Wednesday, 13 August 2008

JONATHAN SACKS AND THE MASORTI MOVEMENT

To mark the publication of Controversy and Crisis – my book of collected essays (published last month by the Academic Studies Press) : that cover some of the most sensitive and divisive issues to have confronted British Jewry in recent times – I am, in the interests of historical research, commencing the electronic publication of original documents in my possession related to these events.

The first, which I published on 7 August and which you can view at http://www.geoffreyalderman.com/pdf/deed.pdf , is the Deed of Submission (13 May 1985) that authorized the establishment of a special Beth Din [Ecclesiastical Court] to adjudicate on the dismissal from the staff of Jews’ College of the senior teacher of Talmud, Rabbi Simche Lieberman.

I now publish the second [ www.geoffreyalderman.com/pdf/Masorti.pdf ], which consists of two contrasting views of the Masorti movement by two successive British Chief Rabbis, Immanuel Jakobovits and Jonathan Sacks. On 24 September 1981 Jakobovits attempted to appease the Masorti movement by agreeing to certify to the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews that the New Highgate & North London Synagogue was "a congregation of persons professing the Jewish Religion." Such certification [dating from 1836] was necessary so that this synagogue could appoint a marriage secretary who would be able to act as civil registrar - thus obviating the necessity for couples to attend a quite separate civil marriage ceremony. But Jakobovits was careful to add a rider: that his certification was dependant upon the synagogue conducting marriages in accordance with orthodox Jewish law. He was also careful to make it clear that his certification did not extend beyond the appointment of a [civil] secretary for marriages.

Jakobovits hoped that he could thus go some way towards healing the rifts caused by the Jacobs Affair, but without compromising his view that Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs - in effect the religious founder of the Masorti movement in Great Britain - was a heretic.

But when Sacks was asked to certify another Masorti synagogue, in St Albans (11 January 1994), he attached no such rider.

Sacks' ambivalent attitude towards the Masorti movement was a key factor fuelling the confrontation that developed between him and large sections of the Torah-orthodox communities in the UK, and which climaxed in his having to rewrite sections of his book Dignity of Difference.

This confrontation forms an important them of the essays I reproduce in Controversy and Crisis.

Geoffrey Alderman

No comments: