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Pictures - Jacobs Archive ©
1. Louis Jacobs as a boy
2. On his Wedding Day (1944)
3. Obtaining Doctorate (1953)
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Brief biography of Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was born in Manchester, to Yiddish speaking parents who originated from Latvia and Lithuania. His background was traditional rather than strictly Orthodox. He was trained to read Jewish texts as a child, leaving school at 15 to enrol full time at the Manchester Yeshiva. He moved in his late teens to the Kollel in Gateshead where he met Shula Lisagorska, to whom he was married for over 60 years. Jacobs became assistant Rabbi to Rabbi Eliyahu Munk in Golders Green Beth Hamidrash, at the same time studying Semitics at University College London, obtaining a BA and, in 1952, a PhD.

In 1948 the family moved briefly back to Manchester, where Jacobs served as Rabbi at Manchester Central Synagogue, before returning to London he joined the New West End Synagogue in 1955. Jacobs was widely viewed as Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie’s successor, and in a period of absence in 1955 Jacobs deputised for Brodie. At the end of 1959 Jacobs resigned from the synagogue pulpit to become Moral Tutor and Lecturer in Homiletics at Jews’ College, London, but when the Principal of Jews’ College Isidore Epstein, retired in 1961, Jacobs’ formal nomination for the position was blocked by Brodie. When Jacobs resigned from the college later that year amid some uproar, and applied for a vacancy at his former synagogue, the New West End, this was also vetoed by Brodie.

Opposition to Jacobs was based on views he had published several years earlier in We have Reason to Believe (1959), arguing that the Torah was not received directly by Moses on Sinai in the exact form known today.

Once Jacobs found himself barred from United Synagogue pulpits, a group of supporters decided to establish a new community based in Abbey Road, St John’s Wood. In 1964 this became the New London Synagogue.

The controversy surrounding Jacobs’ theology was a source of dissent within the Anglo-Jewish community throughout Lord Jakobovits’ time as Chief Rabbi (1967-1991) and after.

Jacobs was Rabbi of the New London Synagogue for over 26 years writing many books, including A Tree of Life (1984), God, Torah, Israel (1990), his autobiography Helping with Inquiries (1989) and Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999). Jacobs also made a great contribution to the scholastic work on Rabbinics and translated several key Hasidic texts. His community joined the Masorti movement, which currently has thirteen synagogues in the UK. Jacobs’s views are still regularly challenged and sidelined by other sections of Anglo-Jewry, despite much public recognition for his academic and pastoral work: he was a visiting professor and awarded honorary degrees from Harvard Divinity School (1985-6) and Lancaster University (1987), received a CBE in 1990 and was voted ‘Greatest British Jew’ of the last 350 years in a poll in the Jewish Chronicle (2005).

Jacobs retired aged 81 in 2001, but returned to lead the New London Synagogue in 2005. In 2006 he donated his library to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library, Yarnton. His stalwart wife died in 2005, and he died some months later, aged 85 (2006). He had three children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.