If you take Louis Jacobs at his word, then the eruption of the so-called ‘‘Jacobs Affair’’ in the early 1960s was a big surprise to him. Some might find this difficult to believe, since how could the English United Synagogue ever have allowed one of its rabbis to advocate higher biblical criticism? Yet in one of my conversations with Jacobs, he insisted that he meant what he said, and that he had no reason to assume that because of his views about the authorship of the Torah that he was in any way disqualified from serving as a rabbi in the United Synagogue. The proof of this, he noted, was that he published We Have Reason to Believe in 1957 and no one raised any objections to its content in the first few years after it appeared.1
When We Have Reason to Believe was published, Jacobs was teaching at Jews’ College. If he was acceptable to teach at Jews’ College, then it makes sense that he would have been surprised at the furor that broke out a few years after the appearance of the book. Furthermore, as he well knew and would himself later point out, men such as Joshua Abelson (1873–1940) and Herbert Loewe (1882– 1940) had been regarded as significant figures in traditional Judaism in England, with Abelson serving as minister of a few different Orthodox synagogues, yet they both held non-traditional views when it came to the authorship of the Torah.2
The Jacobs’ Affair became a huge theological controversy, the details of which most of the laity did not really grasp. In the end, Orthodoxy was victorious and Jacobs was prevented from becoming principal of Jews’ College. This victory was an affirmation of the doctrines of Torah min ha-Shamayim (Torah from Heaven) and complete Mosaic authorship, both of which are ‘‘codified’’ in Maimonides’ Eighth Principle of Faith. For centuries now, traditional Jewish thinkers have been unanimous in accepting these ideas. They have regarded as heresy any assertion that portions of the Torah were written at different times by different people.