Rabbi Doctor Hermann Gollancz was born in Bremen, Germany. He was the eldest son of Rabbi Samuel Marcus Gollancz, of the Hambro Synagogue in London. He was educated at Jews’ College and University College London. He graduated in Classics and philosophy in 1873 and was awarded his MA in Hebrew, Syriac and German in 1889. In 1892 he succeeded Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler as minister at the Bayswater Synagogue, where he remained for 51 years.
In 1902 he was elected Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London. On his retirement from University College in 1923, he donated his considerable collection of Judaica to the college and was made Emeritus Professor. In the same year he was knighted, the first British rabbi to receive the honour.
This book is a sequel to his first book of Sermons and Addresses, published in 1909. My copy is signed by him.
All the sermons included in this volume, with the exception of three Consecration sermons – those at Walthamstow, Cardiff and Newcastle, and the laying of the Foundation stone at Reading, were delivered at the Bayswater Synagogue. Hermann Adler was an enthusiastic encourager of new Synagogues.
Ten of the sermons have special reference to the First World War. The range of the sermons can be seen from the Table of Contents:
It should be remembered that Hermann Gollancz was a thoroughly orthodox but English-educated scholar of Hebrew, and his sermons were given in English to one of the most English synagogue congregations of affluent and middle-class Jews, most of whom were native-born. His style of sermon reflects this.
As an example, I have chosen his sermon on The dream and The Reality of Life, given in 1909. he talks about Jacob, wakening from his dream and saying : “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. He explains that to most people life is a struggle, and there is sickness and suffering, devastating floods and earthquakes. He asks “Why this misery?” and explains that while one individual will exclaim how dreadful is this place, a thoughtful person will exclaim This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Life on earth is to prove itself the gate of heaven. He goes on to discuss the recent death in the community of Herman Myer, who was chairman of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor (today morphed into Jewish Care) and says that his life was an example of “Life is… what we make of it” and can become truly the gate of heaven.