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Dr. Kaufmann Kohler, President Emeritus of Hebrew Union College, Dies

January 29, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

(Jewish Daily Bulletin)

Dr. Kaufman Kohler, President Emeritus of the Hebrew Union College, died today at the age of 82 in New York.

Dr. Kaufmann Kohler, rabbi, scholar and educator, who was born in Furth, Bavaria, was a pupil of Abraham Geiger, leader of the Jewish Reform movement in Germany in the nineteenth century. It was under Geiger’s influence that young Kohler went to America to in actively participate in advocating the cause of Reform Judaism in America. He was one of the youngest members of the Philadelphia Jewish Rabbinical Conference in 1869. In 1885 he convened the Pittsburgh Rabbinical Conference which adopted the famous “Pittsburgh Platform” on which Reform Judaism in America stands.

He was married to Johanna Einhorn, daughter of Dr. David Einhorn of Temple Beth-El, New York City, on August 28, 1870. He is survived by four children: Max J. Kohler, well-known New York attorney and communal leader, Rose, Edgar J. Kohler and Lili.


Dr. Kaufmann Kohler was born at Furth, Bavaria, Germany, May 10, 1843, son of Moritz and Babette (Loewenmayer) Kohler. He was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.

Dr. Kohler’s thesis, entitled “Jacob’s Blessing,” was one of the first modern-day works of Bible criticism, and was drawn upon by Kuenen and Wellhausen and their followers. Its radical character closed all European Jewish pulpits to its author. A call from the Congregation Beth El in Detroit brought him to this country in 1869, and he remained in Detroit for two years, going thence to the Sinai Congregation in Chicago. Here he introduced the innovation of Sunday lectures, a feature which has been copied by a number of Jewish reform congregations throughout the United States. His learning, personality and abilities strongly impressed those who came in contact with him, and in 1879 he was persuaded to accept a call to Temple Beth El in New York City. In this position he remained as a leader of the American Jewish pulpit till October, 1903, when he was choscn president of the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati, O. Rabbi Isaac M. Wise of Cincinnati, was the founder of this college, which began with one class in October, 1875. In July, 1883, the first four rabbis were graduated and publicly ordained; Dr. Kohler served as one of the examiners of the students that year. Rabbi Wise began his work for the college in 1848 and only achieved a successful result by the utmost persistence. However, having once begun, it grew rapidly, and by the time Dr. Kohler was installed as president, the number of members of the faculty had grown from two to fifteen, and already its alumni included some of the leading rabbis of the country.


The institution is a stronghold and culture center of Reform Judaism. Dr. Kohler had long been a noted leader of this movement, having convened the Rabbinical Conference held at Pittsburgh in 1885, which adopted a declaration of principles for Reform Judaism. In honor of Dr. Kohler’s 80th birthday, the Central Conference of American Rabbis published in booklet form in 1923 the full “Proceedings” of that conference. He was a vigorous and authoritative writer for the Jewish press of the world since 1868. During 1881-82 he edited the “Sabbath Visitor” and in 1886 had chief editorial charge of the “Jewish Reformer.” He was also one of the editors of the “Jewish Encyclopaedia,” (1901), his field being theology and philosophy. He was a member of the committee that prepared an English translation of the Bible, published in 1917, and was a member of the committee editing a series of “Jewish Classics.”

As president of the Hebrew Union College Dr. Kohler occupied a position of eminence where a man of strong character and opinions could wield great influence. This he did for many years, in addition to directing the growth, and aiding the development, of the college. He took a decided stand against the political Zionist propaganda in the United States, and declared that except in so far as it pursues philanthropic aims by colonization projects for the benefit of Jewish refugees from tyranny and oppression, it would do more harm than good. He scouted the idea that Jews in America were in danger of experiencing such treatment as has been meted out to members of their race in some East European countries.

In 1921 Dr. Kohler became president emeritus of the college, and in 1922 moved back to New York City with his family. Since 1903 he was honorary president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The honorary degree of D.D. was conferred upon him by the Hebrew Union College in 1920.


Dr. Kohler is the author of “Der Segen Jakob’s.” above-mentioned under a translated title (1866); “Capital Punish-ment,” (1869); “Song of Songs,” (18877); “Backwards or Forwards-Lectures on Reform Judaism,” (1885); “A Guide to Instruction in Judaism, (1887); Synagogue and Church in. Their Mulual Relations,” (1889); “The Psalms and Their Place in the Liturgy,” (1897); “Jewish Theology, Systematically and Historically Considered,” (1917)-an enlargement of a work originally issued in Germany by the leading Jewish scientific society there in 1910; “Hebrew Union College and Other Addresses,” (1916); and on the occasion of his 80th birthday, “Heaven and Hell in Comparative Religion, with Particular Reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” (1923). He edited a selected collection of the sermons of his father-in-law, David Einhorn, a leading pioneer of Reform Judaism, in 1880, which was re-issued in enlarged form in 1911 as the “Einhorn Memorial Volume.” Dr. Kohler has also written many important articles for the “Journal of the German Oriental Society,” “Geiger’s Zeitschrift,” (1868-72), the “Jewish Times,” the “Zeitgeist,” the “American Hebrew,” the “Menorah Monthly,” the “Jewish Quarterly Review,” the “Year Books of the Central Conference of American Rabbis” and “Unity”; also for the Encyclopedia Americana, the “Annual of the Hebrew Union College,” the “Menorah Journal”, and the “Journal for Jewish Lore and Philosophy.”

Dr. Kohler was a man of simple tastes and quiet demeanor, and had a host of friends and admirers. His 70th birthday in 1913 was signalized by the publication of “Studies in Jewish Literature, issued in Honor of Professor Kautmann Kohler.” To this, Jewish scholars all over the world contributed, and it contains a biography of him and a biography of his printed writings, containing 801 items. When his 80th birthday arrived in 1923 it was celebrated by Jewish Reform congregations throughout the country. After his retirement as president of the College, Dr. Kohler devoted most of his time to preparing a work on “Beginings ot Synagogue and Church, and their Mutual Relations,” To this line of investigation belong his articles on “Essenes,” “Jesus”, “Didascalia”, among others, in the “Jewish Ency-clopedia” and on “The Pre-Talmudic Haggadah” in the “Jewish Quarterly Review.” A recently published off-shoot is his scientific paper in the “Hebrew Union College Annual (Vol. I, 1924) entitled “The Origin and Composition of the. Eighteen Benedictions, with a Translation of the Corresponding Prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions,” which has attracted much attention among scholars.

An Ohio branch of the United Synagogue of America will be established within the next ten days, as a result of efforts of Cleveland synagogue leaders, headed by Rabbi Solomon Goldman.

One of the first steps, looking to bringing all Ohio’s synagogues into the one organization, will be a convention to be held in Cleveland, the early part of next month. Repri sentatives from the entire state are expected to attend.

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