Obituary: Meir Persoff

JC journalist and historian who witnessed the greatest schisms in Anglo-Jewry


The former senior JC journalist Meir Persoff passed away suddenly on the first evening of the Pesach holiday, aged 78.

In his various role as news editor, features editor and Judaism editor, he spread his considerable talents broadly but with great modesty. He even wrote a saleroom column covering  major auctions in London and New York, inspired by his immense interest in Judaica, Israeli stamps, old coins and postage stamps, of which he was an avid collector.

As a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Meir’s saleroom columns were filled with colorful details which displayed his wide interest in the subject. Clearly excited while describing the sale of 11 lithographs by the Russian artist El Lissitzky, masterpieces dating back to 1919  and sold for £52,000 to a New York collector at Christie’s auction, he paid equal attention to  the works of David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Josef Herman  and  Lucien Pissarro which came under the auctioneer’s hammer.

As a historian these writings reflected his acute interest in books, maps and albums on the Middle East, Palestine and Jerusalem. He also reviewed books and wrote on business for the  newspaper.

Geoffrey Paul, JC editor from 1977 to 1990, said: “Before and during my time as editor, I worked closely with Meir and quickly learned to admire and value his erudition, especially on matters Jewish.

"His value to me and the JC was inestimable and I know there were many occasions when he saved both the reputation of the newspaper and its editor.

“He was a good and reliable colleague, a man of so much worth beyond his journalism. I am glad that during his latter years he was able to enjoy his rightful status as an historian.”

Born in Letchworth to Mark and Sara Persoff, ardent Zionists and community activists, in his younger days Meir was active in teaching at Kenton Hebrew classes, tutoring Bar Mitzvah boys, and also taught at Kingsbury cheder.

He was the resident moderator of the Pesach seder at the Jewish Home for the Blind in Bournemouth. Meir served on the Jewish Book Council, the Jewish Marriage Council publications committee and the London Board of Jewish Religious Education. Meir gained a Master’s degree from London University in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, specialising in modern Jewish history and Antisemitism, and a doctorate from Middlesex University, which formed the basis of his keen rendering of the challenges facing the Anglo-Jewish community in recent times.

Meir’s  career with the Jewish Chronicle culminated  as features editor some 35 years later. Those years saw him associated with major events and upheavals in the Anglo-Jewish scene, of which the Jacobs Affair featured most prominently. 

Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs was tipped for the role of Chief Rabbi in 1961 but rejected because of his perceived radical beliefs relating to the question of Revelation, published in his book We Have Reason to Believe. The JC turned the issue into a cause célèbre which rocked the Anglo-Jewish community. As a result, Rabbi Jacobs launched the UK’s first Masorti synagogue, the New London in St Johns’ Wood. 

Meir Persoff will be remembered for the series of books he wrote on the vicissitudes of the Chief Rabbinate in England, spanning 120 years, from the days of Nathan Marcus Adler until the tutelage of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. 

These books include: Closed Doors, Open Minds: British Jewry’s Secret Disputations, co-authored with Aubrey Newman, Hats in the Ring: Choosing Britain’s Chief Rabbis from Adler to Sacks (Judaism and Jewish Life); Faith Against Reason: Religious Reform and the British Chief Rabbinate, 1840-1990;The Running Stag: The Stamps and Postal History of Israel; Immanuel Jakobovits: A Prophet in Israel; Another Way, Another Time: Religious Inclusivism and the Sacks Chief Rabbinate (Judaism and Jewish Life) and Jewish Living, with Reuben Turner. 

Meir was also a magistrate for many years and served in the lower court and also in the London Borough of Harrow from 2000-2005. He lived his last ten years in Israel, achieving his lifelong dream of making aliyah.

In December, 1969  Meir married Jackie Hirsch, whom he met when they both worked for the JC. They later divorced. Meir is survived by their two children Sharon and Jonny, living respectively in London and Australia.


Meir Persoff: born August 25, 1941. 
Died April 19, 2019

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