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Morris Newfield

NEWFIELD, MORRIS (1869–1940), U.S. Reform rabbi and social worker. Newfield was born in Hungary, where he earned a B.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest in 1889. In 1891, he abandoned his studies at the medical college of the University of Budapest to immigrate to the United States and attend Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati concurrently. While at HUC, Newfield taught a course in Talmud and was superintendent of the John Street Temple Sunday School. In 1889, he received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati and was ordained at HUC, which also awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1939, added to his honorary Doctor of Literature degree from the University of Alabama. Immediately after ordination, Newfield was appointed rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama, a position he retained throughout his life. He also joined the faculty of Howard College, where he taught Hebrew and Semitics.

In Birmingham, Newfield established himself as a civic and interfaith leader and fighter for social justice in the conservative South; a proponent of social gospel theology, his efforts were motivated by the classical Reform belief that the Jews' mission is to establish a Kingdom of God on earth. Accordingly, he founded the city's first free kindergarten and was an organizer and director of the Associated Charities (precursor of the Community Chest) and of the Citizens Relief Committee. He was particularly active in the fight against tuberculosis, as a founder of the Anti-Tuberculosis Society and of the Alabama Anti-Tubercular League. He also challenged prohibition and Sunday blue laws; despite this latter conflict with local Christian clergy, together they founded a chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. As president of the Alabama Sociological College, he was a driving force behind ending child labor abuses, joining the Alabama Child Labor Committee and helping to establish a juvenile court, the Department of Child Welfare, and the Alabama Children's Aid Society. He also served as chairman of the Red Cross Advisory Case Committee and was responsible for assisting caseworkers in solving difficult problems. During World War I, despite his misgivings as an advocate of peace, Newfield served as a part-time chaplain at Alabama's Camp McClellan, partly to show the Christian community that Jews were patriotic. After the war, he served as chairman of the Home Services Committee of the local Civilian Relief Committee, assisting returning veterans.

His involvement in the causes of the wider community notwithstanding, Newfield founded the local Federation of Jewish Charities, later renamed the United Jewish Fund. He was also instrumental in organizing the Alabama Jewish Religious School Teachers Association, serving as its president for two years. He brought his passion for social activism to the national stage via the *Central Conference of American Rabbis, which adopted an official position against child labor in 1910.

Newfield went on to serve as secretary of the CCAR and was ultimately elected to its highest office in 1931. During his two-year term as CCAR president, Newfield steered a non-Zionist course; within a few years, however, in response to the rise of Nazism, he had become a staunch Zionist. He spent the final years of his life championing the cause of the Jewish homeland in Palestine.

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