Morris Joseph and the West London Synagogue in the First World War

in European Judaism

A graduate of Jews' College, Morris Joseph became the leading spokesman for British Reform Judaism as spiritual leader of the West London Synagogue. Though not a pacifist, he was one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Society in 1913. Unlike French and German colleagues who emphasized their patriotic loyalty to their ruler, love of their fatherland and bonds with their fellow citizens in fighting an evil adversary, Joseph expressed deep dismay in his first sermons following the outbreak of war in August 1914. His subsequent sermons – some printed the following Friday in the Jewish Chronicle, others eventually published in his third and final book of sermons – were delivered on various occasions: on ordinary Sabbaths and holidays, on National Days of Prayer and Intercession, at funeral services for members of his congregation killed in action, and at Confirmation services for students who might be joining the army a few years later. Central themes include the theological issues about God's role in the war, and the effort to define a coherent position, personally repudiating the pacifist refusal to serve in the struggle, while condemning any glorification of war and insisting that peace was an ultimate value of his Judaism.