscientious objection on religious grounds to produce evidence of his beliefs from a clergyman of his faith. When he indicated his willingness to so attest, politics led to Harris’ effective dismissal from the community, blighting his career. The matter became embarrassingly public, prompting widely differing responses within the Jewish community.
The Jewish Peace Society was founded in 1913, with John Harris as its first secretary. He and one of his sons revitalised it, and in the years between the wars it became influential. Only in 1943, as reports of the scale of the Holocaust emerged, was Harris obliged to abandon his beliefs. He passed away in July 1945, a principled figure sadly little remembered in British Jewish history. By 1964 the Jewish Peace Society had faded away..
An article entitled The Rev. John Harris – Issues in Anglo-Jewish Pacifism 1914-18 by Evelyn Wilcock was published in Transactions, volume 30, 1987/8. Dr Lewis will draw on this and on her book Pacifism and the Jews (1994), and on the records of the Jewish Peace Society.
Dr Jonathan Lewis is a retired lawyer and judge and has completed a PhD at University College London on Jewish Chaplaincy in the British Armed Forces.
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