< Back

In Memoriam Sir Alan Mocatta OBE (1907-1990)

<plain_text><page sequence="1">In Memoriam Sir Alan Mocatta OBE (i 907-1990) The Hon. Sir Alan Mocatta, OBE, who died in his eighty-fourth year in 1990, had served as President of the Society for the sessions 1969 and 1970; his presidential paper, on his collateral forebear Frederick David Mocatta, was published in volume XXIII of the Society's Transactions, and for many years he was chairman of the Committee of the Mocatta Library that was established by the Society at University College London. A judge of the High Court and a lawyer of distinction, he had not otherwise devoted himself to historical research: but the Society has, from time to time, felt it appropriate to accord the honour of its presidency to persons whose position in public life has itself constituted an item of Anglo-Jewish history and has shed lustre on the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole. In addi? tion, Sir Alan's involvement in aspects of communal leadership - particularly as President of the Elders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, and of the Council of Jews' College - naturally bespoke his occasional attention to matters of historical concern, and his personal interest in them went far beyond the obligations of office. Biographical details may be sought in Who's Who, and the obituary notices which marked his passing on 1 November 1990. Here, it is appropriate to sketch the formative influences that fostered his sense of commit? ment to the history of the community to which he was proud to belong, and which made the Society confident that it was right in offering him its presidency. Those influences overlapped and reinforced one another, but first, and basic, was his spiritual sensitivity to the Jewish message and his awareness that Judaism, as a religious expression, is substantially handicapped if it is emasculated of its historical dimension. Conceivably, his knowledge that his own immediate fore? bears had remained in the Sephardi community when Moses Mocatta had been active as a founder-member of the Reform Congregation in London, may have reinforced his own feeling for the indispensability of Jewish historical conscious? ness - an indispensability which Reform Judaism in its maturity has rediscovered. His Sephardi heritage, running back from 17th-century London through Amsterdam and Italy to Spain, meant that his own concern had a particular focus; and he took a close interest in the research on congregational history carried out by Albert Hyamson when writing his Sephardim of England, first published to mark the 250th anniversary of Bevis Marks. His education, at Polack's house in Clifton and afterwards at New College, Oxford, involved him in participating in the conduct of services in the house and later in the university synagogue - a mitzvah which he xv</page><page sequence="2">In Memoriam continued occasionally to discharge, most melodiously, until the end of his life: this, too, strengthened his consciousness of Judaism as an historical continuity. While he was at Oxford, contact with Herbert Loewe stimulated in him awareness of the need to apply historical understanding to Hebrew origins and to the emergence of Judaism as a religious and social complex that welds faith and ethics to law, rather than taking institutional Judaism for granted. He was conscious of his debt in this respect to Oxford, and took a most active part in securing funds for the provision of a purpose-built university synagogue. His chosen profession deepened his respect for rabbinic jurisprudence, and although himself no talmud? ist he made it his business to acquire a layman's understanding of the workings of the legal system which the Talmud embodies and its attitude towards the various strata of authority. All these interests combined to make Alan Mocatta a distinguished president of the Jewish Historical Society, but their bald recital necessarily leaves aside notice of his commanding presence, and the grace with which those who knew him realized that he was touched. As Rabbi Simeon is recorded to have said {Ethics of the Fathers, 4, 13), the crown of a good name may even surpass the three other crowns in which Judaism takes pride. Raphael Loewe</page></plain_text>