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The United Synagogue 100 Years Ago... Remembering World War One

By Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

100 years ago, Europe stood on the cusp of a conflict of such frightening ferocity, that it would change the course of history. Much of the political landscape of our society is, to a large extent, a result of the Great War of 1914-1918, as World War One came to be known. 

On August 4th, 1914, the day that Great Britain entered the war, the then British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, famously and presciently reflected that, “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”  That August 4th coincided with Tisha B’Av (9 Av in the Jewish calendar), which from a broad overview of Jewish history is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is a fast day, second in importance as a fast day only to Yom Kippur.

The Jewish world was profoundly affected by the war, as articles in the booklet below, produced by the United Synagogue, Learning and Living, in 2014, so movingly and poignantly describe.

Rabbi Michael Laitner prefaces his survey of the work of the Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue during the war with these words: ‘The British Jewish community was deeply affected by World War One. As patriotic citizens, many Jews – although not all - signed up amongst the surge of volunteers to join the armed forces in 1914…. Too many of them lost their lives’.

Rabbi (Major) Reuben Livingstone LLM CF, Jewish Chaplain to HM Forces, Honorary Chaplain to AJEX, reflects on the Jewish contribution to the Armed Services and the role of Jewish chaplains in supporting Jewish serving men.

Rebecca Filer outlines the conflict from the perspective of a student at JFS (Jewish Free School), David Frei, Director of External Affairs for the United Synagogue and Registrar of the London Beth Din describes the work of The London Beth Din and Tobias Cohen provides an overview of the war in the context of modern world and Jewish history. 

Reading through the booklet makes one shudder. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the valiant soldiers whose bravery paved the way for our free and peaceful society today. We owe much to those who, with remarkable tenacity, rebuilt families, communities and entire societies in the wake of the devastation.

Download booklet  100 Years Ago... Remembering World War One.
United Synagogue, Learning and Living, 2014.

The Great War became known as “the war to end all wars”, such was its ferocity. If only that would have been true. Barely 20 years later the world would be drawn into a conflict of even greater intensity, sacrifice and suffering.

On the plaza of the United Nations in New York, an organisation whose roots lie in the aftermath of the failed League of Nations following World War One, a ‘Peace Wall’ was established. In a world reeling once again from conflict, that wall displayed the famous words of the First Temple prophet Isaiah (2:4), who lived through some desperate conflicts in his time.


And He [God] shall judge between the

nations, and shall provide justification

for many peoples; and they shall beat

their swords into plowshares, and their

spears into pruning hooks; no nation

shall lift up a sword against another,

neither shall they learn war any more.

1 וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם, וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים

רַבִּים; וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲ־

נִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת--לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי

אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְ־


Isaiah expressed our continuous yearning for peace, which is reflected in our daily prayers and aspirations. The prophet’s words resonate deeply with us as we contemplate the lessons of World War One and strive to build a world in which war is a phenomenon of the past and weapons are only used for the study of history. May his words be fulfilled speedily in our times.

A series of 24 letters from the United Synagogue, kindly provided by the Jewish Museum London. These documents describe concerns about the provision of adequate religious ministration to Jewish soldiers, adequate burial, and the need for the appointment of a Jewish Chaplain to H.M. Forces.

The series of Service leaves and booklets below were created by the Chief Rabbi’s office to mark events following the declaration of war in August 1914. The Chief Rabbi at that time was Joseph Herman Hertz who had been elected to office in 1913.

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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