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Gollancz, Sir Hermannlocked


Gollancz, Sir Hermann (1852–1930), rabbi and Semitic scholar, was born at Bremen on 30 November 1852, the eldest son of Rabbi Samuel Marcus Gollancz, minister of the Hambro Synagogue, then in Leadenhall Street, London, and his wife, Johanna Koppell. He had three sisters and three brothers, his youngest brother being Sir Israel Gollancz (1863–1930). At the age of ten he passed from the Whitechapel foundation school to the school attached to the Jews' College, then in Finsbury Square; he entered the Jews' College itself and also University College, London, in 1869. He graduated BA with honours in classics and philosophy in 1873, and MA in Hebrew, Syriac, and German in 1889, while also broadening his intellectual horizon by attending lectures in other disciplines (including physics).

From 1872 to 1876 Gollancz assisted his father at the Hambro Synagogue as assistant preacher. Thereafter he was preacher successively at several London synagogues and minister at Manchester (1882–5) and Dalston (1885–92). Gollancz married in 1884 Thérèse, daughter of Samuel Henry Wilner, merchant, of Manchester, and they had three sons. In 1892 he succeeded the chief rabbi, Hermann Adler, as first minister at the Bayswater Synagogue, Harrow Road, where he remained, completing in 1923 a then unique record of fifty-one years' service in the Anglo-Jewish ministry.

Gollancz's main work falls under three heads, pastoral, scholarly, and philanthropic. His congregations naturally had the first claim on his energies, but he undertook many duties outside his parish and worked zealously for the foundation of new synagogues at South Hackney, New Cross, Walthamstow, Reading, Hanley, Hull, Sunderland, and Cardiff.

In 1897 Gollancz obtained the rabbinic diploma. Hitherto the requirements for the rabbinic diploma, which any qualified rabbi could grant to a suitable candidate, had not been definitely specified in England, where the degree had, in fact, never been conferred since the Jewish resettlement in the seventeenth century. Gollancz had therefore to go abroad (to Galicia) to obtain it but Hermann Adler felt that the time was not yet opportune for increasing the number of qualified rabbis in England. The Anglo-Jewish clergy had consisted hitherto of rabbis and precentors (chazanim), and the sermon was not a regular institution in every synagogue. Adler considered that the status of minister-preacher, a comparatively recent innovation, needed a further period of development before minister-preachers should attain to full rabbinic status. He therefore refused to recognize Gollancz's rabbinic credentials and an acrimonious controversy began in the Jewish Chronicle. The questions at issue were not merely personal, two matters of principle being involved. First, should the rabbinic diploma be given in England? Secondly, should rabbinic diplomas gained abroad be recognized in England? The reasoned arguments of 'Historicus' (Israel Gollancz) stated the case for an enlarged rabbinate so cogently that in the end Adler gave way. Hermann Gollancz was publicly recognized as rabbi and the requirements of Hebrew and rabbinics necessary to obtain the diploma of rabbi in England were formally defined, thanks to the arduous struggle carried on by Gollancz and his brother Israel in the face of great opposition and much personal inconvenience.

Adler died in 1911. Gollancz's claims to succeed him as chief rabbi were overruled by the imperative need for a younger man to fill the position, and he remained at the Bayswater Synagogue for another eleven years. He published in 1915 a special translation of a work by Joseph Kimhi under the title Foundation of Religious Fear, of which he presented in 1918 an edition of 10,000 copies for the use of members of the Jewish faith in the British forces. His wife received the Belgian order of Queen Elisabeth in recognition of her war work.

Gollancz undertook much public work outside the special interests of the Jewish community. In 1880, in conjunction with Rabbi Samuel Augustus Barnett, he promoted the first of the Whitechapel loan exhibitions. He took part in the several movements which secured Clissold Park as an open space (1888), created the North London Technical Institute (1889), and saved Moyse's Hall, Bury St Edmunds (1896). He served on the royal commissions which inquired into the birth rate (1913–16) and the cinema (1917), and on the special committee appointed to report on venereal disease and adolescence (1920–21). He was vice-president and treasurer of the National Council of Public Morals and vice-chairman of the Paddington Social Service Council. In 1917 he received an illuminated address, signed by representatives of many educational and philanthropic bodies, on the occasion of his completing forty-five years of service as a Jewish minister and public worker.

Gollancz, who in 1899 became the first Jew to obtain the degree of DLit of London University, was elected in 1902 Goldsmid professor of Hebrew at University College, London, in succession to Solomon Schechter. On his retirement in 1923 the senate of the university accorded him the title of emeritus professor, and in order to commemorate his twenty-one years' tenure of the chair of Hebrew he presented his valuable library of Hebraica and Judaica to University College; he had previously been largely responsible for the acquisition by University College of the library of Jewish history bequeathed to public use in 1905 by Frederic David Mocatta. Gollancz was president of the Jewish Drama League, of the Jewish Historical Society (1905), and of the Union of Jewish Literary Societies (1925–6). In 1922 he celebrated his golden jubilee and was the recipient of many marks of esteem. In 1923 he was knighted, being the first British rabbi to receive this honour. The close of Gollancz's life was saddened by domestic sorrows. In September 1929 he lost successively his youngest son, Leonard, his wife, and his sister Emma within ten days; his brother Israel died in June of the next year. Gollancz died in London on 15 October 1930.

Gollancz's literary output was very great. Besides extensive translations from Hebrew and Aramaic texts, his work comprised contributions to Jewish history as well as sermons and addresses. His record of public service and of scholarly achievement engendered in him a self-importance that was regarded indulgently by his contemporaries. By allowing it to find expression in print in his Personalia (1928), and Contribution to the History of University College London (1930), he possibly did his posthumous reputation a disservice.


  • H. Gollancz, Personalia (1928)
  • The Times (16 Oct 1930)
  • C. Roth, ed., Encyclopaedia Judaica, 16 vols. (Jerusalem, 1971–2)

Wealth at Death

£868 19s. 6d.: resworn administration, 8 April 1931, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]