< Back

Memorial Addresses Vol 27 1

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Memorial Addresses THE REVEREND DR JAMES WILLIAM PARKES ma, DPhil, dhl 1896-1981 My own first encounter with the Reverend Dr James William Parkes took place 32 years ago, in December 1949.1 had just passed my 2 ist birthday and was down to read my first paper to this Society, on 4 Anglo-Je wish Notaries and Scriveners'. As its President, he invited me to dine with him at the Athenaeum, and selected a suitably fishy menu, which was accompanied - after he had ascertained that I did not take the view that French peasants made libations to strange gods - by a pleasant Alsace wine. I was awed by the surroundings and extremely nervous. I vividly remember the evening. He regaled me with the history of the 18th-century Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry and his continen? tal tours. He also told me that since Nathan Marcus Adler's day, every Chief Rabbi had been elected to the Athenaeum. As a loyal Sephardi, I asked if Dr Gaster had been similarly honoured. 'What, that old rascal? Never!' was the reply. After the meal, with a truly stentorian shout from the steps of the club, he succeeded in hailing a taxi passing Florence Night? ingale's statue, and we drove to the meeting at the Stern Hall, fully relaxed and ready to enjoy the proceedings. This was only the first of many amiable meetings. He and his wife, Dorothy, became good friends of my parents, especially after his vehement opposi? tion to all attempts to convert Jews to Christianity had been made clear. My father and he soon found that, apart from their mutual concern for Jewish refugees and fascination with Jewish history, they also shared a love of the French language and its literature. We came to read his books, including the theological writings in the pen name of John Hadham, and to learn of his earlier life. He was a man of impressive personality and wide-ranging talents. It is still a mystery to me why the Church of England should have failed to make use of them and why such a good man and able leader and teacher should have been excluded from preferment and even, at one time, banned from preaching in his bishop's diocese. James Parkes was born in 1896 on the Island of Jersey and grew up there. His father was a retired engineer from England, who had become a tomato grower. The first traceable Parkes ancestor was a yeoman who bought land at Dudley in 1652, during the great land redistribution of the Com? monwealth. The Parkes family were Unitarians and were related to the Wedgwoods, Chamberlains and other families of the Midland Unitarian elite. In the 19th century, Joseph Parkes became an important brassfounder, a precedent which caused James to build up a fine collection of single brass candle? sticks. However, James was no Unitarian. His mother, who died while he was a boy, taught him her Anglican faith and he was always a committed member of the Church of England. While at school he won an Open Scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, and then enlisted to fight in the First World War. In his autobiography, Voyage of Discoveries, he wrote succinctly of his experiences on the Western Front: The life of an infantry subaltern in the Ypres Salient has been described so often that I have nothing fresh to add to it. In my last period in the line, I was in command of the Company, for the simple reason that I was the only officer still alive. But I had, without knowing it, collected a dose of mustard gas. It was realized only when I suddenly went blind on parade some days after we got out of the line. After the war, in which both his brother and sister were killed, James Parkes went up to Oxford. He took his degree, despite catching measles in the middle of his finals, and then went on to study for ordination. It was at this stage that he owned a canoe named Shear Yashuv - 4A Remnant shall return!' - which suggests that he must have been intrigued by the Hebrew language, even though he always claimed that he could never remember whether the Hebrew for 'goodbye' is Le-hitraot or Histadrut. He worked first in the Student Christian Move? ment, was ordained, served as a curate at Hamp stead and then became Secretary of International Student Services at Geneva. It was at this time that xiii</page><page sequence="2">xiv Memorial Addresses he first encountered organized anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jewish students in Polish, Romanian and Hungarian universities. Its force and irrationality puzzled him and he decided to study the history and origin of anti-Semitism and of Post-Biblical Judaism in a systematic way. In 1930 he published The Jew and His Neighbour, and he used his study-leave to begin his doctoral thesis, The Conflict between the Church and Synagogue. He commenced a detailed study of the forgery being used by the Nazis to promote anti-Jewish feelings, the famous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. In 1935 the Nazis instructed their followers in Switz? erland to assassinate James Parkes and to destroy his copy of the very rare pamphlet attacking Napoleon III, which was the main source of the text of the Protocols. By chance, it was James Parkes' manservant who was sandbagged and left for dead and he (and the pamphlet) escaped. However, he felt bound to resign his post and to return to England. He bought a house at Barley and approached Israel Sieff, who agreed to support him while he studied and wrote in depth on the history of anti-Semitism. No patron ever made a better investment. A spate of other books followed: Jesus, Paul and the Jews; The Jews in the Medieval Com? munity; The Jewish Problem in the Modern World and, in the period after the Second World War, many others: The History of Palestine; Whose Land?; The History of the Jewish People; Prelude to Dialogue and my own favourite, The Foundations of Judaism and Christanity, with its superbly learned and sympath? etic account of the Judaism of the Tannaim. He never wrote up his research on the Protocols, but Professor Norman Cohn made good use of his material in his Warrant for Genocide. In the course of his studies, James Parkes made two discoveries which were profoundly disturbing to him. First, that the weird Political Thought of Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in the teaching of the Church Fathers. Secondly, that Rabbinic Judaism was as lofty and as profound a religion as Christianity, though each contained elements miss? ing from the other. He attained a deeper under? standing of Judaism than any Christian scholar has ever done - apart from George Foot Moore and possibly John Seiden in the 17th century. He could not read Hebrew, but his Latin was excellent, so he read the sources of Judaism not only in English, French and German, but in the Latin translations of the great Christian Hebraists of the past, Lightfoot, the Buxtorfs, Surenhuis and Seiden, and was profoundly moved by what he read and studied. This deep spiritual encounter convinced him that traditional Christian theology needed to be recon? structed to take Judaism into account. A need which he was among the first Christians to recog? nize. He made the attempt himself. His schema met his own need for a personal theology, but I do not believe that anyone else accepted it. He postulated that Judaism, Christianity and Science, which he called Humanism, were all uniquely inspired by God. They were the three successive Revelations of the three aspects of a Triune Deity meeting the needs of man as a social being, as a person and as a seeker. The integrity of each should be respected. Such a schema saw attemps to convert Jews to Christianity as no part of the Divine Will. This vision took a practical form in James Parkes' Presidency of our Society. He gave us two elegant and profound Presidential addresses. He worked conscientiously for the Society and was pleased to be elected. The honour was marred, however, by an American Rabbi, whom he described as of Incred? ible orthodoxy', whom he met in a procession at the 25th Anniversary of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was, as Parkes wrote, entirely uninhibited by the presence of the victim in expressing his opinion (a) of an Anglican clergyman who became president of a Jewish learned society; (b) of a Jewish learned society which could so far forget itself as to elect an Anglican clergyman to be its president; (c) of the whole of Anglo-Jewry which allowed such license to its learned society that so appalling a calamity could happen. He was just passing to his fourth point when the procession reached its destination. {Voyage of Discovery) I do not think that we had any occasion to accept this charge of decadence or to repent our choice, and in due course we were given a Tercentenary lecture and an entertaining fourth paper about Lewis Way, the man who inherited a fortune because he didn't carry a corkscrew, and devoted it to converting Jews and building the 'Promenade des Anglais' at Nice. James Parkes was a great and saintly man, always willing to put help to others ahead of his own needs, a sensitive scholar, a persuasive advo</page><page sequence="3">Memorial Addresses xv cate and a fighter for justice - especially for justice to the Jewish people and to the Jewish religion. It was very sad that his last years should have been wracked by disability and by a long and painful illness. It was a privilege to have known him and to have sat at his feet. EDGAR SAMUEL</page></plain_text>