Joseph Herman Hertz CH (25 September 1872 – 14 January 1946) was a Jewish Hungarian-born rabbi and biblical scholar. He held the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1913 until his death in 1946, in a period encompassing both world wars and the Holocaust.
Hertz was born in Rebrín/Rebrény, Kingdom of Hungary (presently part of the village of Zemplínska Široká, Slovak Republic), and emigrated to New York City in 1884. He was educated at New York City College (BA), Columbia University (PhD) and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Rabbi, 1894, the Seminary's first graduate). His first ministerial post was at Syracuse, New York.
In 1898, he moved to Transvaal, South Africa, to the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation in Johannesburg. He stayed there until 1911, despite attempts by President Paul Kruger in 1899 to expel him for his pro-British sympathies and for advocating the removal of religious disabilities of Jews and Catholics in South Africa. He was Professor of Philosophy at Transvaal University College (later known as the University of the Witwatersrand), 1906-8.
In 1911, he returned to New York to the Orach Chayim Congregation.
In 1913, Hertz was elected Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire; he received 298 votes against 39 for Dayan Moses Hyamson. His rival candidates had also included Lewis Daly, and Bernard Drachman. (Ironically, Hyamson took the rabbi's post of Orach Chayim in New York, which Hertz had vacated for the British Chief Rabbi appointment.)
Hertz held the post until his death. His period in office was marked by many arguments with a wide variety of people, mainly within the Jewish community; the Dictionary of National Biography describes him as a "combative Conservative". It was said that he was in favour of resolving disagreements by calm discussion – when all other methods had failed.
Despite his title, he was not universally recognised as the final rabbinical authority, even in Britain. While he was Chief Rabbi of the group of synagogues known as the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, led by the United Synagogue, some new immigrants who had arrived since the 1880s regarded it as insufficiently orthodox. Hertz tried both persuasion and such force as he could muster to influence them; he added to his credibility among these immigrants by persuading Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky to become head of the London Beth Din.
Hertz antagonised others by his strong support for Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s, when many prominent Jews were against it, fearing that it would lead to accusations against the Jewish community of divided loyalty. Hertz was strongly opposed to Reform and Liberal Judaism, though he did not allow this to create personal animosities, and had no objection in principle to attending the funerals of Reform Jews.
However, despite all this, his eloquent oratory, lucid writing, erudition and sincerity earned him the respect of the majority of British Jews and many outside the Jewish community. His commentary on the Torah is still to be found in most Orthodox synagogues and Jewish homes in Great Britain. Despite there being some Ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not look up to Hertz, prominent Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Nosson Scherman maintained that Hertz "was a great man," a courageous Rabbi, and that although he was affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary Hertz "was Orthodox, without any question."
Although Hertz vigorously denounced the horror of the Holocaust (at one point relating an eyewitness claim that "German soldiers in football attire entered [a] stadium [near Kiev]. They snatched the infants from their mothers' arms and used them as footballs, bouncing and kicking them around the arena."), Hertz was opposed to the Kindertransport if it meant Jewish refugee children would be raised in gentile homes. Hertz saw the British war effort in the noblest of terms, wishing Prime Minister Churchill a happy 70th birthday in late 1944 with the message, "But for your wisdom and courage there would have been a Vichy England lying prostrate before an all-powerful Satanism that spelled slavery to the western peoples, death to Israel, and night to the sacred heritage of man."
He was ex officio President of Jews' College, and Acting Principal, 1939–45. He was President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1922-3, and of the Conference of Anglo-Jewish Preachers. He was on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Chairman of the Governing Body of its Institute of Jewish Studies. He was Vice-President of a wide variety of Jewish and non-Jewish bodies, including the Anglo-Jewish Association, the London Hospital, the League of Nations Union, the National Council of Public Morals and King George's Fund for Sailors. In 1942, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, Hertz founded the Council of Christians and Jews to combat anti-Jewish bigotry.
His daughter Judith married Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld.
His great granddaughter is the economist Noreena Hertz.
In the 1920s, Hertz successfully organised international opposition to a proposed calendar reform. The League of Nations was considering a calendar amendment, The World Calendar, such that a given date would fall on the same day of the week every year. This requires that one day every year (two in leap years) is not any day of the week but a "world day". Thus, once or twice a year there would be eight days rather than seven between consecutive Saturdays. Thus the Jewish Sabbath, which must occur every seventh day, would be on a different weekday each year. The same applies to the Christian Sabbath. Hertz realised that this would cause problems for Jews and Christians alike in observing their Sabbaths, and mobilised worldwide religious opposition to defeat the proposal.
- Affirmations of Judaism, a collection of his sermons, was well regarded. He published a further three volumes of Sermons, Addresses, and Studies.
- A Book of Jewish Thoughts (1917), a selection of Jewish wisdom through the millennia, was immensely popular and ran to 25 editions.
- The Battle for the Sabbath at Geneva, an account of his work opposing calendar reform.
He also edited a notable commentary on the Torah (1929–36, one volume edition 1937). Popularly known as the Hertz Chumash, this classic Hebrew-English edition of the Five Books of Moses, with corresponding Haftorahs, is used in many synagogues and classrooms throughout the English-speaking world.
It is also referred to as the Hertz Pentateuch, and it includes the following features:
- "extensive essays on ... perceived conflict between science and religion"
- comparisons of "Torah’s laws and those in the Code of Hammurabi"
- comments from and source references to Christian sources, including the Authorized Version (Kings James Version) and Revised Version
The actual writing, which produced five volumes, was done by four other people, but "Hertz recast their material into his own style."
When the five volumes were combined into a single volume (and published by Soncino Press, the King James Version translation, but not the non-Jewish commentaries, were replaced with the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation.
- Harvey Warren Meirovich: A Vindication of Judaism: The Polemics of the Hertz Pentateuch. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1998.
- Joseph Aaron Skloot: Moses of Hamilton Terrace: The Hertz Torah Commentary in Context and Interpretation. Thesis No. 19200, in fulfilment of the requirements for an A.B. degree in History. Princeton University, 2005.
- Derek Taylor: Chief Rabbi Hertz: The Wars of the Lord. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2014.
- "The Chief Rabbi. Result of election". Sydney Morning Herald. 18 February 1913.
- P. Paneth, Guardian of the Law, 1943
- Obituary, The Times, 15 January 1946
- Scherman in an interview with Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter published in A Conversation with Rabbi Nosson Scherman On Chinuch (p. 66-73 in Ami Magazine, June 21, 2017), in which Frankfurter imprecisely stated that "[i]t used to be that you would walk into any Orthodox synagogue and find the Conservative Hertz Chumash, but now the ArtScroll Chumash is everywhere, which cites the traditional mefarshim [commentaries]," to which Scherman responded "Hertz wasn't Conservative. He was Orthodox." Thereupon, Frankfurter questioned "[w]asn't he affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary?" Scherman replied: "He was, but in its early years the JTS was what today might be called Modern Orthodox. He himself was Orthodox, without any question. Rabbi Hertz did something that was very courageous. In the 1920s and '30s, which is when he was active, Orthodoxy was considered to be an anachronism that was dying out; it was only a matter of time. Hertz wrote his Chumash to show that the Torah was given at Sinai and that it's holy and not just a piece of literature. However, in order to gain acceptance in the modern world, he would also quote Matthew Arnold or the Church fathers. But his kavanah [intent] was to bring people closer to Yiddishkeit [Judaism] and to develop a respect for the Torah as Toras Hashem [God's Torah]. Nowadays, the frum world looks down on his Chumash, but he was a great man. He was attacked by a lot of people because he believed in the Torah and wanted to spread that belief to others." (P. 70.)
- Hannen Swaffer (16 December 1942), "War's Worst Horror" Daily Herald
- Gertrude Dubrovsky Six From Leipzig Vallentine Mitchell ISBN 978-0853034704 (2004) p. 122
- Chief Rabbi Hertz, "70th Birthday Message to Churchill" The Jewish Chronicle 8 December 1944
- Benjamin J. Elton (24 February 2012). "Calendar Reform and Joseph Herman Hertz". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- London Gazette Issue 35841 Page 21
- King George V granting permission to wear the badge of the Order of Leopold II
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "The Pentateuch and Haftorahs". Britannica.com.
Joseph Herman Hertz’s commentary on The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (1929–36)
- Joseph H. Hertz (1937). The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (one-volume edition). ISBN 0-900689-21-8.
- Yosef Lindell; Shira Hecht-Koller (28 September 2018). "Move Over Artscroll: Here's The New, Modern Orthodox Chumash". The Forward.
- see preface to Chumash
- Appendix to 1947 edition
- Mitchell First (22 June 2017). "The Story of the Hertz Chumash".
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