Thursday, July 06, 2006

on the shoulders of giants

i just heard that rabbi dr. louis jacobs died this past week. in honour of the 350th anniversary of the return of the jews to england, he was voted the top british jew of all time in the jewish chronicle newspaper, ahead of such luminaries as benjamin disraeli and moses montefiore. his official career, however did not run smoothly. he was banned by the chief rabbi ...

the times notes that:

"The cause of this intervention lay in a little book that Jacobs had published in l956 called We Have Reason to Believe. In that he set out the accepted views of the biblical scholarship of the late 19th and 20th centuries, that the first five books of the Bible, known in Judaism as Torah, were the product of several authors and editors.

In his later and greater work, Principles of the Jewish Faith, Jacobs insisted that he accepted Halakha, Jewish religious law, in all its scope and severity, and as such he remained “orthodox” or “neo-orthodox”.

Although those statements would not raise an eyebrow among the bulk of Anglo-Jewry, they were anathema to Brodie and those around him. Their “orthodoxy” continued to demand that the Five Books of Moses be regarded as having been dictated, word for word, by God to Moses on Mount Sinai around the year 1250BC. For daring to challenge that view with scholarship, Jacobs was deemed by Brodie and the rabbis around him as unfit either to run Jews’ College or to return to his Bayswater pulpit, as he was invited to do. The ban meant that, from the moment in l962 that Brodie pronounced it until Jacobs died, he was barred from preaching or otherwise officiating in any of the 63 congregations of the United Synagogue, and in dozens more that accepted the authority of the Chief Rabbinate."

through my father, i met r. jacobs a few times, the last of which must have been nearly 20 years ago when he and his wife came to albert's 60th birthday party (as did john rayner, z"l; hyam maccoby z"l o dear many now dead friends). i know him more, however, through his books. for teaching at a beginner's level, i ofter refer to the book of jewish belief as well as 'the book of jewish practice'. organised, clear, traditional but in a 20th-century way, i trust what he has to say, whether or not i agree with it. i inherited many of r. jacobs' books from my father and brought some home from the office to look at in the coming week.

the times concludes with:

"His place in history is forever secure as the man who sought heroically to bring Anglo-Jewish orthodoxy into the 20th century, and was rewarded with martyrdom. And the pellucid clarity and profound scholarship of his writings on all aspects of Judaism secure his place as a lasting teacher."

(nb from "Admitting the passage of light; transparent or translucent. Transparently clear in style or meaning: pellucid prose.")

another of the gedolei ha-dor bites the dust.

again i ask - is it easier to have integrity when there is someone at home who cooks for you and cleans for you and does your laundry and sleeps with you and cares for your children and holds you and says there there darling they are all horrid and you are the best?

meanwhile, the second yahrzeit of my darling father is this shabbat. there are so many giants on whose shoulders i stand, but his most of all.

nu - i found some quotes re the origin of the phrase ... enjoy (or not):

"i say with didacus stella, a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself."
'democritus to the reader'
by robert burton (1576/7-1640)

i also had quotes by george herbert & by samuel taylor coleridge, but the wikipedia article has them all and more so i'll just end with a bit of latin to show off :-)

"pigmaei gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident"
(pigmies placed on the shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves)
by didacus stella

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