Rabbi Aaron Jacob Singer is another of the forgotten Rabbis of London. He was the Rabbi of the flagship synagogue of the Federation of Synagogues, the Philpot Street Great Synagogue, and yet gets one tiny passing mention in Geoffrey Alderman’s “The Federation of Synagogues – A New History”.
But before we even start with Rabbi Singer or his book, let us mention the Philpot Street Great Synagogue. This was originally a large chapel, built in 1830, and was purchased for use of the Synagogue in 1908. It could seat a thousand, with a substantial ladies gallery, and in 1912 it was the scene for the installation of the new Chief Minister of the Federation, Rabbi Meir Jung. It was almost totally destroyed in the bombing in 1940, and although a temporary synagogue was built inside the area of the ruins, and Rabbi Singer soldiered on, as the East End population shrank, it was eventually closed.
Rabbi Singer was born in Kovno, Lithuania, about 1880, and educated at the Slobodka Yeshiva. He was described as an erudite Talmudical scholar of independent mind and thought and a forceful personality. He took an active interest in Jewish education, in particular the Redmans Road Talmud Torah and the Yeshiva Etz Chaim. According to the Jewish Chronicle, he was a member of the Vaad Harabbanim of the Federation of Synagogues (although according to Geoffrey Alderman’s book he was not). He was an enthusiastic and much sought after speaker for the Zionist movement. His wife was a daughter of the Rabbi of the Bethnal Green Great Synagogue, Rabbi Pekarewitch, and he had a son, Rabbi Lionel Singer who went to Johannesburg, South Africa, and three daughters. He had a long illness, and passed away on April 2nd, 1953.
His book, L’Lev Ami was published in 1939 and printed by the Narodiczky Press, when, perhaps, everything was at its best. Rabbi Singer had been at the Philpot Street Synagogue since about 1923, when the building had been refurbished. He was not yet ill, and his family, as he writes in his book, included distinguished European Rabbis. The bombing of the Shul and the Holocaust were yet to come…
He starts his book with a memorial to a son who had died at a young age. Natan Tzvi, who died at the age of one and is buried at the Federation cemetery in Edmonton.
And then Rabbi Singer, who is full of enthusiasm and emotion, follows that with greetings to his father and mother, relatives, and members of his synagogue:
First his father, Rabbi Avraham, the son of Arieh Leib. Rabbi Singer says that since he came to this country, days and borders divide between us and I have not succeeded to travel to you and spend time with you… and he requests pardon from his dear father for this… but I have strong confidence that we will see each other, G-d willing, face to face soon.
Then he writes in memory of his mother, Tzinka Beila, daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Mordecai Schulmeister… Mother, Mother I will never forget your warm kisses….
Rabbi Singer follows that by writing thanks, from the “depths of his heart and soul” to his father-in-law, Rabbi Perkowitch, who was the Rabbi of the Bethnal Green Great Synagogue, and to his mother-on-law, Mrs Freda Perkowitch. He goes on to give us a history lesson, how his father-in-law had been involved in supporting and building some of the greatest Yeshivos, and how the war and the revolution had destroyed them. How his father-on-law had come to London and been involved in the controversies over shechita – the supervision of kosher meat.
And then he continues the story of his father-on-law and follows by blessing his wife, Malka Leah, and his children… his sisters and his wife’s sisters and remembers his sister who passed away:
Finally, at last, Rabbi Singer writes a foreword to his book, hoping that you will enjoy the words that come out from heart to heart…
Next, Rabbi Singer blesses from the depth of his heart and soul all the people of his community, the holy congregation called “Shalom veEmet” – Peace and Truth – the Philpot Street Synagogue. Finally – not to forget – he writes a tribute to the members of the Ladies Guild – in English.
And so we come to the contents of the first article in the book about Chesed – kindness or love between people and between people and G-d.
The last section of the book has a new title page. Here Rabbi Singer demonstrates his Talmudic knowledge as he answers difficult questions that come up in the everyday life of a Rabbi. First, though, is an introduction – a word to the reader and a letter from Rabbi Singer’s father….
The first halachic question of Jewish law is whether a deceased husband, whose wife had him buried in the wrong cemetery, for various reasons, can be exhumed and moved to another cemetery:
Finally, Rabbi Singer, who, as we have seen, on the eve of war and terrible things to come, is full of enthusiasm and has a good word for everyone, cannot finish his book without a final page of greetings:
In the Title, you will have noticed that this is Part I. I have Part II in my library as well, and will write about it eventually too.