Henry Berkowitz

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Henry Berkowitz (March 18, 1857 – February 7, 1924) was a Reform rabbi and educator.


He was born in Pittsburgh in 1857, the son of Louis and Henrietta (Jaroslawski) Berkowitz, both born and married in Prussia and immigrated to Us in 1847 on the ship Corvo from Hamburg.

After graduation from the Central High School of Pittsburgh in 1872 he attended Cornell University because he wanted to be a lawyer. He decided to become a Reform rabbi because he heard a sermon by Isaac Mayer Wise and enrolled at the new Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion founded by him, where he graduated in 1883 in the first class. He also graduated at the University of Cincinnati in the same year. In 1887 he received the D.D. degree from the Hebrew Union College.[1]

He served from 1883 to 1888 at Congregation Sha'arai Shomayim (Mobile, Alabama). In 1888 he moved to Congregation B'nai Jehudah' in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1892 he was called by the Congregation Rodeph Shalom (Philadelphia).In this city he helped in the establishment of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (1901) and the Philadelphia Rabbinical Association (1901).

In 1919, he was invited to speak at the First Korean Congress in Philadelphia where he gave a prayer and a talk associating the fight for independence of Koreans from the Japanese occupation with the freedom of the Jews from Egypt: "I am here simply to say to you that there is a very strong bond of sympathy between the Jew and all those who now or who have ever in the past made an appeal against oppression and tyranny of any kind and in behalf of freedom and justice".[2]

He was rabbi at Temple Rodeph Sholem until 1922 when he fell ill. According to Encyclopaedia Judaica "During World War I, he toured army bases and was chaplain to soldiers. His efforts led to the development of a heart condition and forced retirement"[3].

Rabbi Berkowitz took care of the people of different religions. In Mobile, Alabama he created The Humane Movement for the Protection of Children and Animals from Cruelty. In Kansas City he helped create the first bureau of charities and corrections and participated to the meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections as a representative of the state of Missouri. In Philadelphia he was a member of the Mayor's Vice Commission which dealt with the prostitution among East European immigrant girls and of the Board of Recreation, and was a vice-president of the Universal Peace Union and Social Purity Alliance. He helped create playgrounds in all the city.[1][4]

Berkowitz founded the Jewish Chautauqua Society in 1893 where he served as chancellor from this year. This was "his chief contribution to Jewish institutional and educational activity in the United States" according to his biographical sketch in the American Jewish Archives[1].

When the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) was founded in 1889 he became a charter member. According to the same biographical sketch “he functioned as chairman of the Committee to draft a formula for the reception of proselytes and the committee on arbitration to adjust differences between congregations and rabbis.” [1]

He was strongly against Zionism. He vigorously opposed those who insisted that contemporary Judaism demanded creation of a national Jewish state in Palestine with his widely publicized statement "Why I am Not a Zionist". He declared that “Zionism was a form of racism” [5] at the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) convention in Cincinnati in 1899.

A petition was signed in 1919 by Rabbi Henry Berkowitz and 300 US Jewish personalities that was published in the New York Times, with the title “Protest to Wilson against Zionist State: Representative Jews Ask Him to Present it to the Peace Conferences.” The petition was sent the same year to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. [5]

He published many works listed in the Bibliography.

He married Flora Brunn of Coshocton, Ohio in 1883 with whom he had two children: Etta J. Reefer and Max E. Berkowitz. He died in Atlantic City in 1924.

All his manuscripts are conserved at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, OH.[1]



  • Henry Berkowitz, Joseph Krauskopf, Bible Ethics, 1883
  • Henry Berkowitz, Joseph Krauskopf, The Union Hebrew Reader, Bloch (Cincinnati, OH), 1884
  • Henry Berkowitz, Judaism on the Social Question, J. B. Alden (New York, NY), 1887
  • Henry Berkowitz, Why I am not a Zionist, Central Conference of American Rabbis Yearbook, 9, 167-173, 1899.
  • Henry Berkowitz, The Symbol of Lights, 1893
  • Henry Berkowitz, The Open Bible, 1896
  • Henry Berkowitz, Kiddush; or Sabbath Sentiment in the Home, illustrated by Katherine M. Cohen, Philadelphia, 1898
  • Henry Berkowitz, The Pulpit Message, Philadelphia, c. 1905
  • Henry Berkowitz, Religion and the Social Evil, c. 1910
  • Henry Berkowitz, The New Education in Religion, with a Curriculum of Jewish Studies, two volumes, Jewish Chautauqua Society, Philadelphia, 1913
  • Henry Berkowitz, Quenching the Fires of Hate, 1919
  • Henry Berkowitz et al., A Statement to the Peace Conference, presented March 4, 1919
  • Henry Berkowitz, Prayer and speech at the First Korean Congress, Philadelphia, 1919, page 62-63
  • Henry Berkowitz, Intimate Glimpses of the Rabbi's Career, Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati OH, 1921
  • Max Berkowitz, The Beloved Rabbi: An Account of the Life and Works of Henry Berkowitz, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932.
  • Donald Fishman, Reform Judaism and the Anti-Zionist Persuasive Campaign, 1897-1915, Communication Quarterly, Fall 1998 v46 i4 p375

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