Rabbi Maximilian Heller, Outstanding Leader and Educator, Dies
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Rabbi Maximilian Heller, Outstanding Leader and Educator, Dies

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Rabbi Maximilian Heller, outstanding leader in the Reform Rabbinate for nearly half a century, scholar and educator and champion of the Zionist cause from an early date, died here at eight-thirty Saturday morning following a short illness. Rabbi Heller was 69 years old. He is survived by his wife, Ida Annie (Marks), his son, Rabbi James Heller of Cincinnati, and other children.

Rabbi Heller, one of the earliest graduates of the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati, was a leading spirit in the history of American Jewry at the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century and exercised a decisive influence in shaping the character of the American Jewish community. As a scholar and orator he was a great factor in presenting the cause of Judaism and in championing Jewish conceptions and ideals both in the pulpit and in the press.

In the Zionist movement in the United States Rabbi Heller was one of the leading figures from an early date. He embraced the Zionist cause at a time when the majority of the Reform Rabbinate was in bitter opposition to it. His appearance at the Pittsburgh convention of the Zionist Organization of America last Summer was a notable event, in view of the attitude he took at a juncture when the convention was torn by bitter controversy in the fight of the opposition group against the administration headed by Louis Lipsky. By his calming influence during an acrimonious debate, Rabbi Heller, who was one of the chairmen of the convention, contributed largely toward steering the assembly into more peaceful waters.

Born in Prague, Bohemia, January 31, 1860, the son of Simon and Mathilda (Kassowitz) Heller, Maximilian Heller came to America at an early age. He was educated at McMicken University and at the Hebrew Union College. In 1889 he married Ida Annie Marks. Since 1887 Dr. Heller was rabbi of Sinai Temple, New Orleans. He was professor of Hebrew and Hebrew literature at Tulane University since 1912.

Rabbi Heller was active in many organizations, was honorary vice-president of the Jewish Publication Society of America, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1909-1911, a member of the Hebrew Union College Alumni Association, the American Oriental Society; and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Continued on Page 4)

He was editor of the “Jewish Ledger,” New Orleans, from 1896-1897 and at one time of the B’nai Brith Magazine. He was a contributor to the “American Israelite” and many journals on religious subjects.

The receipt of the news of Dr. Heller’s death caused grief in many circles in New York. Leaders in the pulpit and public life, in statements to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, eulogized the late Dr. Heller.

Louis Marshall, president of the American Jewish Committee – “The death of Dr. Max Heller is a great loss to world Jewry. During his long and active career in the pulpit and in public life he represented the finest ideals and influenced religious thought through his cultivated intelligence, his uniform toleration for the views of others and by his steadfast adherence to the fundamental principles of morals and ethics. As a writer he wielded a facile pen and not only possessed a vigorous and virile style, but what he said was illumined by scholarly thought, good taste and sound sense. His interest in everything that pertained to the advancement of the Jewish people was deep and sincere. He was one of the early followers of Dr. Herzl and his presence at the Non-Zionist Conference which was held here in October last was merely an illustration of his devotion to the cause of rebuilding Palestine. However men may have differed with him at times, they never failed to respect him for his intellectual honesty and his sterling and genuine manhood.”

Dr. Stephen S. Wise, Rabbi, Free Synagogue, New York – “It is too soon to do more than pay the briefest tribute to Max Heller. We were close friends for many years and long associated in many forms of service. I can do no more than say of Max Heller at this time that he was one of the finest leaders that American Israel has produced. He never permitted himself to become a mere sectarian in American Israel. He was truly a leader of catholic Israel. His were understanding and courage and sympathy and he was one of the earliest to avow himself a Zionist.

“He played a great part in the life of his community in New Orleans and indeed throughout the West, and in one mighty struggle for the decencies of life he stood intrepidly by the side of Chief Justice White. His life was a benediction to American Israel and the loving sympathy of all American Jews will go out to his wife and children and most especially to his son, Rabbi James Heller, a worthy follower and disciple of a noble father and a great master in Israel.”

Louis Lipsky, President of the Zionist Organization of America – “The whole Zionist world will be greatly shocked to learn of the death of Dr. Max Heller. He was a grand old man. From the earliest days of the Zionist movement in America Dr. Heller gave of his service generously to the Zionist propaganda. He was among the first of the Reform rabbis to espouse the cause of Zionist idealism. It took a great deal of courage on his part to stand out in his community as an exponent of nationalist ideas. It took a great deal more courage for him to stand among his Reform colleagues and advocate Zionism in the face of what seemed to be almost unanimous opposition. He not only spoke about Zionism but his writing helped to build up a Zionist literature in America of considerable value.

“He was a scholar of unusual attainment. He had a style in writing which was characteristic of the man. But not only as a scholar did he serve Zionism. He mingled freely with the democratic constituency of the Zionist Organization and at the many Zionist conventions he attended he stood out as a man of great human sympathy, understanding and appreciation. His influence in our conventions was the influence of a great soul. His word came always in support of fairness, appreciation of cultural values and of the deeper understanding of the currents in Jewish national life. He was a standard and rallying center for all those who appreciated genuine Zionist principles.

“His death will be mourned by thousands who knew him and by the tens of thousands who knew of his personality and of his service.”

Rabbi Maurice H. Harris of Temple Israel, New York, lifelong friend of Dr. Heller – “Dr. Max Heller exemplified in himself all the best characteristics of modern Israel. He loved the old but was classic in our tradition, and was a brave leader of the new. His sympathies were with the Zionists and his conviction with the Reformer. He had the courage of his convictions. Often his fidelity stood in the way of his material success. But we loved him for the enemies he made. His memory will long be enshrined in the honored annals of Israel.”

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