Thursday, December 24, 2009

A really odd Godol story about Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, Moses Montefiore, and Queen Victoria.

First a short version from a book called Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother Marnie Winston-Macauley (note: if you're wondering about the strange formatting of this image, yes, something is missing from the image below. If you're a When Harry Met Sally fan you may find it in the book linked to, but it is irrelevant to this post):



No source is given for this interesting tale, but I suspect that it is from chapter 6 of an Artscroll book called Chance Encounters? Stories that are Hardly by Chance by Mrs. M. L. Mashinsky. I reproduce it in its entirety below:
Queen Victoria and the Rabbi

VICTORIA, QUEEN OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE, HAD good reason to be grateful to Nathan Adler, who was rabbi of a shul in Hanau (Hanover), where the queen had come to visit. Her husband, Prince Consort Albert, was from the duchy of Saxe Coburg Gotha, and her own ancestors had originated in Hanover. The royal couple had arrived there for a vacation before the expected birth of their first child, when suddenly, labor began two months earlier than expected.

The great Jewish shtadlan, Moshe Montefiore, a financial advisor to the British government, came to the Court at Hanover at that crucial moment. The doctors and members of the Court were at their wit’s end -- if the child would be born on German soil, his succession to the throne might be in question, since he would be considered a German citizen and would not be eligible for the crown.

That afternoon, Moshe Montefiore went to daven in the shul of Rav Nathan Adler, and received a tremendous welcome -- not because of his great wealth, but because of his great benevolence to his Jewish brethren all over the world. After prayers, he told Rav Adler about the royal dilemma. It was getting late ....

Rav Adler suggested that the Queen be brought immediately to an English ship, which should then travel out three kilometers from the German shore to international waters. A child born on the British ship would be regarded as having been born on English soil.

Sir Moses quickly relayed this advice to the Court, and Queen Victoria was rushed to the famous British warship, the Arc Royal, which was nearby. That night, she gave birth to a son. He duly became known later (much later, since the Queen ruled until her death at the venerable age of 82) as King Edward VII.

A sticky situation was averted by the ingenious rabbi of Hanover, and the Queen did not forget that.

During her long reign, England’s glory was at its greatest. “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was truly said, since it shone constantly on some part of England and its possessions -- Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the African colonies ....

Years later, Queen Victoria’s attention was directed to an announcement issued by the Dukes Place shul in London, requesting applications to be submitted for the prestigious position of rabbi there. This was publicized internationally, and many renowned rabbanim applied, including Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and others.

The Queen sent a note to the synagogue, stating, “Since Rabbi Adler saved me when I was in trouble, he will certainly be the right guardian and leader for your congregation.” And so it was.

When the Queen’s advice was accepted and Rav Nathan Adler was chosen as the rabbi of the Dukes Place shul, she further suggested that this position was not enough -- he should become Chief Rabbi of England, or better yet, of the British Empire! A bill was raised in Parliament in order to decide whether the Empire required a chief rabbi. When put to a vote, a substantial majority chose Rav Adler as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, a post he filled with honor and distinction for 45 years.

Thus Queen Victoria repaid the good advice of the rabbi of Hanau. Her reign was an era of good feeling toward her Jewish subjects, who prospered and enjoyed more rights and freedom than any of their brethren in the European countries.

P.S. Sir Moses Montefiore, who had received the suggestion and passed it on to the Court, was a proud Jew, completely devoted to the A-mighty and to His people. He earned the respect of gentiles and the gratitude and love of Jews everywhere by his words and deeds, based on the Torah. How different from so many politicians who feel they can succeed only by blending with the mainstream! How good it would be if those who represent Jewry today would follow the example of the man about whom it was said at the time, “From Moses to Moses there was no one like Moses.”

(From “THE ADLER FAMILY -- ITS GENEALOGY; WITH SOME REMINISCES”)

Paper read by Mr. Marcus N. Adler, at the Jewish Institute in London, on the 6th of June, 1909, on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Chief Rabbi. Reprinted from the JEWISH CHRONICLE.

“The story of Rabbi N. Adler and the Queen has been circulating in the Adler family but I also heard it from Rabbi Moishe Schneider zt”l during one of his mussar schmuessen long before I joined the family,” writes HaRav Yitzchak Kaufman of B’nei Brak, who is married to a descendant of Rav Nathan Adler. He concludes, “Today, in B’nei Brak alone, there are over 300 yungeleit, descendants of the family, learning in local kollelim and yeshivos. The patriarch of the family did a favor for the Queen, resulting in his emigration from Germany to England, where he founded generations of Torah-true descendants devoted to a life of Torah and avodas Hashem.”
Luckily this gives its source, namely "(From “THE ADLER FAMILY -- ITS GENEALOGY; WITH SOME REMINISCES”) described as "Paper read by Mr. Marcus N. Adler, at the Jewish Institute in London, on the 6th of June, 1909, on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Chief Rabbi. Reprinted from the JEWISH CHRONICLE."

As it turns out, The Adler Family - It's Genealogy with Some Reminisces is available to read or download. Now, I was expecting some variation of this story to appear in it, but although there is a section on Montefiore, nothing even remotely like this story appears. I figured I'd better look up the paper in the Jewish Chronicle, since this pamphlet was reprinted from that newspaper. Sure enough, the entire speech is printed in the June 11, 1909 issue, but it is identical to the pamphlet, which you can read yourself quite easily. So what gives?

Now, the story is strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there seems to be no record or hint that Edward was born on a British ship. In fact, his page on Wikipedia says that he was born at Buckingham Palace. Furthermore, he wasn't Victoria's eldest, but her second child. It is entirely possible that some sort of Adler family legend to this effect existed, but it surely wasn't mentioned by his son Marcus Nathan (who does mention family lore that they are descended from the compiler of Yalkut Shim'oni -- however, he examines that claim critically, as his father no doubt did or would have). In fact, the source is probably from outside the Adler family, I imagine. The oral source the author gives, HaRav Yitzchak Kaufman" of B’nei Brak, who is married to a descendant of Rav Nathan Adler" relates that he heard this from Rabbi Moishe Schneider in a mussar schmuess long before joining the Adler family. It may well be that the 300+ strong Adler yungeleits in B'nei Brak tell this story, but it seems to me more likely that it came to them through mussar schmuessen and the like rather than from anything that the family patriarch ever said or did.

That said, IIRC the Chief Rabbi was known to the royal family from his Hanover days -- a historian writes that "Whilst Rabbi in Hanover, he became acquainted with Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, regent of the province, who is thought to have recommended him for the post of Chief Rabbi in Britain" -- and perhaps Victoria did pen a note to the Duke's Palace synagogue supporting his candidacy.

Incidentally, Montefiore's diaries (from 1812-1883) don't seem to know of anything remotely like this incident, or mention the HMS Arc Royal or know that he was in Hanover at any time besides 1857 and 1872

5 comments:

  1. Just last week in the well known weekly Torah leaflet "Alim L'trufa" (can be downloaded from www.ladaat.net/siteimages/fl_4b4f041980512.pdf) there was a short biography of R. Adler and this story is not mentioned there at all.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Did you know that last week's Yated (6/9/2010) "Strange Side of Jewish History" feature in the magazine section mentioned you in reference to this story? They refer to you as "an anonymous person going by the unlikely name of Mississippi Fred Macdowell"

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  3. Yes I am, but thanks for telling me in case I didn't!

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  4. Hi, thanks for a very interesting article! I also read the follow-up post, good debunking and generally worthwhile history.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  5. That said, IIRC the Chief Rabbi was known to the royal family from his Hanover days -- a historian writes that "Whilst Rabbi in Hanover, he became acquainted with Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, regent of the province, who is thought to have recommended him for the post of Chief Rabbi in Britain" -- and perhaps Victoria did pen a note to the Duke's Palace synagogue supporting his candidacy.

    This historian is also guessing, and just as unlikely. The odds of the Royal Family having had an opinion on the election of the Chief Rabbi are close to zero. After the United Synagogue chose a Chief Rabbi the queen or prime minister could disapprove, but their input would not be sought. I assure you QE2 did not know that Rabbi Mirvis was a candidate until he was chosen.

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