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Elkan Nathan Adler: In Memoriam

Rev. E. Levine

<plain_text><page sequence="1">lElfcan Batban Hbler: Hn flfoemoriam An Address delivered before The Jewish Historical Society, on 14th November, 1946 By the Rev. Ephraim Levine, M.A. The old admonition to praise famous men in the congregation of the people could never have been more welcome than it is this evening when you permit me to offer tribute, in the name of the Jewish Historical Society, to Elkan Adler. In the long and honoured roll of those who have shed lustre upon our Society the name and fame of Elkan Adler stand out amongst the greatest. He was one of the original members ; before the Society was called into being he was one of the pioneers in Anglo-Jewish Historical research ; he occupied the Presidential Chair, and till the day of his death he remained a member of the Council. And throughout the years of his long and busy life^ he pursued the path of the scholar, allowing his steps to carry him into many fields of learning, sowing the seeds and reaping the harvest, and enriching Jewish and general scholarship with all the fertility of his versatile mind. Yet he was no dilettante who toyed wth the arts of learning, content with a smatter here and there while remaining master of nothing. If the real scholar is the man who knows something of everything and everything about something, Elkan Adler would satisfy the definition. The son of a Chief Rabbi and the brother of a Chief Rabbi, he was born and reared in an atmosphere of religion. Judaism was his creed and his life, its ceremonial obligations and its ethical concepts uniting to form a basis of living and conduct. He was proud of his rabbinical descent. In his youth he may have entertained the idea of devoting himself to the life of the 117 1</page><page sequence="2">Il8 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER: IN MEMORIAM synagogue. His early schooldays were spent in the old Jews' College School in Finsbury Square hard by the city home of his parents. In those days many a lad who afterwards turned his life's activity elsewhere enjoyed the educational advantages of secular and Jewish training under the one roof. It was a healthy atmosphere and it helped to breed many who afterwards became zealous servants of the community. The next stage in Adler's schooldays was the City of London School then enjoying the rule of the great Headmaster Abbott for whom he always retained a very high affection. His school career was dis? tinguished, and a time of study at London University followed. It seems that any idea he may have had of entering the Ministry had now gone, for his studies took him into the domain of law, and after qualifying and taking his degree he became a solicitor. He was soon engaged in practice, and for many years he was the senior partner in the firm of Adler and Perowne. His work brought him into contact with communal figures and communal organizations and he enjoyed the confidences of many to whom he acted as advisor. He freely gave his services to his community, and our own Historical Society owes much to his invariable readiness to advise us when we came within the orbit of the law. This is a brief outline of Elkan Adler the solicitor. But I am thinking of him now not as a member of the legal profession immersed in the daily routine of a lawyer's office, receiving and counselling clients. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that almost the last place to look for him in the years I knew him so well was his office. He was a traveller with roots and friends in all parts of the world. His frequent peregrinations to all climes and all communities predated the days of aerial transport, else he would have spent much of his life in the air. But Elkan was never a luftmensch. He was firmly planted on this earth, for his love for his fellow-men was dominant. His friends were to be found in all countries and of all nationalities. Wherever he went he left the impress of a very loving personality.</page><page sequence="3">ELKAN NATHAN ADLER: IN MEMORIAM HQ His journeys were not holiday jaunts to satisfy a restless craving for excitement. They were part of a well ordered scheme of education that was ever growing. If, like the bee, he moved from flower to flower extracting the honey, there was the hive to which he always returned with the store of his books and manuscripts which continued to increase year by year. To many, Elkan Adler was known as a bibliophile. His collections of Judaica and other literature were world famous. Even if he sold libraries, as he did, he still retained libraries which, if divided, would have furnished ample equipment for several libraries. His travels took him to famous Genizas or treasure houses of Hebrew and Arabic MSS. which he managed to acquire, and during the last decade of the nineteenth century, and in this century, he was one of a select band of Geniza hunters which brought to this country sheets and fragments which proved of inestimable value to scholars. The Adler papyri have helped to elucidate dark places in history and to confirm much of the disputed historical facts of the Bible. Nor were his collections confined to Hebraica or Judaica. He was a dis? criminating collector with an eye that roved over literature, anxious to acquire and treasure first editions and rare books in any language. Books were his friends. His idea of friendship which he carried out in his human contacts was transferred to his library and he knew the contents as well as the title pages of his books. To say that he was well read would be but a poor tribute to his knowledge. His was one of those minds that seemed to store up knowledge of all kinds and to be able to bring it to the surface. It was natural that he should turn his studies to Anglo-Jewish history. The published volumes of our Society bear testimony to his labours. Both the Transactions and the Miscellanies record his researches in this domain. Besides, he produced historical works describing the London Jewish Community and Jews in Many Lands. I am not competent to appraise the real scientific value of his works?Elkan often allowed himself latitude in</page><page sequence="4">I20 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM statement of facts?but they make interesting and instructive reading. Scholars are proverbially critical of one another's work, but to us the rank and file or the men in the street, scholarship speaks of hard work, and we are grateful when other minds present us with what we would not have found for ourselves. The popularizer has his place as well as the original thinker if all are to share in the harvest. My privilege this evening as your spokesman allows me to see our good friend in other places than the scholar's den or the pilgrim's quest. I had the honour of having him sit under me, as they say, and no minister could have wanted a more loyal and affectionate congregant. To him the service of the synagogue was part of his life, and his friendly guidance and his informed criticism were ever a source of encouragement. There was not much that one could teach him, but what little there may have been never failed to elicit appreciation. He never sought office or courted popularity ; he was content to worship God in the beauty of holiness. Yet no man was more beloved or more accessible or more sought after for advice and information. It was the same on the many communal committees on which he sat. His apparent lackadaisical interest in the proceedings really concealed a mind that was working and absorbing all that was said. His witty and pertinent contributions would often relieve the tedium that envelops so many of these gatherings. If I may add a few more words in this inadequate tribute it will be to stress the personal character and humanity of this beloved personality. I have spoken of his conception of friend? ship. It would savour of presumption if I spoke of his family affection and his high sense of duty. Circumstances throughout his life provided a continuous revelation of this family devotion, and the terrible wars with their wreckage of homes abroad found him ready for the task of helping to repair the breaches of the walls. He was lavish in his goodness. He never turned away from the cry of distress. His private benefactions were bestowed with an old world courtesy. It was all part of a nature</page><page sequence="5">ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM 121 that overflowed with love. One feature which we shall all love to dwell upon was his attachment to children. It is a beautiful sight to see the eyes of the young brighten at the entrance of the old. He was the good Uncle to so many. No more affectionate honour could have been given him than to be everybody's Uncle Elkan. I saw him often during his long illness. He had the same serene faith and the same cheerfulness. He never doubted that life was worth living even in the face of death. It was not the end, but the beginning. For the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God. Their hope is full of immortality.</page><page sequence="6">Frontispiece ELKAN NATHAN ADLER Photo by Lafayette</page></plain_text>