Nathan Marcus Adler
Chief rabbi of the British empire; born in the city of Hanover, Germany, January 15, 1803; died at Brighton, England, on January 21, 1890. He was the third son of Marcus Baer Adler, chief rabbi of Hanover. He came from a Jewish family of Frankfort, which, for several centuries, supplied theologians to the rabbinical chairs of the Continental ghettos. Born when Hanover was an appanage of the English crown under George III., he was a British subject, and was educated on the broadest lines. In addition to Hebrew and theological learning under his father’s supervision, he received a liberal education in the classical and modern languages, attending successively the universities of Göttingen, Erlangen, Würzburg, and Heidelberg. After obtaining his degree at Erlangen he was appointed, in 1830, chief rabbi of Oldenburg, and within a year he became chief rabbi of the city of Hanover.
In 1842 the chief rabbi of London, Solomon Herschell, died. At this juncture a very critical subject agitated Anglo-Jewish communal life, being nothing less than a schism, which resulted in the formation, in Burton street, of a reform congregation, quite independent of the English rabbinate. Thus the election of a successor to the chief rabbi was naturally fraught with more than ordinary importance. There were fifteen candidates for the position. The final election resulted in the choice of Dr. Adler, who on July 9, 1845, was installed as chief rabbi in London.
Dr. Adler’s earliest efforts were directed to the improvement of Jewish education in England, and he foresaw the necessity of planning for the systematic training of future teachers. With this object in view he propounded a scheme for the training of Jewish ministers and teachers, with which a public day-school for the sons of the Jewish middle classes was to be connected. Many obstacles stood in the way of its realization, especially the question of endowments; but through Dr. Adler’s perseverance these were overcome, and, on November 11, 1855, Jews’ College was inaugurated, he himself being elected its first president. After this, Dr. Adler turned his attention to synagogal administration, and, on solicitation, consented to some slight modifications in the ritual. Nor did he neglect the provincial synagogues; undertaking occasional pastoral visits to them, he succeeded in bringing them more directly under his influence. To unite the various metropolitan synagogues under a central administration was the next object of his endeavors, and it was partly at his initiative that the foundation of the United Synagogue was undertaken. A clause was inserted in the scheme providing that the forms of worship, religious observances, and all other matters connected with the spiritual administration of the United Synagogue should be under the superintendence and control of the chief rabbi. This clause, however, was rejected by the House of Lords. He drew up a code of regulations and prescribed forms of service for special occasions. He received appeals from all over the world, and worked with the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association for the emancipation of the Jews in Rumania and their relief in the Holy Land. In 1866 he gave evidence before the Marriage Law Commission, and prepared an important memorandum on the operation of the marriage laws as affecting Jews in England. Dr. Adler may be considered the virtual founder of the Hospital Sabbath movement among Jews, the object of which was an annual collection for the hospitals, taken up in all British synagogues. In connection with this he compiled a service for the celebration of Hospital Sabbath in the synagogues. The organization of the London and provincial charities was undertaken at his suggestion, and a more discriminating and systematic method for dealing with the poor was adopted. Dr. Adler gave impetus to the system of free religious education, and supervised its progress in the community. In 1880 a conference of delegates of the various synagogues was held to consider the question of a revision of the ritual. Thereupon a report was submitted to Dr. Adler, who conceded many of the more important recommendations of the delegates.
In the same year the United Synagogue, finding that the pressure of his official duties was increasing, appointed a deputy delegate chief rabbi; but, notwithstanding this, Dr. Adler continued to take active interest in the affairs of the Jewish community.
The keynote of Dr. Adler’s life is to be found in his unflinching orthodoxy. His sincerity was everywhere admitted, and his love for Judaism and his loyalty to its orthodox presentation were acknowledged to be genuine and real. Great zeal for the cause of education, a benevolent disposition, and a union of Talmudic scholarship and general culture unusual among the rabbis of his generation were his most prominent characteristics.
He was the author of: (1) Hebrew prayers, recited during critical episodes in English history; (2) a volume of “Sermons” in German and English, including his installation address in London, “The Jewish Faith,” and “The Bonds of Brotherhood”; (3) several volumes of “Derashot” (Disquisitions), delivered by him semiannually to those interested in the study of the Talmud; (4) “Responsa,” several having reference to ritualistic questions in the Anglo-Jewish community (manuscript); (5) “Ḥiddushim” (Novellæ), consisting of short notes on the Talmud and Poseḳim, especially the Turim, with some annotations on Hai Gaon’s commentary, “Seder Ṭeharot,” Berlin, 1856; (6) German translation of Judah ha-Levi’s “Cuzari,” with copious explanatory notes (manuscript); (7) commentary on the Targum of Onkelos entitled “Netinah la-Ger” (A Gift to the Proselyte), published with an edition of the Pentateuch, Wilna, 1875 (in connection with this commentary he edited the “Sefer Yaer,” or “Patshegen,” and a Masorah on the Targum); (8) “Ahabat Yonatan” (The Love of Jonathan), a work in the same style as the “Netinah” on the so-called Targum of Jonathan, consisting of three parts.1
1This article was originally published in The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume I, in 1901.
Jew. Quart. Rev. ii. 381-384;
Jew. Chron. and Jew. World, Jan. 24, 1890.
Des Israeliten Liebe zum Vaterlande: Eine Predigt zur Feier des Geburtstages seiner Majestät des Königs Wilhelm IV. Hanover: In Commission in der Helwing’schen Hofbuchhandlung, 1836.
Hamishah Humshey Torah va’Aleyhem Yairu Urim Gedolim. Vilna: Romm, 1912.
The Morning and Evening Sacrifice; How to be Represented in these Days, with Special Reference to the Claims of Deaf Mutes in the Jewish Community. A Sermon Delivered in the Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place, on January 28, 5625. London: Wertheimer, 1865.
The Second Day of the Festivals: A Sermon at the New Synagogue, Great St. Helen’s, on the Second Day of Passover, 5628. London: Trübner, 1868.