Baruch Dayan HaEmet

Menachem Mendel is reporting Rabbi Louis Jacobs passed away over Shabbat. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

UPDATE: Paul Shaviv notes in the comments below and on AJHistory that Rabbi Louis Jacobs was the expert witness retained by Chabad during its fight with the family of the 6th rebbe to prove gifts given to a hasidic rebbe become the property of the hasidic movement and not of the rebbe himself.

It so happens that Rabbi Jacobs was wrong – hasidic history, including Chabad hasidic history, is full of examples where gifts to a rebbe became the private property of that rebbe. Furthermore, the 6th rebbe had privately purchased most of his library, and most of those purchases were of secular books, including titles like Sherlock Holmes in Yiddish.

That aside, Baruch Dayan HaEmet.



Filed under Chabad History, Jewish Leadership

23 responses to “Baruch Dayan HaEmet

  1. Londoner

    A rare sighting of Jacobs and Emet in the same sentence.

    He was a fraud

  2. The Beadle

    Actually, he was far from a fraud.

    His difference with the United Synagogue and Chief Rabbinate was only ever on an intellectual level – he never advocated not keeping Torah and Mitzvot and continued to do so until his dying day.

    Even if you disagree with his conclusions, if you read any of his writing or had at least had a conversation with him you would realise that he was all about trying to get to the Truth.

    Where he failed was that he didn’t realise that he was almost the only one who could keep it purely intellectual. His followers have pretty much all used it to further their own agendas and to try and bring it closer to the Conservative/Reform (whether or not you believe in it, this was never Rabbi Jacobs intention).

    At the end, Rabbi Jacobs was very sad disappointed in how things had turned out, what his followers were doing and upset at the fact that none of his supporters appeared to understand him.

  3. Anonymous

    He was a kofer. Not sure why you are saying burch dayan emes over him. His mesorati congregations ignored halachah.

  4. Paul Shaviv

    Thank you to ‘The Beadle’ for an exceptionally perceptive note. Rabbi Jacobs ztz”l was a giant – whether you agreed with him or not. He was also a gentleman, who never descended to the level of many of his opponents, was unfailingly polite, very humble and very shy.

    Baruch Dayan Emes

  5. Yochanan Lavie

    Once again, the chumra-niks show their sensitivity to those they disagree with. No intellectual honsety permitted- toe the party line- or else. I didn’t always agree with Rabbi Jacobs, but I respect him as an intellectual giant and a sincere Jew. Unlike some “gedolim,” he didn’t shelter pedophiles, for example. Baruch dayan emet.

  6. Still wonderin'

    I find this exchange funny, tragic, and maddening.

    When sharing my feelings about ‘Gedolim’ in Lakewood, Brooklyn, or Israel who repulse me with their nonsensical rantings about who is a good Jew and who is bad based on arbitrary measures of piety, I often am told that if I don’t respect their individual views, I must at least revere the Torah they learn and the amount of Torah knowledge they possess.

    It’s plain to see this apologist hair-splitting is plenty selective.

  7. Paul Shaviv


    Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs ztz”l

    The passing of Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, just a few days before his 86th birthday, deprives the British Jewish community of the most knowledgeable, the most versatile – and most controversial scholar it has ever produced.

    Louis Jacobs was born in 1920 to a working-class, not particularly observant family in Manchester, England. He was identified as a child as an ‘iluy’ – a Talmudic prodigy – and as a teenager was the outstanding student at the Manchester yeshivah. He later became one of the early fellows of the Gateshead Kollel, and in the late 1940’s came to London as the assistant Rabbi at Rabbi Dr. Eli Munk’s strictly Orthodox ‘Golders Green Beth Hamedrash’.

    Up to this point he had had no University education, and he enrolled in the Jewish Studies Department at University College London. His exposure to critical scholarship and the wider academic world irrevocably changed his intellectual faith, although not his Jewish allegiance. After a short period as a Rabbi in Manchester, he returned to London as a Rabbi at the fashionable and intellectual congregation of the historic New West End synagogue. The New West End in the mainstream Orthodox United Synagogue, and not long afterwards began teaching at Jews’ College, the then training seminary for Orthodox rabbis.

    In 1957, Jacobs published ‘We have Reason to Believe’ – proposing a rationale of how Jews could accept modern scholarship, but still regard traditional Jewish halachic practice as authoritative. In the Anglo-Jewry of the time it was unexceptional. But times were changing, and, in retrospect, what followed was a British harbinger of the worldwide militant Orthodoxy that has characterised Jewish life ever since. The details of the ‘Jacobs Affair’, where as a result of his writings and beliefs he was excluded first from Jews’ College, and then from the United Synagogue Rabbinate altogether, are intricate and labyrinthine, and have been recounted many times – including by Rabbi Jacobs himself. Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, pushed by the Dayyanim of the London Beth Din (in particular Dayyan Moshe Swift), made Louis Jacobs a leper in his own beloved Anglo-Jewry. In the process Brodie wrecked Jews’ College and split the community. Rabbi Jacobs’ supporters resigned en masse from the United Synagogue and founded an independent congregation, the New London Synagogue.

    In the decades that followed, Louis Jacobs published a staggering array of both scholarly and popular works on Judaism. His knowledge covered medieval philosophy, theology, Talmudic studies, responsa literature, Kaballah, mysticism and Hassidism. Few scholars worldwide equalled his range of scholarly activity. He was a visiting fellow at Harvard Divinity School, and a distinguished lecturer and teacher all over the world. His detractors could never criticise his knowledge or scholarship. In 1985, when the American Lubavitch Hassidim sued a nephew of the Schneersohn family regarding ownership of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s valuable library, the issue hinged on whether in Hassidic doctrine gifts to a Rebbe became the Rebbe’s personal property or communal property of the Hassidic movement. Louis Jacobs was the expert witness retained by Chabad as the world expert on Hassidic doctrine. (He found it piquant that the judge in the case had been married to the daughter of the renowned Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr!).

    Louis Jacobs never sought controversy, and never sought ‘machlokes’. In his personal life he was a gentleman – shy, reserved and unfailingly gracious to all. Unlike some of his detractors, he remained civil, polite and dignified throughout his life, suffering major and minor insults – continuing up to very recent times – with reserve. His New London Synagogue generated the British ‘Masorti’ movement, which sits awkwardly somewhere between the American Conservative Movement and traditional Orthodoxy. Yet Rabbi Jacobs distanced himself from the movement, and was never comfortable with its radical tendencies. He turned down several opportunities for leadership in non-Orthodox institutions, believing always that Halachah could and should be the basis of Judaism, and that Halachic Judaism could be explained in terms that fully faced the implications of modern thought and scholarship. It was a refined position that could only ever appeal to a small circle.

    In 2005, readers of the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ voted him as the most distinguished Jew in Anglo-Jewry’s 350-year recent history. It was a fitting tribute, and telling in the regard that the community retained for a respected thinker and scholar – and telling in the lingering feeling of solidarity and sympathy for a Rabbi and scholar who, whether you agreed with his theology or not, had been disgracefully treated by the Establishment.

  8. Londoner

    Mr Shaw,

    Apparently Eliyohu Hanovi was a curmugeonly old man, wheres the prophets of Baal were kindly old souls with smiles on their faces and sweeties for the little kids.

    They were still ovdei avoda zorah, he was still a novi. Good manners don’t enter into it.

  9. The Beadle

    Dear Londoner

    Please explain the comparison, using real life facts, not just sarcasm.

    Many thanks

  10. Anonymous

    It doesnt matter that he was a tulmid chochom. He was a kofer and he publicaly spread his kefirah. It doesnt matter how many other good things he did.

    He has the halacha of tamid chochom she eino hogun and its therefore was ossur to learn from him.

    As a kofer he has no chelek in olum habak ect. Therefore its innapropriate to say baruch dayan emes. Of course this upsets modern sensibilites. Some cant understand why someone with some different hashkofos should be treated with such disdain. However shulchan orach proscribes such action.

    The only way one can respect him AND be interlectually honest is to think he was correct or at least have some doubts. However if one does then one doubts the vercity of the mesorah and its reason d’etre. Of course if someone thinks that way they obviously think its fine to respect him. But they should at least understand why others do not.

  11. Londoner

    “He was also a gentleman, who never descended to the level of many of his opponents, was unfailingly polite, very humble and very shy.”

    So, apparently, were the prophets of Baal.

    No sarcasm required.

  12. Londoner

    PS, I’m not sure that saying BD’Emes is inappropriate for anyone, even a rosho.

    The question of whether we should make a brocho of Hatov VeHameitiv is a more interesting one.

  13. Neo-Conservaguy

    “He turned down several opportunities for leadership in non-Orthodox institutions, believing always that Halachah could and should be the basis of Judaism, and that Halachic Judaism could be explained in terms that fully faced the implications of modern thought and scholarship. It was a refined position that could only ever appeal to a small circle.”

    A circle that clearly precludes some of the authors of previous comments, proving that sinat chinam is alive and well amongst Am Yisrael.

    Perhaps we should all commit to reading some of R. Jacob’s writings as a qiddush to his memory and his assured place in haOlam haBa.

    Barukh Dayan Emeth.

  14. Anonymous

    On the subject of wayward English rabbis, is there any truth in these new whoring claims against Rabbi Dovid Jaffe,7340,L-3267471,00.html
    head of Lubavitch Manchester?

  15. The Beadle

    How many chareidim out there are truly intellectually honest? How many have truly thought through whether they believe in Torah Minhashamayim or not? If that belief is based on blind faith, then how can you criticise someone for not being blind? How many have really attempted to search their soul and conscience to see if they really belive the official policy?

    Very few if any. They all just tow the party line and condemn anyone who steps outside.

    Really think about it. Read R. Jacobs, ztz”l books and, if you can truly understand what he was trying to say, attempt to argue with it.

    I highly doubt if (m)any of his opponents have actually read that which he wrote before sticking labels on him. How on earth can you pass judgement on someone without having truly examined the facts?

    The man was a talmid chacham as well as genius, as well as a real mentsch, something which not many people can claim to be.

    I am not a Jacobs supporter, per se – I don’t necessarily agree with everything he taught and definitely don’t agree with the consequences which came about as a result of his choices, whether or not he intended them.

    But never let it be said that the man wasn’t a giant amongst men, be it in his Torah or his love for his fellow man (one and the same imho, but for these purposes, separate).
    If nothing else, he taught many people to think rather than blindly accept, something which really doesn’t happen too often in the Chareidi world.

  16. The Beadle

    In last week’s JC it was reported that Rabbi Joffe is going to sue the News of the World “in due course”, whatever that may mean.

    It should be noted that David Beckham was going to sue the newspapers that made claims about him having an affair “in due course” but never quite got round to it.

    I’m just saying…

  17. Yochanan Lavie

    “They all just tow the party line and condemn anyone who steps outside.” That’s why I find it untenable to be a conventional Orthodox Jew. (Although I do believe in revelation- it is a matter of faith, not logic.)

  18. Anonymous

    B’avod reshaim rina

  19. Neo-Conservaguy

    Perhaps, but in this case the gates of heaven are wide open for our departed sage. May you be forgiven for your hatred so that someday you should merit such a place in the world to come.

  20. C-Girl

    Nice anonymous comment at 5:27.

    Computers, like cans of spray paint, are wonderful things, just so long as they’re kept away from malicious little children. You’re kinda like a teenager with a can of paint who thinks it’s a big thrill to paint a swasticka on a local shul in the middle of the night. So there you are, you’ve got your keyboard, and you painted your simplistic little shard of hatred. We’re all so impressed (not).

  21. Anonymous


    The torah commands us to abhore and criticise rishos. This man exemplified the dissemination of kefirah. He advocated it tried to get others to believe it. We are chayiv to be sonai him.

  22. Francis Treuherz

    Way back in 1959 I attended Jews College as a young student from the provinces, it had been suggested to me to go there to learn with the newly appointed teacher, Rabbi Louis Jacobs. I learned much from him and other teachers. But to live through the affair and watch my role models for example the college principal and the chief rabbi, refuse to even sit with each other or Rabbi Jacobs for a meal, and treat him so badly, tore my heart out and I fled. It took years for me to recover and find a new profession (homeopathy) and a synagogue where I feel at home (Spanish & Portuguese). The college is now an empty shell and my new community, using funds from Moses Montefiore, is now restarting a kollel to train rabbis for Anglo-Jewry. Paul Shaviv has done justice to Rabbi Jacobs, a scholar who walked humbly before his God and fellow humans.

  23. William Ian Collins

    As a long lost cousin I had not appreciated how influencial Louis had been, and it is now the case that many who were frightened to acknowledge his ideas while he was alive feel it safe to do so now he has gone. The essence of his teaching is not only to find the Truth, but to find it or work it out for yourself, do not be lead without, questioning, thinking, examining, and studying Torah for yourself. Jackobovits understood and accepted the intellectual rationale, Sacks cannot and will not.My sadness is not seeing him last year while Shulah his wife was alive.We have lost someone irreplacable.

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