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Reviews: Israel Isidor Mattuck, Architect of Liberal Judaism (2014), Pam Fox

Michael Alpert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Israel Isidor Mattuck, Architect of Liberal Judaism, Pam Fox (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2014), isbn 978-0-853-03878-8, pp. 347, £50. Israel Mattuck was born in Russian-governed Lithuania in 1883, into a traditionally observant Jewish family which came to America towards the end of the nineteenth century. Pam Fox has delved deeply and rigorously into family and synagogue records and into Mattuck's copious writings. She gives extensive treatment to the origins and boyhood of a man who became a leading Jewish personality in Britain, to the vicissitudes of his siblings, to his early education in the United States school system, whose values he always championed, and to his Harvard career. The copious detail, wedded to an agile style, conveys a sense of the richness of Mattuck's background and provides a solid context for the author's own comments about Mattuck's early life before he was appointed Rabbi of London's Liberal Jewish Synagogue in 1912. Mattuck entered Harvard in 1901. He studied classical Hebrew grammar and a wide range of subjects, reading voraciously while continuing assiduously to develop his debating and rhetorical ability. Perhaps most importantly, it was at Harvard that Mattuck affirmed his Jewish identity</page><page sequence="2">176 REVIEWS and his reformed faith: "real faith began at a time when I was really denying all the dogmas I had been taught, and refusing belief in anything supernatural ... It was not until I had thrown overboard the mass of doctrines and practices that I adhered to in my state of orthodoxy that I could feel the quickening of faith within me.' Pam Fox makes a good case for the powerful influence of Rabbi Charles Fleischer of Boston's Adath Yisrael Reform congregation. Fleischer was noted for bringing Jews and Christians together on causes of mutual interest, his advocacy of the participation of women in public religious life, his anti-Zionism and his commitment to social justice, issues which would also be close concerns ofMattuck. In his final undergraduate year Mattuck decided to become a Reform rabbi. He enrolled at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, coming under the influence of the President, Kaufmann Kohler. Pam Fox emphasizes the major elements of the religious context in which Mattuck found himself. This was "classical" American Reform, which had scant resemblance to the British movement of the same name. While still a student, Mattuck took the post of rabbi in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he strove to include women's participation, preached on themes for which he became known in later years (social issues in particular), and was invited to speak at both Jewish and Gentile venues. It was there that he met Edna Mayer, whom he later married. Mattuck was "headstrong and independent", as Pam Fox generously describes him, though she adds that he had a "sense of superiority" (p. 79) and some might judge him arrogant. He accepted a rabbinical post in Far Rockaway, New York, beginning in September 1909, without fulfilling the requirements for his thesis or sitting his final examinations. Nevertheless, he was ordained on 16 April 1911. What brought Mattuck to London? Lily Montagu's famous article "The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today" of 1899 had led to the founding of the Jewish Religious Union and in 1911 a Liberal Jewish Synagogue was opened and sought a rabbi. Mattuck was highly recommended by American Reform leaders and made an excellent impression when he visited London in 1911. Taking up office in 1912, he was excited by the potential he saw for Liberal Judaism in England and by the chance to work with scholars such as Claude Montefiore and Israel Abrahams. Probably the most striking things about Mattuck were his public persona and his oratory. He was a dramatic and impressive speaker and, indeed, this is what has remained in the memory of older Liberal Jewish</page><page sequence="3">Israel Isidor Mattuck, Architect oj Liberal Judaism, Pam Fox 177 Synagogue (Ljs) members, as the author recalls in her A Place to Call My Jewish Home: Memories of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue 1911-2011 (London: Liberal Jewish Synagogue, 2013). Mattuck faced many problems, some of which he had not anticipated. He feared the inroads of assimilation and intermarriage in British upper- middle-class society. Pam Fox is struck by his apparent unconcern with antisemitism in the pre-1914 decade, which had led to the Aliens Act of 1905. In contrast, he later took a strong line against 1930s anti-Jewish hostility. He condemned the passivity of the Anglo-Jewish establishment towards Oswald Mosley's Fascist provocations and, unlike not a few members of the ljs, he does not seem to have blamed antisemitism on the behaviour of some "foreign" Jews. Indeed, he would remind audiences that he came from Yiddish-speaking immigrant stock himself. Mattuck was at his best using all his powerful talents for succouring refugees. Earlier he had been active in appealing for support for wrecked communities in Eastern Europe, and he strove to support German Jewry under Hitler, asking his congregation to receive German Jewish children and sponsoring a number himself, as well as trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rabbi Leo Baeck, the leader of German Jewry, to leave that coun- try. While some Anglo-Jewish ministers had supported the early ideals of Liberal Judaism, the ljs and Mattuck were soon faced with extreme hostility from Orthodoxy, an enmity to which Mattuck was unaccustomed in the usa, where Reform was the dominant form of Judaism. But he gave as good as he got. He was not, however, of a tactful disposition, and one of his references to kashrut as "an ancient Jewish prejudice" (Mattuck p. 108) was understandably seen as highly offensive. He also clashed at times with prominent ljs members, particularly over his strongly progressive attitudes to social questions of the time. Did he really reprove ladies for attending synagogue in furs and jewellery, as his daughter recalled? He became "one of the most left-leaning religious lead- ers in the country" (p. 162), so much so that the President of the ljs, Claude Montefiore, suggested that he reduce the political content of his sermons. The greater part of Pam Fox's book is, as it must be, concerned with Mattuck's contribution to Liberal Judaism. Barely a congregation when Mattuck arrived, he created the ljs, organizing synagogue life, instituting the cemetery, developing Jewish education, and insisting on full female participation. Pam Fox sees Mattuck growing ever more entrenched in his religious</page><page sequence="4">178 REVIEWS outlook and beginning to lose support among his members as he approached retirement. She thinks that Rabbi Leslie Edgar, Mattuck's successor and son-in-law, "felt unable to re-invent Liberal Judaism to suit the circumstances of post-war Britain" and "injected little that was new" (p. 339). Probably, for ljs members who had come to adulthood not knowing Mattuck, it was the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the 1967 war which had the greater influence, because they showed the enormity of the dangers that all Jews had faced. Perhaps itis his Liberal prayerbooks thatlookout of date today. However, no change appeared in them until a post-1967 generation of Liberal rabbis produced new ones. That they open on the right and that men cover their heads in today's ljs are minor matters which Mattuck would have seen as examples of Jewish particularism, but they show, perhaps, how this great man's enduring legacy are his values and his social conscience, still highly present in his synagogue, while in many other aspects Liberal Judaism often leans closely towards Reform. Pam Fox's cogent and well-researched book comes to fill a serious gap in Anglo-Jewish biography. Michael Alpert</page></plain_text>