Judah Leon Magnes

Judah Leon Magnes
Born July 5, 1877(1877-07-05)
San Francisco, California, USA
Died October 27, 1948(1948-10-27) (aged 71)
New York, New York
Spouse Beatrice Lowenstein

Judah Leon Magnes (July 5, 1877 – October 27, 1948) was a prominent Reform rabbi in both the United States and Palestine. He is best remembered as a leader pacifist movement of the World War I period and as one of the most widely recognized voices of 20th Century American Reform Judaism.



He was born in San Francisco, California to David and Sophie (Abrahamson). [1] As a young boy, Magnes's family moved to Oakland, California, where he attended Sabbath school at First Hebrew Congregation, and was taught by Ray Frank, the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States.[2]

Magnes's views of the Jewish people was strongly influenced by First Hebrew's Rabbi Levy,[3] and it was at First Hebrew's building on 13th and Clay that Magnes first began preaching. His bar mitzvah speech of 1890 was quoted at length in The Oakland Tribune.[4]

Magnes gained a degree of notoriety while studying at the University of Cincinnati in a campaign against censorship of the "Class annual" of 1898 by the university faculty.[5]

On Oct. 19, 1908, Magnes married Beatrice Lowenstein of New York,[1] who happened to be Louis Marshall's sister-in-law.[6]

In America, he spend most of his professional life in New York, where he helped found the American Jewish Committee in 1906. Magnes was also one of the most influential forces behind the organization of the Jewish community in the city, serving as president throughout its existence from 1908 to 1922. The Kehillah oversaw aspects of Jewish culture, religion, education and labor issues, in addition to helping to integrate America's German and East European Jewish communities. He was also the president of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism from 1912 to 1920.

The religious views Magnes extolled as a Reform rabbi were not all within the mainstream. Magnes favored a more traditional approach to Judaism, fearing the overly assimilationist tendencies of his peers. Magnes delivered a Passover sermon in 1910 at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York in which he advocated changes in the Reform ritual to incorporate elements of traditional Judaism, expressing his concern that younger members of the congregation were driven to seek spirituality in other religions that cannot be obtained at Congregation Emanu-El. He advocated for restoration of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony and criticized the Union Prayer Book, advocating for a return to the traditional prayer book.[7] The disagreement over this issue led him to resign from Congregation Emanu-El that year. From 1911–12 he was Rabbi of the Conservative Congregation B'nai Jeshurun.

Magnes agreed, however, with the overall anti-Zionist attitudes of Reform Judaism at the time; he strongly disapproved of nationalistic aspects within Judaism, which Zionism represented and supported. To him, Jews living in the Diaspora and Jews living in Palestine were of equal significance to the Judaism and Jewish culture; he agreed that a renewed Jewish community in Eretz Israel would enhance Jewish life within the Diaspora. Magnes emigrated to Palestine in 1922 and maintained that emigration to the Holy Land was a matter of individual choice; it did not reflect any kind of "negation of the Diaspora", or support for Zionism. He thought that the land of Israel should be built in a "decent manner", or not built at all.

In both America and Palestine, Magnes played a key role in founding the internationally reputed Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1918 along with Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann. However, the three did not get along, and when, in 1928, Magnes, who was initially responsible only for the finances and the administrative staff of the University, had his authority extended to academic and professional matters, Einstein resigned from the board of Governors. Einstein wrote:

The bad thing about the business was that the good Felix Warburg, thanks to his financial authority ensured that the incapable Magnes was made director of the Institute, a failed American rabbi, who, through his dilettantish enterprises had become uncomfortable to his family in America, who very much hoped to dispatch him honorably to some exotic place. This ambitious and weak person surrounded himself with other morally inferior men, who did not allow any decent person to succeed there ... These people managed to poison the atmosphere there totally and to keep the level of the institution low[8]

Magnes served as the first chancellor of the Hebrew University (1925) and later as president (1935–1948) of the new institution. Magnes believed that the university was the ideal place for Jewish and Arab cooperation, and worked tirelessly to advance this goal.

Magnes's responded to the 1929 Arab revolt in Palestine with a call for a Binational solution to Palestine.[9] Magnes dedicated the rest of his life to reconciliation with the Arabs; he particularly objected to the concept of a specifically Jewish state. In his view, Palestine should be neither Jewish nor Arab. Rather, he advocated a binational state in which equal rights would be shared by all, a view shared by the group Brit Shalom, an organization with which Magnes is often associated, but never joined.[10] When the Peel Commission made their 1937 recommendations about partition and population transfer in Palestine, Magnes sounded the alarm:

With the permission of the Arabs we will be able to receive hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews in Arab lands [...] Without the permission of the Arabs even the four hundred thousand [Jews] that now are in Palestine will remain in danger, in spite of the temporary protection of British bayonets. With partition a new Balkan is made [..] New York Times, July 18, 1937.

With increasing persecution of European Jews, the outbreak of World War II and continuing violence in Palestine, Magnes realized that his vision of a voluntary negotiated treaty between Arabs and Jews had become politically impossible. In an article in January 1942 in Foreign Affairs he suggested a joint British-American initiative to prevent the division of mandated Palestine. The Biltmore Conference in May that year caused Magnes and others to break from the Zionist mainstream's changed demand for a "Jewish Commonwealth".[11][12] As a result, he and Henrietta Szold founded the small, binationalist political party, Ihud (Unity).[13]

Martin Buber (left) and Judah Leon Magnes testifying before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Jerusalem (1946)

Magnes opposed the Partition plan. He submitted 11 objections to partition to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.[14] Later, in a conversation with George Marshall in May 4, 1948, he asked the US to impose economic sanctions on both sides. Calling the Yishuv an "artificial community", he predicted that sanctions would halt "the Jewish war machine".[15]

Just before his death in October 1948, he withdrew from the leadership of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a committee he had helped establish. The reason was that the organization had not answered his plea for help for the Palestinian refugees: "How can I continue to be officially associated with an aid organization which apparently so easily can ignore such a huge and acute refugee problem?" (p. 519, Magnes 1982)


Memorializing his passing, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations wrote of Magnes that he was:

...One of the most distinguished rabbis of our age, a son of the Hebrew Union College, a former rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, New York, the founder and first chancellor of the Hebrew University, the leader of the movement for good will between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, a man of prophetic stature by whose life and works the traditions of the rabbinate, as well as the spiritual traditions of all mankind were enriched.

The Judah L. Magnes Museum, in Berkeley, California, the first Jewish Museum of the West, was named in Magnes' honor, and the museum's Western Jewish History Center has a large collection of papers, correspondence, publications, and photographs of Judah Magnes and members of his family. It also contains the conference proceedings of The Life and Legacy of Judah L. Magnes, an International Symposium that the museum sponsored, in 1982.

The main avenue in Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus is named after Magnes, and so is their publishing press the Magnes Press.


  1. ^ a b Who's Who in America. vol. 17. 1932–1933.
  2. ^ Rosenbaum (1987), p. 21.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum (1987), p. 22.
  4. ^ Rosenbaum (1987), p. 23.
  5. ^ William M. Brinner, Moses Rischin (1987) Like All the Nations?: The Life and Legacy of Judah L. Magnes SUNY Press, ISBN 0-88706-507-4 p 30
  6. ^ Handlin, Oscar. "Introduction". In Louis Marshall: Champion of Liberty, ed. Charles Reznikoff, p. xxiv
  7. ^ Staff. "Rabbi Attacked Reform Judaism; Trustees of Temple Emanu-El Weighing Effect of Orthodox Sermon by Dr. Magnes.", The New York Times, May 12, 1910. Accessed March 5, 2009.
  8. ^ Albrecht Folsing, Albert Einstein: A Biography, (trans. Eald Osers), Penguin, 1998, 494–495.
  9. ^ Rafael Medoff (1997) Zionism and the Arabs: an American Jewish dilemma, 1898–1948 Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-275-95824-8 p 54
  10. ^ Walter Laqueur (2003) A History of Zionism Tauris Parke Paperbacks, ISBN 1-86064-932-7 p 251
  11. ^ Michael Oren, Power, Faith and Fantasy, ISBN 0-39333-030-3 Decision at Biltmore, pp 442–445
  12. ^ American Jewish Year Book Vol. 45 (1943–1944), Pro-Palestine and Zionist Activities, p 207
  13. ^ William M. Brinner, Moses Rischin (1987) Like All the Nations?: The Life and Legacy of Judah L. Magnes SUNY Press, ISBN 0-88706-507-4 p 150
  14. ^ Ayalon Eliach, Yale Israel Journal, Israel, India, and the Binational Fantasy
  15. ^ Justus D. Doencke, Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol. 2 No. 4, Principle and expediency: The State Department and Palestine p 5


  • The Jewish Community of New York City. New York: n.p., 1909.
  • Russia and Germany at Brest-Litovsk: A Documentary History of the Peace Negotiations. New York: Rand School of Social Science, 1919.
  • Amnesty for Political Prisoners: Address Delivered in Washington, D.C. on April 17, 1919. New York: National Civil Liberties Bureau, n.d. [1919].
  • War-time Addresses, 1917–1921. New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1923.
  • Addresses by the Chancellor of the Hebrew University. Jerusalem: Azriel Press, 1936.
  • Palestine — Divided or United? The Case for a Bi-National Palestine before the United Nations. With M. Reiner; Lord Samuel; E. Simon; M. Smilansky. Jerusalem: Ihud, 1947.

Further reading

  • Arthur A. Goren (ed.), Dissenter in Zion: From the Writings of Judah L. Magnes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
  • William M. Brinner and Moses Rischin, Like All the Nations?: The Life and Legacy of Judah L. Magnes. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987.

External links

See also

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Judah Leon Magnes — (* 5. Juli 1877 in San Francisco, Kalifornien; † 27. Oktober 1948 in New York, NY) war ein bedeutender US amerikanischer Rabbiner des Reformjudentums, Gründer und Leiter zahlreicher jüdischer Organis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • MAGNES, JUDAH LEON — (1877–1948), U.S. 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… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Magnes, Judah Leon — born July 5, 1877, San Francisco, Calif., U.S. died Oct. 27, 1948, New York, N.Y. U.S. born Israeli educator and religious leader. Ordained as a rabbi in 1900, he earned a doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in 1902. Serving as rabbi for… …   Universalium

  • Magnes, Judah Leon — (1877 1948)    Prominent Hebrew educator born in San Francisco, he was ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1900. An ardent Zionist, he was active in many of the American Zionist organizations prior to his settling in Palestine in 1922 …   Historical Dictionary of Israel

  • Magnes, Judah Leon — (1877 1948)    American rabbi and educator. He was born in San Francisco. He was the rabbi of Temple Israel in Brooklyn, and later assistant rabbi of Temple Emanu El in New York. He was also president of the kehillah in New York. In 1922 he… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Magnes, Judah León — (5 jul. 1877, San Francisco, Cal., EE.UU.– 27 oct. 1948, Nueva York, N.Y.). Educador y líder religioso israelí de origen estadounidense. Ordenado rabino en 1900, obtuvo un doctorado en la Universidad de Heidelberg en 1902. Fue rabino de tres… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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  • Judah — /jooh deuh/, n. 1. the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Gen. 29:35. 2. one of the 12 tribes of Israel traditionally descended from him. 3. the Biblical kingdom of the Hebrews in S Palestine, including the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Cf. Ephraim… …   Universalium

  • Judah — (as used in expressions) Alkalai, Judah ben Solomon Hai Benjamin, Judah P(hilip) Eleazar ben Judah de Worms Eleazar ben Judah ben Kalonymos Ibn Tibbon, Judah ben Saul Magnes, Judah León …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Leon — /lee on/, n. a male given name, form of Leo. * * * I Medieval kingdom, northwestern Spain. Leon proper included the cities of León, Salamanca, and Zamora the adjacent areas of Vallodolid and Palencia being disputed with Castile, originally its… …   Universalium

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