Article Index
History of EDRS
Early Days
Rabbi Maybaum
A Home of Our Own
Growing Up
Rabbi Leigh
More Building Work
Rabbi Smith
Bridging the Millennia
The New Millennium
All Pages


Rabbi Leigh

In September 1963 Michael Leigh, former Assistant Minister at the West London Synagogue, was inducted as Minister of EDRS. Michael Leigh took a degree in history at Lincoln College, Oxford, following which he spent a few months in business, but soon realised that this was not his vocation. His schooldays had been during the war, and as had happened with many other Jewish children then, his Jewish education had been a casualty. So he endeavoured to make up what he had lost by embarking on an intensive course in Hebrew, and his proficiency was such that within a few months he had reached a standard which met acceptance by University College London for him to take a degree in Hebrew and Semitics. Three years later, in 1956, the Leo Baeck College for training rabbis was inaugurated, and the first two students were Lionel Blue and Michael Leigh. In 1958 the College examined both students for proficiency to act in the capacity of Minister, and both students passed. After joining EDRS Michael Leigh continued with his studies in Talmud and his efforts were rewarded when, in July 1964 he was ordained as a Rabbi.

Soon after the commencement of Rabbi Leigh’s ministry major changes were made to Services and to the religious approach of EDRS. . Rabbi Leigh was to put his stamp, not only on EDRS, but also on the Reform movement. At EDRS there was a significant return to traditional practice, and EDRS became recognised as the most conservative of the synagogues within the Reform movement. Rabbi Leigh was emphatic about the observance of Shabbat as a day apart from other days. He laid down guidelines to ensure that, as far as possible, kashrut was maintained on Synagogue premises. He abolished the use of the organ on Shabbat (retaining it for weddings, etc) Chanting of some prayers was brought into use, and b’nei mitzvah were encouraged, as far as possible, to chant their portions, and also the Haftara if they were able. A major step was to employ the existing choirmaster, Dr Alan Kutner, to lead during Services effectively as chazan.. Other Rabbi Leigh’s “firsts” were to restore the second day of Rosh Hashanah as a festival (eventually this was adopted by most of the synagogues within RSGB) and to start midnight Selichot Services. A major problem, which was not going to go away, concerned the matter of egalitarianism. Rabbi Leigh had promoted a number of adult education initiatives to develop the abilities of Service leaders, and among those attending were some women. Up to that time women had been encouraged to read (in English) parts of the High Holyday and Festival Services, but there were now a small number of women who were competent in reading Hebrew prayers and chanting the Torah and Haftara portions. Rabbi Leigh, with the Ritual Committee, agreed that women could carry out these mitzvot. But were there to be any mitzvot which women could not be asked to do? At this time, in the 1970s, it had become customary in many other Reform Synagogues for men and women to perform all the mitzvot equally. Rabbi Leigh, however, decided that a line should be drawn, and at EDRS any mitzva which involved the carrying or lifting of the Scroll should only be done by a man. While, in the main, this was not a burdensome restriction, it did come to the fore at Simchat Torah when the Scrolls were paraded in procession (by men). An attempt was made to challenge Rabbi Leigh’s authority on this particular matter, but no change was made during the remainder of Rabbi Leigh’s ministry.

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