Culture, Israel

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, z"l

rabbi-wolfe1I was so saddened to read of the passing of the great Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf of Chicago at the age of 83. From his obituary:

Rabbi Wolf served as a Navy chaplain during the Korean War. In 1957, he returned to Chicago and became the founding rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park. In 1972, he went on to teach philosophy at Yale University and was the school’s Jewish chaplain. Rabbi Wolf returned to Chicago in 1980, where he served as the rabbi of KAM for 20 years.

But truly Rabbi Wolf’s most lasting legacy will be as a stubborn, indefatigable advocate for social justice in this country and in Israel/Palestine. Just two examples among many: as the founding chair of Breira in 1973, he spearheaded the American Jewish call for justice for Palestinians long before it was fashionable. And just several months ago he publicly exhorted the Jewish community in support of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Zichrono Livracha – May the memory of this fearless tzadik be for a blessing…

4 thoughts on “Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, z"l

  1. One of the great American rabbis has passed away. I am deeply saddened to hear of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf’s death. May his memory be for a blessing.
    I’d like to share one of his teachings, written in 1966 for “Commentary” magazine’s special issue on the condition of Jewish belief. He wrote:
    “I try to walk the road of Judaism. Embedded in that road there are many jewels. One is marked “Sabbath,” and one “Civil Rights” and one “Kashrut” and one “Honor Your Parents” and one “Study of Torah” and one “You Shall Be Holy.” There are at least 613 of them, and they are of different shapes and sizes and weights. Some are light and easy for me to pick up, and I pick them up. Some are too deeply embedded for me, so far at least, though I get a little stronger by trying to extricate the jewels as I walk the street. Some, perhaps, I shall never be able to pick up.
    “I believe that God expects me to keep on walking Judaism Street and to carry away whatever I can of its commandments. I do not believe that God expects me to lift what I cannot, nor may I condemn my fellow Jew who may not be able to pick up even as much as I can.”
    Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf
    Chicago, IL
    from “The Condition of Jewish Belief – A Symposium”,
    in Commentary Magazine,” 1966

  2. I tell people that Arnold was one of the three great Reform rabbis who inspired my own Jewish path, even though that eventually led to Orthodoxy (he never minded that). Here’s the note I sent out to my community after his death:
    Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf passed away yesterday. It’s a tremendous loss for me, for our community, and for the Jewish world in general. Rabbi Wolf was the first full-time rabbi at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, the Jewish chaplain at Yale in the 1970s, the rabbi at KAM-Isaiah until 2000, an editor at Sh’ma, and an extremely important, learned, and challenging voice in Reform Judaism, and the American Jewish community in general, throughout his lifetime. Something of a prophetic figure in his willingness to stick up for unpopular views, Rabbi Wolf was one of the most prominent Jewish participants in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, a founder of “Breira” in the 70s, which supported a Palestinian state alongside Israel when the Jewish community was almost entirely opposed to such a thing, as well as an early proponent of Holocaust education (he introduced Elie Wiesel to Chicago in 1959) and vocal critic of Louis Farrakhan. He was also a wonderful teacher – his Friday night Chumash discussions were among the highlights of my Jewish experiences at Yale, and he led classes on a wide variety of Jewish subjects all through his life – a remarkable speaker, and a delightfully charming person, who took a real interest in the lives of everyone he met. I feel honored and very lucky to have known him; he was a role model for me and indeed one of the rabbis most responsible for my own Jewish commitments today.
    May his memory be for a blessing.

  3. I had the fortune of meeting Rabbi Wolf once in 2005 when he was being honored by Yale Hillel. Even at his advanced age he was a fierce mind and a funny guy. He was a true activist and tzadik.

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