We’ve got the story straight now, even if it’s taken 133 years

Nobody is suggesting that being chief executive of the United Synagogue is an easy job. Jo Grose is presiding over the largest group of Orthodox synagogues in Europe and deserves all the support we can give. 

It is a pity, therefore, that she has to admit that her organisation has failed to spot an error for 33 years; that of mentioning the name of a child abuser who supported the official prayer book.

Everybody is being told to cut the name out of the siddurim where it appears.

Ms Grose has also apologised and said that the United Synagogue has only just been informed of its error. What they haven’t told her is that there has been a far greater error for 133 years. Because to call it the Singer prayer book is totally inaccurate.

When Nathan Marcus Adler became Chief Rabbi in 1844 there was no British synagogue organisation. Synagogues around the country had been founded by emigrants from all over Europe and they all had their own traditions. Not only was there no common form of service, but Synagogues quarrelled between themselves about who was following the right tradition. The final agreement was to follow the German and Polish tradition.

Nathan Marcus Adler set out to get the Synagogues to work together and produced a set of rules for any Synagogue which accepted his authority. He also eventually persuaded them to form the United Synagogue, though it took years to come about in 1870, and then as only a London organisation.

By 1880 Adler was getting old and retired to Brighton. By 1889 he was dying, but there was one last task he set himself. It was to create a standard prayer book. He foresaw problems. How to get it accepted throughout the community. Would congregations accept the rullngs of an old Chief Rabbi, and who was going to do the donkey work putting all the prayers together in order.

Adler recruited a minister who was popular in both the West and East End of London. Rev. Simeon Singer had served congregations in both parts of the capital and was a relatively young man. He could be relied upon to see  the work was accepted, He. collected the prayers, but every one of them was carefully checked by Adler to ensure that every word was right.

What emerged was the Adler prayer book and the Chief Rabbi had won another battle with his community.  He invariably got his way, but he did so by taking care to save the face of his opponents. When they disagreed with him he would say “Let there be peace for my sake” and the opposition crumbled, getting credit for putting their views aside for the sake of peace.

Adler died, just after checking the memorial prayers, and the prayer book came out shortly after. Singer promoted it but, of course, gave the credit in the first edition  to the Chief Rabbi for all his hard work.

It’s the Adler prayer book and it should be acknowledged as such. Adler was our longest serving Chief Rabbi and certainly one of the greatest. The fact that the majority of the British Jewish community is Orthodox is down to his determination to defend the Written and Oral law. That’s a fact, though there are other admirable organisations besides the United Synagogue.

Well, we’ve got the story straight now, even if it’s taken 133 years. Jo Grose can now sleep easily.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book