In March 1933, shortly after Hitler’s accession to power, a leading Charedi rabbi in Germany, Yechiel Weinberg, made a series of astonishing public statements in which he gave a broad welcome to Germany’s Nazi government.
Loyal German Jews (he declared), had nothing to fear from Nazism. Antisemitic incidents (he explained) were being deliberately exaggerated by outside forces to further their own interests.
Yes (he admitted), there had been some acts of violence against Jews, but the Nazis bore no responsibility for them.
Weinberg’s views were not unique to him; they were, in fact, enthusiastically shared by other German Charedi leaders – notably Elie Munk, then a rabbi in Bavaria and father of the future Lady Jakobovits.
I recalled this grim history as I contemplated the texts of statements issued in recent days by certain Charedi rabbis and their supporters on the British Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
In the first of these, the signatories expressed their displeasure on hearing news that if Corbyn became prime minister some British Jews would apparently consider fleeing the UK.
Jews (they insisted) should pray for the peace and well-being of the country in which they happen to live. They should certainly not (they declared) spend time antagonising its political leaders.
At the time of its publication, rumours were put about that it was fake. It was not. Though the signatures of some leading north London Charedi rabbonim were notably absent, the statement was genuinely signed by no fewer than 29 others, including the principal rabbinical authority of the umbrella Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Ephraim Padwa.
The statement has now been followed by a second in the name of Stamford Hill-based Charedi activist Shraga Stern, who claims to have been behind the first. Stern now targets what he terms the “Zionist agenda” that has led to a “smear and witch-hunt” against Corbyn, whom he celebrates as “a long friend to our community.”
Pointing out – quite rightly – that neither the Board of Deputies nor the Jewish Leadership Council represents Charedi Jews, Stern condemns the Board as “a pro-Israel body” that only represents “a very particular part of Jews who are pro-Israel”.
He goes on to claim that discussions are now taking place with a view to setting up “a new body of Board of Deputies of mainstream British Jews”. This, he says, “will focus only on Anglo-Jewish matters and will represent the entire Jewish population …and act for the many Jews not the few”.
This threat is very real. A study published by Jewish Policy Research three years ago drew attention to the inevitable demographic outcome that must derive from the high birth rates that are enjoyed by Charedim in Britain.
The JPR report concluded that Charedim would form a majority of British Jewry by the end of this century, but some observers have suggested that this scenario could come as soon as 2030.
But Charedim opposed to the present mindset of the Board of Deputies need not wait that long. It would be perfectly possible – now – for every Charedi synagogue in the UK to demand affiliation to the Board. They could then – in the name of democracy – use their voting power to engineer a coup d’état.
This could be followed (who knows?) by the disqualification of all female deputies, the expulsion of all remaining Zionist-inclined deputies and the endorsement of a broad anti-Zionist agenda.
Fanciful? I don’t think so.