Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview

Religion, Thought and Education
Jeffrey Cohen (ed. ), Dear Chief Rabbi: From the Correspondence of Chief Rabbi
Immanuel Jakobovits on Matters of Jewish Law, Ethics and Contemporary
Issues
, 1980–1990. Hoboken: Ktav, 1995. 298 pp.

Shortly after Immanuel Jakobovits became Britain's Chief Rabbi, he launched a twice-yearly journal on Jewish Orthodoxy called L'eyla. It was an instant success and its most popular feature was a column, written by Jakobovits himself, called (rather awkwardly) “From the Chief Rabbi Correspondence File. ”

This book is an edited version of the column. The editor, Jeffrey Cohen, has been careful not to tamper with the material, but has done a first-class job in reorganizing it under different headings such as Israel, interfaith relations, medical ethics, pastoral concerns and theology.

Jakobovits did not, of course, open his entire files to public scrutiny. He was necessarily selective, and where the subject matter was personal he was careful to obscure identities. One marvels, nonetheless, at the sheer variety of the questions he faced and the sagacity he displayed in his answers, even though not everyone agreed with his arguments and he could at times be disingenuous.

Thus, for example, when he was questioned about the attitude of a London Orthodox rabbi who had walked out of a shivah because he had found a Reform rabbi in the room, Jakobovits replied that the incident was hardly typical and that the only lesson that could be drawn from it was that “there are some rabbis who occasionally lack diplomatic skills… . ” (p. 236). In fact, the incident was not atypical. It arose out of policies that were laid down by Dr. Jakobovits and his dayanim, who have always been hypersensitive to the feelings of the ultra-Orthodox on such issues.

“I object to Right-wing Orthodoxy, ” Jakobovits writes, “for political and communal reasons because I cannot accept their separatism, or even for cultural reasons because their rejection of the secular world and its values is alien to me. But I have no quarrel with them on essentially religious matters; their Shulchan Aruch is mine… . ” To which one can only say that his Shulḥan Arukh was not theirs. They may have regarded him personally with respect, but they treated his office with disdain and they would only call on him when they needed his intervention with authority. In fact they treated him as a glorified “shabbos goy. ”

On the whole, Jakobovits was happier with larger issues than smaller ones. He was a pioneer in the study of Jewish medical ethics—his correspondence on the subject, which covers nearly a fifth of the book, is fascinating. He is more liberal than the Pope on contraception and abortion, but when asked a question on cohabitation without

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Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Studies in Contemporary Jewry *
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Symposium - Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century *
  • The Place of Ethnic Identity in the Development of Personal Identity: A Challenge for the Jewish Family 3
  • Notes *
  • Marriage, Americanization and American Jewish Culture, 1900–1920 27
  • Notes *
  • Making Fragmentation Familiar: Barry Levinson's Avalon 49
  • Notes *
  • The Economics of Contemporary American Jewish Family Life 65
  • Notes *
  • Children of Intermarriage: How “jewish”? 81
  • Notes *
  • What Happened to the Extended Jewish Family? Jewish Homes for the Aged in Eastern Europe 128
  • Notes *
  • Cohesion and Rupture: the Jewish Family in East European Ghettos During the Holocaust 143
  • Notes *
  • The “family-Community” Model in Haredi Society 166
  • Notes *
  • We Are All One Bereaved Family: Personal Loss and Collective Mourning in Israeli Society 178
  • Notes *
  • Essays *
  • Evangelists in a Strange Land: American Missionaries in Israel, 1948–1967 195
  • Notes *
  • Balfour's Mission to Palestine: Science, Strategy and Vision in the Inauguration of the Hebrew University 214
  • Notes 228
  • Review Essays *
  • Vichy and the Jews: A Past That is Not Past 235
  • Notes *
  • Mastering the Middle East: Israel in a Regional Context 250
  • Examining the Oslo Process: A First Cut 256
  • Notes *
  • Book Reviews *
  • Antisemitism, Holocaust and Genocide 265
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • History and the Social Sciences 281
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Language, Literature and the Arts 307
  • Notes 309
  • Notes *
  • Religion, Thought and Education 325
  • Notes *
  • Zionism, Israel and the Middle East 339
  • Notes 349
  • Recently Completed Doctoral Dissertations 351
  • Studies in Comtemporary Jewry XV 360
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