Israel Brodie became Chief Rabbi in 1948 at the age of 53
at a time when Jewry in the world at large was going through
a difficult time. The Holocaust in Europe was a sensitive
subject and the ending of the British Mandate in Palestine
was causing continual unrest in Israel. The choice of Chief
Rabbi had fallen on him because he was perceived to be a
tolerant man with a faultless English background.
He proved a persuasive and peaceful negotiator and led
the community through this period with pride and dignity.
He was the founder of the Conference of European Rabbis,
and through this entity Brodie took a significant part
in rebuilding the religious life of European Jewry after
His several pastoral tours to Australia and New Zealand and
other parts of the Commonwealth, which were recorded by
his wife Fanny, who also kept notes relating to visits to Israel,
Ireland, South Africa and the USA, strengthened the worldwide
Jewish community in a quiet but significant manner.
Sadly, the closing years of his tenure were overshadowed
by religious dispute. In 1961, Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs (1920–
2006) a renowned scholar of Judaism, who has been referred
to as “the greatest Chief Rabbi we never had” was nominated
to be principal of Jews’ College. However, one of his many
books, We Have Reason to Believe, published in 1957,
challenged the traditional view that the first five books of
the Bible, known as the Torah, were dictated by God, word
by word, to Moses on Mount Sinai.
As a result, Brodie blocked the appointment, stating
that Jacobs was unfit for the post and prohibited Jacobs
from returning to his post at the New West End Synagogue.
The incident, known as the ‘Jacobs Affair’, reverberated
around the world and the resulting controversy within
Orthodox scholarly circles is still alive today.
In 1954, he was honoured by the United Grand Lodge of
England with his appointment as Past Grand Chaplain and at
the Meeting of the Montefiore Lodge on 28 October he was
presented with the regalia of the Office of Past Grand Chaplain,
which included a skull cap made from the same blue cloth
material as the apron. He wore the ‘kipa’ at all the meetings
At this time, following on a minor dispute in the Montefiore
Lodge, in which a candidate proposed by Bro Brodie was
black-balled, there came about the resignation of several
Brethren and the withdrawal from the Lodge of Rabbi Brodie
himself for several years.
Brodie’s tenure as Chief Rabbi followed on that of Joseph
Herman Hertz (1913–1946), who had also been a Freemason
in the Transvaal, South Africa under the UGLE, attaining
the rank of Past District Grand Chaplin, although it would
appear that he took no further activity as a Mason following
his appointment as Chief Rabbi in 1913. There were several
other prominent Rabbis who were active Freemasons.
The Rev. Dr. Bernard Elzas and the Rev. Marcus Haines,
Ministers of the New West End Synagogue as well as the
Rev. Isaac Goldston, were all initiated in the Lodge of
Israel No. 205. In Lodge Joppa No. 188 the Rev. Israel
Levy Lindenthal and the Rev. David de Sola of Bevis Marks
were initiated in 1846. The Rev. Aaron Barnett Levy was
a Chaplain of the Lodge of Tranquillity (1855–1857) and
the Rev. Dr. George Joseph Emanuel of Birmingham was
initiated in 1861.
Also, the Rev. Morris Rosenbaum, Past Provincial Grand
Chaplain (Northumberland), the Masonic historian, was an
active Freemason, as was the Rev Rayehael Levy, father of
Elkan D Levy, a colleague and close friend, whose assistance
with this article I am glad to acknowledge.
In 1969 Israel Brodie was made a Knight of the British
Empire “for services to British Jewry”, the first Chief Rabbi
to be so honoured. In 1970 he was made an honorary member
of Montefiore Lodge. Bro. Brodie died on 20 February, 1979.
Brodie, Very Rev. Sir Israel, Past G.Chap., Newcastle 100:234
Brodie, Very Rev. Sir Israel, Past G.Chap. (1954) 92:36, 50, 58
Levy, Elkan D, Historical Notes on www.chiefrabbi.org,
the website of the Chief Rabbi
Silverman, Montefiore Lodge No. 1017, London
Shaftsley, John M, Jews in English Freemasonry in the 18th & 19th Centuries,
AQC 92 (1954)
© The Jewish Museum, London
Sir Israel Brodie with a group
at Stern’s Hotel, London in 1948
Web site created by Mark Griffin