< Back

Memorial Address: Rev. Arthur Barnett

<plain_text><page sequence="1">(II) THE REV. ARTHUR BARNETT, B.A., H.C.F. By Cecil Roth1 WITH Arthur Barnett, there has passed away one of the last surviving represen? tatives of the old school of the Anglo-Jewish ministry, who had entered Jews' College under the beloved principal, Michael Friedlander, were steeped in the Anglo-Jewish tradition, and brought character as well as erudition to bear on the solution of day-to-day problems. I can still remember him visiting my parents' house when he was inspecting our synagogue classes, and later on, in 1918, he was the only Jewish chaplain whose administration actually reached me in France during the War. My next personal contact with him was after his three years as Minister at Bristol, when he married me in 1928 at the Western Synagogue, to which he had been appointed in 1924. This presumably reminded him of my existence, and when he had succeeded as I imagine in goading rather than persuading the governing body of his congregation to have their archives catalogued, in the fashion set just before by the United Synagogue, I was entrusted with the task. But in fact it was a joint enterprise: we worked on the material constantly together: we periodically had new discoveries to communicate to one another: and the catalogue grew into a History, with numerous side-ventures. It was this which whetted Arthur's historical appetite: and when in 1936, during my first term of President of our Society, our devoted, simple-hearted Honorary Secretary, the Rev. Walter Levin of the Bayswater Synagogue, fell seriously ill, it was natural for me to invite Arthur Barnett to take his place. He served us devotedly thereafter, for over a quarter of a century: no one else I believe ever served us in this capacity before for even half this space of time. After his beloved Synagogue, our Society became his dominant interest?even during the war years, when he again served as Chaplain to the Forces, and was unable to supervise the office work personally. This had as one of its incidental results the 1 Delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 13th, December, 1961.</page><page sequence="2">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES 259 forging of the close association between the Jewish Historical Society and the Western Synagogue, which was in part responsible for the fact that we were able to carry on throughout this difficult period. Conversely, Barnett's deepening historical conscious? ness had important reactions on the venerable congregation to which he ministered, its successive homes twice destroyed by enemy action during the War: for he saw in its survival an historic duty, and it was certainly due to him that it has taken its place again in the London Jewish religious organization, not merely as another synagogue, but as the historic Western Synagogue, established (as our researches had made clear, adding thirty-six years to the previously accepted record) in 1761. But Barnett's association with us was not by any means purely admimstrative. During our work on the Western Synagogue archives, he had become infected with the virus of historical research. His work exemplified the fact on which a body such as ours cannot insist too strongly, that the most rigidly localized enquiries, carried out in the proper spirit, must be a contribution to history in its fullest sense, with significant implications in wider study. The name appended to the erudite Hebrew hymn chanted at the dedication of the Synagogue in Denmark Court in 1797, combined with certain incidental mentions we had found in the early Synagogue records and accounts, resulted in his paper on Eliakim ben Abraham, alias Jacob Hart, the most learned English-born Jewish writer of the eighteenth century and the most memorable representative of the stifled English Haskalah. His desire to vindicate the character of a Westminster Synagogue worthy who carried on a never-ending polemic against the Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel produced his biography of the hitherto neglected Solomon Bennett, artist, publicist, and scholar. And his bicentennial History of his beloved Synagogue, distributed to members of our Society last summer, the fruit of years of loving research was at the same time a contribution to the wider Anglo-Jewish scene and to the social history of eighteenth-century London. In tribute to this work it had been our intention to nominate him for election as Vice-President of our Society during the present session. His health had unfortunately already broken down. But the work that he had already done for us suffices for his name to be remembered by our Society, as one of those who has done most for us over the years, and whose recollection we will ever bear in honour. Never again will I be able to commemorate here any of those who were intimately associated with the work and administration of our Society before the War: for alas, only I am left.</page></plain_text>