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C. David Matt

MATT, C. DAVID (1887–1951), U.S. rabbi. Born in Kovno, he was raised in Philadelphia where he came with his family in 1890. C. (Calman) David Matt grew up in Rabbi Bernard Levinthal's synagogue; Levinthal's sons Rabbi Israel Levinthal and Judge Louis Levinthal were literally life-long friends and spoke at his funeral. He went to public school, Yeshiva Mishkan Israel, and Gratz College. He earned his B.A. in 1909 at the University of Pennsylvania and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1913.

As a young rabbi he served in Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis, the first English-speaking rabbi the then 18-year-old Orthodox congregation ever had, and oversaw the transition toward a newly emerging Conservative Judaism. He laid plans for a new building and organized the religious school. He was the associate editor of the American Jewish World. During World War I, he served as a volunteer representative of the Jewish Welfare Board at Fort Snelling. After 15 years he left for Beth David in Buffalo (1927–29), where he served two years, and then went back to Philadelphia, where he served as rabbi of the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center. He remained there for the rest of his life. Matt was an ardent Zionist and served as president of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis and of the local Rabbinical Assembly.

Matt's columns appeared in the American Jewish World and the Anglo Jewish Press. His work also included texts of radio sermons, 1920s–1950. He worked as an arbitrator in the Jewish community in Philadelphia, particularly during a dispute among mohelim. Also of note is his list of yeshivot in Europe and Palestine in the 1930s, with estimates of the sizes of their student bodies. These reflect Rabbi Matt's efforts to raise money for the yeshivot. He had, in the words of Israel Levinthal, "a poetic soul, which made him a dreamer and interpreter of Israel's fondest hopes in beautiful verse." Louis Levinthal spoke of his "simplicity, his earnestness and sincerity."

He made his mark as a poet and published his sermons. Among his five children were Rabbi Herschel Matt, himself a sensitive poet and liturgist. His grandson Daniel Matt is translating the Zohar into English in a multi-year project that has gained wide respect. C. David Matt's papers are found at the Jewish Theological Seminary.


P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988); C. David Matt, Collected Poems (1953).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.