Epitaph for a rabbi

March 7, 1997

I am astonished that The THES permitted Geoffrey Alderman, in his personal campaign to discredit the office of chief rabbinate and to malign Reform Judaism, the use of its columns to abuse his position in education ("When a kindness becomes a betrayal", THES, February 14). By giving him space to discredit the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn you serve only to help Alderman widen the divide between orthodox and progressive Judaism.

Alderman is a member of a synagogal body to the religious right of the United Synagogue, the majority movement in the United Kingdom. He makes mischief about what he sees as its slide from the true faith while denigrating the role of the chief rabbi in general and the present incumbent in particular. Rabbi Sacks however can speak for himself.

What is intolerable is the blatant dishonesty of Alderman's suggestion that Reform Judaism has "insisted that the price of future deference to the office of chief rabbi is a public act of homage" and that we have "contrived to bring about a bizarre memorial meeting". He compounds this untruth by a malicious reference to Rabbi Gryn beckoning Sacks "from the grave". A more tasteless and offensive slur on a good Jew and a great human being would be hard to imagine.

The answer to Alderman's distortions are these: * We seek no deal to ensure our deference to the office of chief rabbi. It does not represent us and we seek no approval of it for our approach to Judaism. It would not be forthcoming and we do not daily wait upon it * The memorial meeting was not our idea, choice or request. Alderman knows that yet repeats the canard. The Board of Deputies of British Jews called the meeting at Rabbi Sacks's request to give him the secular platform he sought to pay some sort of public tribute to Rabbi Gryn. Rabbi Tony Bayfield, as chief executive of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, was asked to speak as well and naturally did so, along with the Bishop of Oxford.

We buried Rabbi Gryn in July, held mourners' prayers for him then, and later a memorial service. Some thousands of people, members of orthodox and reform synagogues, attended. Rabbi Sacks did not. At no time did the chief executive, chairman, or any other member of this organisation's governing body make any public statement of any sort about Rabbi Sacks's decision. Huge numbers of his own United Synagogue members, as well as some of ours, raised enough of a protest about what they saw as an act of discourtesy to an honoured Jew, to set in train the series of distasteful disputes that have ensued.

These are the facts which as a matter of public record your readers should know. Hugo Gryn never sought "canonisation" nor do we look for it on his behalf. His contribution to Reform Judaism in particular (he was our proud president), and to the wider Jewish community and humankind in general, are sufficient epitaph.

Barry Hyman Reform Synagogues of Great Britain

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