Our veterans of the Great War Written by Derek Taylor
Leading the community during the war was a new Chief Rabbi, Joseph Herman Hertz. It was a busy four years. To begin with, he had to get the refugees from Russia to fight for an alliance which included the hated czar.
To show solidarity, he went to France and toured the trenches with the commander-in-chief. Hertz controversially stated that he recognised Cohanim shouldn’t be near a dead body but, in a war, they were not excused military service. A leading Zionist when ministering in South Africa, Hertz found the British Foreign Office considered Zionism a branch of the German Foreign Office – well, it was based in Berlin.
Lobbying for the Balfour Declaration, Hertz wrote to The Times to contradict the views of the heads of the two most powerful Jewish organisations. Where the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association had said Jews didn’t want a national home, Hertz said they did. The government took his word for it.
Hertz also wrote a book to comfort fighting men facing death. The Book of Jewish Thoughts sold nearly half a million copies over the next 30 years.