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David Wolpe

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David Wolpe
Wolpe officiating at a wedding in Los Angeles
David J. Wolpe

(1958-09-19) September 19, 1958 (age 65)
Occupation(s)Rabbi, author, educator

David J. Wolpe (born September 19, 1958[1]) is an American rabbi. He is Visiting Scholar at Harvard Divinity School[2] and the Max Webb Emeritus Rabbi of Sinai Temple.[3] He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and UCLA. Wolpe was named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2012,[4] and among the 500 most influential Angelinos in 2016 and 2018.[5] Wolpe now serves as the Inaugural rabbinic fellow for the ADL,[6] and a Senior Advisor for the Maimonides Fund.[7] Wolpe resigned from an advisory group on antisemitism assembled by Harvard President Claudine Gay in December 2023 in response to what Wolpe characterized as a hostile environment to Jews at Harvard.[8]

Wolpe became the focus of international controversy in 2001 when he gave a Passover sermon that questioned the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt. In 2023, he attracted controversy yet again, this time for his negative depiction of non-monotheistic religions in an article published in The Atlantic.[9]

Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York in 1987, Wolpe is a leader in Conservative Judaism.


Wolpe has taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, and served as assistant to the Chancellor of that institution; at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) in Los Angeles; and at Hunter College in New York, at UCLA and at Harvard. He frequently is featured on documentaries on Biblical topics produced by A&E Networks (A&E, The Biography Channel, History Channel and History Channel International). Wolpe wrote a regular weekly column for Time, and for the New York Jewish Week for almost 30 years. Wolpe's book, Why Faith Matters, is both an answer to books about atheism and a recounting of his battle with illness (he has undergone two surgeries for a brain tumor and chemotherapy for lymphoma). He has had public debates with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Roger Cohen, Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, Bishop Barron,[10][11][12][13] and Indian yogi and mystic Sadhguru, among others.[citation needed] Wolpe is the model for Jacob Kappelmacher, the rabbi detective in J. M. Appel's best-selling mystery novel, Wedding Wipeout (2012).[14]

Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.[15]

Missions to Israel[edit]

Wolpe has led numerous missions to Israel. The first, in June 2002, was a solidarity mission at the height of the Second Intifada that broke out after the Camp David peace talks. The second, in May 2005, was a mission of gratitude to pick up the Torah commissioned in honor of his recovery from brain surgery.[16] The third, in July 2006, at the height of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, was another solidarity mission that covered Jerusalem, Haifa, and Sderot. In the midst of the second intifada, Wolpe raised three million dollars for victims of terror in a single morning at his synagogue. Wolpe also led the largest American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) delegation ever assembled from one synagogue to the AIPAC conference in Washington in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 with numbers ranging from 230 to 300 delegates. Wolpe also traveled to Haiti to help his friend Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) rebuild an orphanage.[17]

Historicity of the Exodus[edit]

On Passover 2001, Wolpe told his congregation that "the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all."[18] Casting doubt on the historicity of the Exodus during the holiday that commemorates it brought condemnation from congregants and several rabbis (especially Orthodox Rabbis). The ensuing theological debate included whole issues of Jewish newspapers such as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and editorials in The Jerusalem Post, as well as an article in the Los Angeles Times. Critics asserted that Wolpe was attacking Jewish oral history, the significance of Passover and even the First Commandment.[18][19] Orthodox Rabbi Ari Hier wrote that "Rabbi Wolpe has chosen Aristotle over Maimonides, theories and scientific method over facts". Wolpe, on the other hand, was defended by Reform Rabbi Steven Leder from the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who argued that "defending a rabbi in the 21st century for saying the Exodus story isn't factual is like defending him for saying the earth isn't flat. It's neither new nor shocking to most of us that the earth is round or that the Torah isn't a history book dictated to Moses by God on Mount Sinai."[20]

Wolpe asserted that he was arguing that the historicity of the events should not matter, since he believes faith is not determined by the same criteria as empirical truth. Wolpe argues that his views are based on the fact that no archeological digs have produced evidence of the Jews wandering the Sinai Desert for forty years, and that excavations in Israel consistently show settlement patterns at variance with the Biblical account of a sudden influx of Jews from Egypt.

In March 2010, Wolpe expounded on his views saying that it was possible that a small group of people left Egypt, came to Canaan, and influenced the native Canaanites with their traditions. He added that the controversy of 2001 stemmed from the fact that Conservative Jewish congregations have been slow to accept and embrace biblical criticism. Conservative rabbis, on the other hand, are taught biblical criticism in rabbinical school.[21]

Article on "Paganism"[edit]

On December 25, 2023, Wolpe published an article in The Atlantic entitled "The Return of the Pagans," taking aim at both Donald Trump and "the left" by critiquing them as two expressions of what he calls "Paganism".[22] The article was widely criticized on social media and in online publications for its lack of both historical and present-day knowledge of non-monotheistic religions, as well as its claim that "there's something a little pagan" about self-identified Christian Donald Trump.[22] The lack of historical knowledge of non-monotheistic religions is stressed in an article posted to Patheos,[23] while an editorial in The Wildhunt focused on a "lack of familiarity… glaring in the article", contending that Wolpe presents no first-hand knowledge about, or research into, present-day Pagans, instead "commingl[ing] Paganism with wealth and greed while also conflating it with the actions of former U.S. President Donald Trump and ubiquitous billionaire Elon Musk".[24] The same point is made by the Daily Kos blogger "A Pagan in Arizona", who calls the article a "screed" whose definition of Paganism indiscriminately joins "fascism, communism, the pursuit of beauty, and … the desire for wealth".[25] Scholars who study Paganism also published a response in the form of an Open Letter, noting that "the main message of his article is that 'paganism,' not monotheism, is mostly responsible for the faults of the contemporary West" despite "the cultural dominance of monotheism over the past two thousand years" and precisely in relation to the trends that he condemns.[26] Scholar Chrissy Stroop traces "the same breezy tropes Wolpe recycles" to "the writings of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Christian intellectuals",[27] thus explaining his divergence from up-to-date scholarly and religious understandings of the topic.

Personal life[edit]

Wolpe's brothers are the bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe, playwright and actor Rabbi Daniel Wolpe of Queens, NY, and Immunologist Stephen Wolpe of Maryland.

Wolpe is a committed vegetarian. Rob Eshman suggests that Wolpe "leans vegan".[28] Wolpe serves on the Rabbinic Council of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.[29]

Published works[edit]

  • The Healer of Shattered Hearts: A Jewish View of God (1991). ISBN 0-14-014795-0.
  • In Speech and In Silence: The Jewish Quest for God (1992). ISBN 0-8050-2816-1.
  • Teaching your Children About God: A Modern Jewish Approach (1995). ISBN 0-06-097647-0.
  • Why be Jewish? (1995). ISBN 0-8050-3927-9.
  • Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times (1999). ISBN 1-57322-820-6.
  • Floating Takes Faith: Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World (2004). ISBN 0-87441-733-3.
  • Why Faith Matters (2009). ISBN 0061633356.
  • David: The Divided Heart (2014). ISBN 978-0300188783.


  1. ^ National Library of Israel authorities database.
  2. ^ "David Wolpe". hds.harvard.edu. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  3. ^ "Rabbi David Wolpe". Sinai Temple. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  4. ^ Lowenfeld, Jonah (2 April 2012). "Rabbi David Wolpe tops Newsweek's L.A.-heavy list of 'most influential' rabbis". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  5. ^ "David Wolpe". Los Angeles Business Journal. 30 July 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  6. ^ https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/adl-names-david-wolpe-inaugural-rabbinic-fellow
  7. ^ "Maimonides Fund Adds New Strategic Focus on Viewpoint Diversity in the Jewish Community – Maimonides Fund". Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  8. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona; Peters, Jeremy W.; Goldstein, Dana (16 December 2023). "Feeling Alone and Estranged, Many Jews at Harvard Wonder What's Next". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  9. ^ David Wolpe (25 December 2023). "The Return of the Pagans". The Atlantic.; cf., e.g., Manny Moreno (23 December 2023). ""The Atlantic" publishes another attack on Pagans. Where are Pagan voices in its pages?". The Wild Hunt.; Chrissy Stroop (9 January 2024). "All that Glitters is Monotheism: Ignorance of Paganism isn't the Real Problem with David Wolpe's Atlantic Essay". Religion Dispatches.. See also letters collected at https://wildhunt.org/2023/12/pagan-community-notes-week-of-december-26-2023.html
  10. ^ Bishop And A Rabbi Discuss Religion | Rabbi Wolpe & Bishop Barron | SPIRITUALITY | Rubin Report, archived from the original on 4 March 2020, retrieved 25 October 2019
  11. ^ ""LIVE VIDEO TONIGHT: A Dialogue with Roger Cohen and the Iranian Jewish Community."". Archived from the original on 19 May 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  12. ^ Cohen, Roger (16 March 2009). "Iran, Jews and Pragmatism". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 February 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  13. ^ Wolpe, David (16 March 2009). "Clashing Over Iran and the Jews". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 22 March 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
  14. ^ Encyclopedia of Jewish Fiction (rev. 2014), Pp. 34-5
  15. ^ Suissa, David (14 October 2014). "Max Webb, one second at a time". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  16. ^ Wolpe, David (5 February 2004). "Lessons From Life's Second Chance". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 23 March 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  17. ^ Wolpe, David (19 January 2011). "Christian charity in Haiti is the Jewish thing to do". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 23 March 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  18. ^ a b Watanabe, Teresa (13 April 2001). "Doubting the Story of Exodus". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 20 November 2021. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  19. ^ Tugend, Tom (4 May 2001). "L.A. rabbi creates furor by questioning Exodus story". J. The Jewish News of Northern California. Archived from the original on 15 March 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  20. ^ Tugend, Tom (26 April 2001). "Furor over L.A. rabbi's reading of Exodus". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Archived from the original on 20 November 2021. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  21. ^ Q&A following a lecture on the Exodus "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 November 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) given at Sinai Temple, March 17, 2010. Begin listening at 00:58:53 until 01:02:31.
  22. ^ a b David Wolpe (25 December 2023). "The Return of the Pagans". The Atlantic.
  23. ^ Jason Mankey (26 December 2023). "The Return of the Pagan Scapegoats". Patheos.
  24. ^ Manny Moreno (23 December 2023). ""The Atlantic" publishes another attack on Pagans. Where are Pagan voices in its pages?". The Wild Hunt.
  25. ^ "The Sad Irony of David Wolpe Talking Sh*t About Pagans". Daily Kos. 9 January 2024.
  26. ^ Reprinted at "Pagan Community Notes: Week of January 4, 2024". The Wild Hunt. 4 January 2024.
  27. ^ Chrissy Stroop (9 January 2024). "All that Glitters is Monotheism: Ignorance of Paganism isn't the Real Problem with David Wolpe's Atlantic Essay". Religion Dispatches.
  28. ^ Eshman, Rob (5 March 2010). "Friday the Rabbi Eats Tofu [RECIPE & SLIDESHOW]". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 18 November 2019. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  29. ^ "About Us 2.0 | Jewish Vegetarians of North America". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2013.


  • Faust, Avraham (2015). "The Emergence of Iron Age Israel: On Origins and Habitus". In Levy, Thomas E.; Schneider, Thomas; Propp, William H.C. (eds.). Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective. Quantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Springer. pp. 467–482. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-04768-3. ISBN 978-3-319-04768-3. ISSN 2199-0956.

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