Historic Judaism versus Liberal Judaism, Sermon delivered at the Hampstead Synagogue on Saturday 7th May, 1949 by The Rev. I Levy, London.

1949Levy1This little booklet is a sermon by Rev. Dr. Isaac Levy, Minister of Hampstead Synagogue in Dennington Park Road. 

Isaac “Harry” Levy, 1910 – 2005, was born and brought up in Paddington, west London, where his father was a tailor. He was educated at University College London, and at the then leading Talmudical academy, the Yeshiva Etz Chaim, in the East End. He also studied at Jews’ College, but never received Semicha – his rabbinical diploma, and was always known as “the Rev.” or the “Rev Dr”.

Nevertheless, Levy was always part of the Orthodox United Synagogue organisation.  He was Minister at Hampstead (1945-65) and Bayswater synagogues (1938-39), he had also occupied the pulpit at Hampstead Garden Suburb (1936-38), a traditionally much more acceptably Orthodox unit within the United Synagogue. 

He also had an important war record.  In the second world war, he had been a chaplain to forces in both the Middle East (where he was captured by the Afrika Corps, but managed to escape) and the British Army of the Rhine. In the latter capacity, he had been among the British troops who liberated Bergen-Belsen. He wrote a book about his experiences, Witness To Evil: Belsen, 1945.

After the war, Levy was an obvious choice as senior Jewish chaplain to the forces (1948-66). He travelled throughout the country visiting army, navy and air force camps and dealing with the problems of conscripted youngsters who had never contemplated wearing uniform.  He became Director of the Jewish National Fund in Britain (1965-77).  

A controversy had arisen in Britain over the legitimacy of marriages performed by the Liberal Synagogues.  (Liberal Judaism at the time was similar to American Reform Judaism).  This was a subject of much discussion when the 1949 Marriage Act was enacted and it was decided that the secretaries of Liberal synagogues could not be certified by the Board of Deputies of British Jews as persons professing the Jewish religion.

Here, then is Rev. Dr. Levy’s sermon, deemed at the time important enough to be published, on the Liberal community discarding the practices of Traditional Judaism:  “…they will be lost to Judaism and within a generation or two no trace of them will exist.”

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