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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/2805
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1829-2004
Level of description: Collection
View subfonds/series records
Extent: 117.53 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth


Administrative/Biographical history:

The office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (previously Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire) has evolved from the position of the spiritual head of the former Great Synagogue in the City of London. The Great Synagogue was the first foundation of the Ashkenazi community in England following the readmission of the Jews in 1656 and traces its origins to the late seventeenth century. Gradually throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries other Ashkenazi congregations in London and the provinces came to acknowledge the religious leadership of the Rabbi of the Great Synagogue. He gave spiritual guidance and was consulted upon points of religious law and procedures.

In 1764 a dispute arose between the Great Synagogue and the Hambro Synagogue over an appointment of a rabbi to the Plymouth Congregation, and the Rabbi of the Great Synagogue emerged as the leading figure. In time Askenazim Jews living in the British colonies overseas came to recognise the authority of the Chief Rabbi; the title itself dates back at least to the early nineteenth century.

Main responsibilities of the Chief Rabbinate:

1) Marriage authorisation: Before any marriage can take place in any synagogue under his jurisdiction in Great Britain the permission of the Chief Rabbi is essential. The relevant Orthodox religious laws represented by the Chief Rabbinate are thus adhered to by all concerned at the marriage.

2) Conversion: The sanction of the Chief Rabbi, or of a Rabbi whose requirements for conversion are recognised as valid by the Chief Rabbi, is required before any conversion is recognised by any congregation under his jurisdiction.

3) Appointment of rabbis: The synagogues under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbi must obtain a "Certificate of Religious and Moral Fitness" before they can be given positions.

4) Representation: The Chief Rabbi by long tradition is perceived as representing the Anglo-Jewish community on national occasions. He is patron to many non-Jewish as well as specifically Jewish charities, and charitable and educational foundations.

The position of a Chief Rabbi can be found in parts of western and central Europe and Israel. In Great Britian there is also the Chief Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Community (known as the Haham) which antedates the emergence of the Ashkenazi community here. No such position exists in the United States where rabbis of individual congregations may nonetheless exercise influence.

Rabbis of the United Hebrew Congregations:
Nathan Adler: 1845-1890;
Hermann Adler: 1891-1911;
Joseph Hertz: 1913-1946;
Israel Brodie: 1948-1965;
Immanuel Jakobovits: 1967-1991;
Jonathan Sacks: 1991 onwards.


Scope and content/abstract:

The archive consists of the official working papers of the Chief Rabbinate from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Files, volumes, bundles of papers, photographs, prints, video tapes, publications and leaflets make up the bulk of the collection. The Chief Rabbis represented in this collection are Nathan Adler (1868-1901), Hermann Adler (1868-1921), Joseph Hertz (1899-1946), Israel Brodie (1917-1967), Immanuel Jakobovits (1913-1992) and Jonathan Sacks (1988-2004). Also included are some papers of the Deputy for the Chief Rabbi, Harris Lazarus (1942-1950).

The archive is primarily concerned with the activities of the Chief Rabbinate. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of the office there are files on Jewish congregations overseas which are of interest, also some papers on the Holocaust and its immediate aftermath (ACC/2805/06/05/1-11). The varying interests of individual Chief Rabbis are reflected in the collection: for instance Immanuel Jakobovits' role in Jewish medical ethics.

PLEASE NOTE: Records can only be accessed with the written permission of the depositor. Contact the Chief Executive, Office of Chief Rabbi.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, Hebrew, German and French.

System of arrangement:

The archive of the Office of the Chief Rabbi was transfered to London Metropolitan Archives within discrete groups broken up by Chief Rabbinate. This order has been preserved with a sub fonds group for general material crossing Chief Rabbinates. Sub-fonds are as follows:
ACC/2805/01: General;
ACC/2805/02: Nathan Adler with Hermann Adler;
ACC/2805/03: Hermann Adler;
ACC/2805/04: Joseph Hertz;
ACC/2805/05: Deputy for the Chief Rabbi, Dayan Harris Lazarus;
ACC/2805/06: Israel Brodie;
ACC/2805/07: Immanuel Jakobovits;
ACC/2805/08: Jonathan Sacks.

Conditions governing access:

Access by written permission only.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The archive was stored in Woburn House along with the records of the United Synagogue.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in multiple accessions between 1990 and 2008.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See also records of the United Synagogue, ACC/2712.

Publication note:

For further information please consult the LMA Information Leaflet: "Records of the Anglo-Jewish Community at London Metropolitan Archives"; available to download here: (URL correct Feb 2010).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Description prepared in March 2010, updated Jun 2015

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