An embarrassment was averted at the Masorti shul I happened to visit last Shabbat. The awkward situation arose when one hapless gentleman called to the Torah didn’t have a tallis. Fortunately a woman came to his rescue with hers.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Masorti, allow me to explain something of the story of this group whose flavour of Judaism appeals to a small but growing section of Anglo-Jewry. I have consulted my historian friends W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman and I am indebted to them for the following. You might call it “1964 And All That”.
Back in the late 1950’s Rabbi Louis Jacobs wrote a book called “Believe Me, We Have a Raisin”. In it he contended that the children of Israel did not feed on manna from heaven when wandering in the wilderness, but that they probably lived an agricultural life cultivating vines and the like. To his annoyance nobody took much notice of the book and so a few years later in 1964 Rabbi Jacobs decided to publicise it by having an affair. This was known as “The Jacobs Affair”. Rabbi Jacobs’ wife was understanding but the United Synagogue was not and they refused to allow him to hold his affair either at Jews’ College where he worked, or at his old synagogue. They said his book was a bad thing and that consequently Rabbi Jacobs was a bad rabbi.
Rabbi Jacobs’ followers were upset because they knew he was only saying what many Jews privately believed, so they helped him to form a new synagogue in London. They didn’t know what to call the synagogue and to this day it is known as the New London Synagogue.
Rabbi Jacobs was supposed to be Chief Rabbi but when the time came to make the appointment they couldn’t get hold of him because his friends had bought the synagogue secretly and the phone number was not listed. This infuriated Jacobs because he very much wanted the job and he blamed BT for the mix up. Rabbi Jacobs didn’t want the same misfortune to befall another hopeful for the role of Chief Rabbi and so he wrote a manual called “Helping With Directory Enquiries”.
Time passed and while he hadn’t intended to start a movement the children of Rabbi Jacobs’ synagogue began to move out and open their own shuls. They decided to call their shuls Masorti which comes from the Hebrew word for “transit”, thus remembering how Rabbi Jacobs was forced to keep shlepping his family and belongings from one place to another when he was trying to find a venue for his affair.
Masorti synagogues can now be found all over Europe and consequently they must comply with equal opportunities laws from Brussels. This is why some ladies wear kippot and tallitot and some men wear sheitels and snoods. In every other respect the service is virtually identical to that which you would find in an orthodox shul, which is no surprise because Rabbi Jacobs was an orthodox rabbi. He just had a thing about raisins.