OLAN, LEVI ARTHUR


OLAN, LEVI ARTHUR (1903–1984), U.S. Reform rabbi and theologian. Olan was born in Russia and immigrated to Rochester, New York, in 1906. He received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1925 and was ordained by the *Hebrew Union College in 1929. He was awarded a D.D. by HUC-JIR in 1955, and a D.H.L. by Austin College in 1967 and by Southern Methodist University in 1968. He served as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Worcester, Massachusetts (1929–49), where he was also president of the United Jewish Charities and an organizer of the People's Forum, sponsoring such speakers as Norman Thomas and Clarence Darrow. In 1949, he was named rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, becoming emeritus in 1970. He also lectured at Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology and at Texas Christian University.

In Dallas, Olan was the host of a popular weekly radio program, which later expanded to television, on the religious issues of life. His courageous attacks on racial segregation earned him the sobriquet "the conscience of Dallas." He was appointed chairman of the city's Housing Authority, a director of the Human Relations Commission, and a regent of the University of Texas.

In the *Central Conference of American Rabbis, Olan was instrumental in establishing a Special Interest Group in Jewish Theology, which he chaired from 1961 to 1965. He also served on the executive board (1946–48, 1969–71) and was elected vice president (1965–67) and then president of the CCAR (1967–68). Additionally, he was vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (1967–68).

As a theologian, Olan described himself as a religious liberal, a rationalist who stressed the role of reason and experience in the search for truth. A philosopher who sought to narrow the gap between conflicting religious and secular points of view, his thinking influenced colleagues, as reflected in the book A Rational Faith, Essays in Honor of Levi A. Olan (1984). Olan himself wrote Judaism and Immortality (1942, 1971), Prophetic Faith and the Secular Age (1982), and Maturity in an Immature World (1984; an anthology of his broadcasts).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.