The Chief Rabbi opposed to Zionism

Hermann Adler – The King’s Chief Rabbi, Derek Taylor. Vallentine Mitchell, £40


Derek Taylor’s fourth book on the UK Chief Rabbinate champions Hermann Adler, who he believes has never received his due for helping to shape British Jewry as the “largely Orthodox and middle of the road” community it remains today.

Born in Hanover and related to the Rothschilds, he was raised here as part of the gentry and was head boy of UCS. In his Chief Rabbinate from 1891 to 1911, preceded by 12 years as deputy to his ailing father, Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, he remained a staunch advocate of rabbinic Judaism, agreeing to a few minor changes in the prayerbook but resisting calls for greater reform.

Taylor portrays him as an indefatigable pastor to an expanding community, who rallied his flock in support of good causes with eloquence and wit. He dismisses critics’ claims that Adler, who received his semichah in Prague, was a “theological lightweight”, citing for instance his effective rebuttal of Christological interpretations of the Bible in his counter-missionary efforts, while arguing that the Chief Rabbi’s communal diary left him little time for study.

He proved a doughty defender against antisemites who cast doubt on the loyalty of British Jews. His concern to present his co-religionists as good English citizens led him to reject Herzl’s political Zionism as an “egregious blunder” and, though supporting Jewish settlement in Palestine, he believed Jewish sovereignty must await the Messiah.

Taylor says he was “far more involved as a moral voice in the life of the nation” than his predecessors and overall he “added lustre” to British Jewry.

The book could profitably have been pruned of unnecessary asides and detail but there is too little on the main liturgical legacy of Adler’s tenure, the Routledge festival machzor.


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