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Memorial Address: The Very Rev. Joseph Herman Hertz, Chief Rabbi

Rev. Solomon Levy

<plain_text><page sequence="1">(3) JOSEPH HERMAN HERTZ1 (President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, IQ22-24) By the Rev. S. Levy, M.A. Greater than the highest title is a man's own name. There can therefore be no charge of lack of reverence for the Chief Rabbi and a Past President of our Society if, in the course of this tribute to his memory he is sometimes called Joseph Herman Hertz, or Joseph Hertz, or, even quite simply, Hertz. The American Jewish Historical Society was founded in New York on 7th June, 1892. The title page of its publications bears the motto in Hebrew, " Remember the days of old." Forty years afterwards, on 13th December, 1932, at the opening of the new Mocatta Library and Museum and the Gustave Tuck Theatre, University College, London, Joseph Herman Hertz, Chief Rabbi, chose as the text of his address of dedication the words, 66 Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations." In the interval between these two dates, in New York in 1892, and in London in 1932, when the same words were chosen as the message of Jewish History, in 1913 Joseph Herman Hertz had been appointed Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, and had already firmly established his place as a great figure in World Jewry. On 13th June, 1922, he was elected President of our Society. The subject of his address was " The First Pastoral Tour to the Jewish Communities of the Dominions In his own words it was " the story of a unique pastoral visit to forty-two different communities on three continents, of a tour extending over eleven months and covering over 40,000 miles ". This record of his tour bears eloquent testimony to the personal force which gave him such a commanding power of interesting and impressing his hearers. He revealed himself with equal candour and reticence, and he was never lacking in the human touch. He drew a series of pictures of Jewish life in the Dominions which are delightfully vivid, and the address still remains a document of historic importance. While still in Johannesburg in 1905, Hertz published a brochure, The Jew in South Africa, and thus showed his recognition of the value and importance of research into the history of local communities. From the early days of his Chief Rabbinate he always displayed a keen interest in the varied branches of the activities of our Society. He was by no means a detached or austere historian. He did not allow himself to become so absorbed in the dry bones of names and dates, of which he had an amazing memory, to the neglect of the living beings covering the bones and throbbing with the joys and sorrows and hopes of human nature. He thus revealed a philosophy whose central note is that souls and minds and movements are of infinite consequence. His mind was well stored with reverence for the past. He betrayed a wide knowledge of ancient lore. He loved to 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 21st March, 1946.</page><page sequence="2">JOSEPH HERMAN HERTZ 237 tread in the by-ways of antiquarianism. He found joy in tracing some practice or tradition to its earliest source. But in his close attention to particular points of scholarship he never ignored the attraction and the need of the wider view. He never allowed the charm and interest which lurk in the lanes and by-paths to draw him aside too far from the highways of history. History for him was the task of bringing people and events into relation with universal human trends. He was gifted with a conspicuous ability to summarize the lives of men and the sequence of move? ments with clarity, with restraint, with proportion and with shapeliness of style. One of the objects of the Society which was especially dear to him was the encouragement of means designed to meet the needs of those who could best be reached by the popularization of learning. He was greatly attracted by the duty he felt of informing the general public of the results of research and the lessons of history. He was a great benefactor in opening walks of delight to the average man who could make no claim whatsoever to being a specialist. He could describe with radiance the record of Israel's history through scenes of romance and tragedy, gay and grave, light and shade. He could illustrate his theme by crystallizing a great thought in an apt epithet or in the magic of a phrase, giving proof of his deep knowledge and acute judgment. On 8th April, 1935, he read a paper before the Society, " Moses Maimonides : A General Estimate," introductory to the Anglo-Jewish celebrations of the eighth centenary of the birth of Maimonides. This address is a splendid example of his flair for the enrichment of the mind by helping and encouraging others to understand what he himself appreciated and was so well able to expound and to impart with clearness and conciseness. In a course of University Extension Lectures on " Translations of the Hebrew Bible ", held at Toynbee Hall under the joint auspices of the Jewish Historical Society and the Union of Jewish Literary Societies, Joseph Hertz delivered on 26th March, 1919, the tenth and concluding lecture, "Jewish Translations in English." This essay may be regarded as the prelude to his own work, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs : Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary, the first volume of which was published ten years later in 1929. The Preface to the volume on Genesis is dated: " Lag be-Omer, 5689; 28th May, 1929." The Preface to the volume on Deuteronomy is dated : " Lag-be-Omer, 5696 ; 10th May, 1936." The work in its entirety presents, indeed, a " Scholars' Feast". But it has done more. It has achieved the distinct success of conveying a mass of illuminating information for spiritual understanding and religious inspiration, expressed in a form admirably suited for readers who do not possess the advantages of expert knowledge. Hertz's interpretation of the Torah, God's gift to Israel, was followed by his Revised Edition, with Commentary, of the Authorized Daily Prayer Book, " Israel's gift to God." Part I of the Prayer Book appeared in 1942. These two works, on the Torah and the Prayer Book, display an astonishing record of a fine quality of patient, persistent and untiring labour in literary production. On 12th May, 1889, Joseph Jacobs, also a Past President of our Society, delivered an address before the Ethical Society on "Jewish Ideals ". In the course of his lecture he stated that the whole conception of the Mission of Israel, or presenting another aspect of it, is the Jewish ideal of what he termed " the Hallowing of History This phrase was adopted with acknowledgment by Hertz as the title of his additional note on Deuteronomy xxxii. 7, " Remember the days of old, Consider the years of</page><page sequence="3">238 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES successive generations." We have thus come round in a circle to the starting point of Hertz's description of his view that the task of the student of Jewish history is to " remember the days of old," and to " consider the years of every generation ". In his special comment on the verse Hertz there wrote, " The truth will then dawn upon the student that Judaism, in addition to being a body of doctrine and faith, a way of life and salvation, is also a civilization, a civilization that has made distinct contributions in every sphere of human life, human thought, and human achieve? ment." Hertz never allowed himself merely to be immersed in books in his study. He sedulously watched the trend of the history that unrolled itself before his gaze. He not only read history, and wrote history. He lived history, and made history. His valiant and successful work at Geneva for the Defence of the Sabbath was one of the outstanding performances of his great career, and rightly earned and gained for him the eternal gratitude of the whole House of Israel. During his long tenure of office, in vindicating the cause of our people he con? sistently proved himself to be a doughty protagonist of the highest order, both in speech and in writing. He possessed a deep conviction of the sanctity of human life. He had an utter abhorrence of persecution, whether political or religious. With amazing energy and eloquence he pleaded and defended the cause of freedom of conscience for all races and creeds. He bore with extraordinary resilience the obstacles which his ideas sometimes encountered, but he never weakened in his unswerving loyalty to the principles for which he stood. He was ever faithful to the great traditions which he had inherited from the past. He had drive and imagination, united with a deep understanding of the complexities of human nature. He was never commonplace. His brain was clear and strong and constant, and he never let go of the lofty ideals he gripped so firmly with the passionate urge of innate faith. When the tragedy of the War fell upon the world he faced the anguish of the crisis with the same indomitable courage that he had always shown throughout his life. In the end, however, the body gave way under the grievous burden. But the message of his heart and soul survives. He has passed on, but there endures above all the after-glow of the indelible impression of his unceasing energy, enthusiastically devoted to his great tasks. " Seest thou a man diligent in his work ? He shall stand before kings (Proverbs xxii. 29). Rabbi Jehuda said, This verse may be applied to the career of Joseph, who " stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt " (Genesis xli. 46) [Tanchuma to Exodus ix. 13 ; ed. Buber, page 16b]. In the case of our Joseph, the text, " he shall stand before kings" was fulfilled in 1943, when Joseph Herman Hertz, a great Chief Rabbi and a great citizen, was made by King George VI a Companion of Honour. There is a special sense, however, in which Hertz was our own " Companion of Honour ". A congenial comrade in fellowship of labour, a stimulating companion, an erudite guide, with his mind always fertile in suggestion and continually directed to fresh designs and receptive of new ideas, Hertz leaves behind him a happy and an abiding memory of valuable services cheerfully rendered. He remains an example and an influence, which will long continue to be treasured by our Society as a source of inspiration in all its endeavours for the promotion of the study of Jewish history.</page></plain_text>