Judah Leon Magnes
(1877 – 1948)
Judah Leon Magnes was an American rabbi and communal leader. He was chancellor and first president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Magnes was born in San Francisco, California, to parents who emigrated from Poland and Germany in 1863. He attended the Hebrew Union College, where he was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1900. Magnes spent the years 1900–03 studying in Berlin and Heidelberg. During his years in Germany he traveled widely in Eastern Europe and was profoundly moved by the intensive Jewish life he found. It strengthened his earlier sympathetic feeling toward Zionism and brought him to the commitment to make Zionism and service to his people his mission in life.
On his return from Germany he became rabbi of Temple Israel in Brooklyn (1904–05) and afterward the assistant rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New York (1906–10). At the same time he served as the secretary of the American Zionist Federation (1905–08) and later became the president of the Kehillah of New York *City from its founding in 1908 until its demise in 1922; he left for Palestine in the same year. Founded to advance and coordinate Jewish life in New York City, the Kehillah dealt vigorously with such internal problems as religious life and Jewish education; in the latter area its Bureau of Jewish Education, directed by Samson *Benderly, pioneered in the centralization and modernization of Jewish education in the U.S. The Kehillah was active and effective in labor arbitration and helped to repress crime in the immigrant Jewish areas in cooperation with the city's police department. It provided a nexus for cooperation between "uptown" and "downtown" Jews and a forum for Jewish public opinion. Magnes was the Kehillah's moving spirit and most competent leader, spokesman, peacemaker, fund raiser, and philosopher, and thus a leading figure in the metropolis. In 1905 he participated in the Zionist Congress at Basle as a member of the U.S. delegation. It was there that he came face to face with the leaders of Russian Jewry and through them he reached a greater understanding of East European Jewry. Back in New York (after his first visit in Palestine) he headed the greatest Jewish demonstration against the Kishinev pogroms and established the Self-Defense Association which collected funds for the purchase of arms to be smuggled to the Jewish *self-defense bodies in Russia. In 1904 he joined Solomon *Schechter's inner circle and moved toward religious traditionalism. In Zionism he became a disciple and follower of Ahad *Ha-Am, whom Magnes called "The Harmonious Jew." After the Kishinev pogroms he helped Cyrus *Sulzberger and Louis *Marshall in establishing the American Jewish *Committee. In 1908 he married Beatrice Lowenstein, the sister-in-law of Louis Marshall, and this brought him closer to the leading Jewish circles. At the same time he strengthened his ties with the East European Jews.
Magnes' shift toward religious traditionalism brought him to break with Temple Emanu-El. His unfulfilled demands for religious changes led him to resign in 1910. From 1911 to 1912 he was rabbi of B'nai Jeshurun, a leading Conservative congregation, after which he left congregational work altogether to devote himself to Jewish public service. However, Magnes' opposition to U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 out of pacifist convictions, and his activity in the peace movement during the war, undermined his leadership of a Jewish community firmly committed to the war and concerned over possible imputations of disloyalty. His brilliant U.S. Jewish communal career actually ended in 1917. In 1922 Magnes emigrated with his family to Palestine, where he continued his activities in establishing the Hebrew *University of which he was the chancellor (1925–35) and first president (1935–48) until his death. He was active in raising funds for the university, in securing the donation of several personal libraries, and in
N. Bentwich, For Zion's Sake – A Biography of Judah L. Magnes (1954); A. Goren, New York Jews and the Quest for Community: The Kehillah Experiment 1908–1922 (1970); S.L. Hattis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine During Mandatory Times (1970), 64–71, 169–72, 258–71 and index; L. Roth, in: Jewish Education, 20 (1949); S.H. Bergman, Faith and Reason (1961); Z. Szajkowski, in: Conservative Judaism, 22 no. 3 (1968); H. Parzen, in: JSOS, 29 (1967), 203–33; 32 (1970), 187–213.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.