Loss of Status and Authority:
The Transformation of a London Rabbi in Small Town USA

John S. Burger


Rabbis in Europe had previously been considered "scholar saints" and religious specialists. By the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, they lost status, authority, and position. To reestablish a position in the community, they had to create new roles and responsibilities for themselves to regain their position as leaders in the Jewish community. To establish a new rabbinical identity,

Emanuel Sternheim was born and educated in London with a promising career before him.  His life and career is representative of an early 20th century immigrant to American who became a reform rabbi.   He is an example of a reform rabbi who struggled to establish a new identity and place in the Jewish community.  This paper examines his journey to transform his life.

            Rabbi Emanuel Sternheim was born in London, England, on June 13, 1882, to Jacob Sternheim and Kate Staal Sternheim, who were originally from Holland. Sternheim lived in the East End of London.  He received a university education but did not leave any record of where he received his rabbinical training. Sternheim immigrated to the United States in 1911 and served small town American temples off and on from 1912 to the 1942.  His career was atypical when one considers where he worked, but it was similar to that of many other secularly educated reform rabbis who were active in social reform. The role, status and influence of rabbis in Western Europe and the United States changed during Sternheim’s life.  Sternheim is a case example of the liberal reform rabbi who struggled to establish and maintain a meaningful role as a central figure in the religious and secular life of the Jewish community in the early 20th century.

Transformation of the Reform Rabbi's Role

Carlin and Mendlovitz have provided a theoretical framework for understanding Sternheim's career. [1]   Rabbis historically were considered "scholar-saints," but lost authority and status in America and Western Europe because of the civic emancipation [2] and secularization of Jews in the late 19th century. A scholar-saint is described as a religious specialist whose authority is based on his knowledge of the literature, values, and rules of a sacred community. He lives a life that commands respect and inspires emulation. There is a personal piety to his everyday life that is based on sacred rules.

            Carlin and Mendlovitz observed that within the denominations of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, rabbis are subdivided into seven types.  The rabbinical types that are important for what follows are the "Intellectual Reform" and "Social Reform" rabbi. Reform rabbis of the 20th century tended to be from middle class backgrounds, received their training in a seminary, and typically had a limited classical Jewish education. Secularly, they were highly educated, often holding a graduate degree in philosophy or the social sciences. They spoke English rather than Yiddish. The 20th century congregational Reform rabbi had an expanded role that included giving sermons or lectures, conducting religious services, and teaching at or overseeing the temple's religious school. They had an emerging role as civic leaders in the Jewish and larger community and as ambassadors to the gentile community. [3] As a social reformer, the Reform rabbi,

"…is oriented toward the realization and fulfillment of liberal democratic values in contemporary society.  Consequently, he is vitally concerned with the issues of good government, international problems, the condition of schools in the community, race relations, labor relations, and crime and delinquency. He attempts to link traditional Jewish values with liberal democratic values by calling upon the prophetic tradition of Judaism-that part of the Jewish tradition which perhaps more than any other part champions the values of social justice to legitimate his fight for the fulfillment of democratic ideals." [4]


            Intellectual rabbis base their authority on the philosophies of rationalism, idealism, humanism, and the scientific method and offer a universalized set of values and beliefs similar to liberal thought in modern Western society. The intellectual rabbi imparts information and provides scholarly knowledge on the pulpit. Those with Ph.D.s typically refer to themselves as doctors.

            An additional rabbinical type that can be added to Carlin and Mendlovitz' typology is the freelance lecturer. This is a rabbi who does not have a congregation, but travels around the country lecturing on Jewish and secular topics in the Jewish and larger community. He transfers his rabbinical and secular training and experience by giving “sermons” to earn a living as a lecturer.  In most cases, he is on leave from the rabbinate.

            Emanuel Sternheim's rabbinical career offers support to Carlin and Mendlovitz' theoretical view of the transformation of the reform rabbi's role in the Jewish community.

Progressive Reform Ideals Shape Career Path

            Emanuel Sternheim's father, Jacob Sternheim, played an important role in his son's career choices. Jacob Sternheim was an investigating agent for the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women, an organization that sought to end the white slave trade in England.  The elder Sternheim worked for the organization in the 1890’s. [5]   The organization was financed by wealthy Jewish families.  It was originally established by Jewish women to “rescue” Jewish girls from prostitution. 

            Jacob’s son, Emanuel Sternheim spent his childhood, youth and early adulthood in the Whitechapel district of the East End of London that was a poor Jewish community. The future rabbi attended primary school at the Whitechapel Foundation School.  Emanuel received intellectual support from his father.  Emanuel with the aid of his father were members of National Reading Union.  Emanuel’s involvement in a literary society started in his teens [6]   Sternheim’s involvement in literary societies served as training for his work in the United States as a “free lance lecture”.  This literary society was similar to the American Chautauqua.  During the first decade of the twentieth century Emanuel Sternheim was a member of several Jewish literary and social societies.  Emanuel made presentations to these societies.

            Family records suggest that he attended Oxford and the University of Heidelberg, as well as universities in Belgium and Germany. Sternheim's biographical sketches do not reveal what subjects he studied in college or where he received his rabbinical education. [7]    In the United States, like other educated rabbis Sternheim identified himself as Dr. Emanuel Sternheim but it is unknown where he obtained a PhD.

One scholarly topic did seem to interest Sternheim.   In 1907, he published an article on Spinoza, the Jewish 17th century philosopher who wrote about concepts of ethics, authority and power. The article included a short biographical sketch and discussion of Spinoza's philosophical ideas, particularly his support of Pantheism. Sternheim wrote that Spinoza found unity in diversity. "Beneath all diversity there is unity," Sternheim wrote. "In all of nature's myriad forms and changes there is a substance unchangeable. It is undivided, uncaused, the Absolute Infinite, God." [8] According to Sternheim, Spinoza not only was one of the first Jewish philosophers to challenge the infallible authority of the Bible, but he also appealed for freedom of speech.

It does not appear that Sternheim viewed himself to be a philosopher rather he was an applied sociologist.  He belonged to several sociological organizations, including the American Sociological Society (now named the American Sociological Association), the National Institute of Social Sciences and Sociological Society of England. However, he never held a professional position in the field or conducted any sociological research. In the United States, the sociological organizations to which Sternheim belonged were oriented to applied sociology or social reform. [9]  

Prior to leaving England, Sternheim claimed he worked at Toynbee Hall, the famous English settlement house established in 1884 by Samuel Barnett, Barnett’s wife, Henrietta, and other social critics. [10]   Toynbee Hall was a laboratory for social change and progressive reform. According to Milofisky and Hunter, Toynbee Hall was based on a model of amateur social reform and anti-institutionalism. Victorian and Christian socialist in character, the Hall was a model for other famous settlement houses such as Hull House and the Northwestern Settlement House in Chicago as well as the Jewish Council Educational Alliances. [11]           

            During Sternheim's youth and the time he worked at Toynbee Hall, many poor Jews immigrated to England from Eastern Europe. At the time, there was a strong immigration restrictionist movement in England stemming from anti-Semitism and economic competition. [12] Between 1880 and 1900, the Jewish immigrant population in England increased dramatically in response to discriminatory land tenure laws and pogroms in Russia. [13]   Sternheim was opposed to the restriction movement. Sternheim’s pro-immigrant viewpoint appears to have developed during the time he worked at Toynbee Hall. Progressives from Toynbee Hall were advocates for the immigrants who poured into the East End of London.  Sternheim was a member of the East End Aid Society that raised money to help immigrants. [14]   After World War I, Sternheim opposed the immigration restrictionist movement in the United States. [15] He believed that the Americanization movement was patronizing "because it was forced down the throats of the immigrant by flag-waving patriots." [16]

Sternheim combined his concern for humanity with the need to assist in the support of his parents. In 1901, the future rabbi and social reformer earned his living as a stockbroker's clerk. Prior to moving to the United States, it is possible that he and his sister, Clara, a schoolteacher, supported their family, as their father no longer worked. [17]

At the same time that Sternheim worked as a stockbroker's clerk, he joined the Ruskin Union, a Progressive socially oriented reform group named after John Ruskin. A British art critic and social reformer who was critical of industrial cities, Ruskin preferred a simple and more pastoral age. He taught art history at Oxford and the Working Men’s College and advocated a program of social security, vocational education, a minimum wage, and public ownership of transportation. [18]   Ruskin influenced the founders of Toynbee Hall.   

Despite lifelong ties to the business community, Sternheim's main focus was social reform. He was a member of the Committee for Children's Country Holiday Fund, organized by R.H. Tawney in 1905. Tawney lived at Toynbee Hall. [19]    The Fund organized two-week vacations in the country for children from London's slums. Historians contend that the Holiday Fund was a genteel response to poverty that did not address the roots or causes of poverty. Nevertheless, it was strongly supported by the English community. [20]   This conservative response to poverty was typical of Sternheim's approach to social reform, which will be described in greater detail. From that perspective, social change came from the top down.

            Sternheim's progressive organizational background also included involvement in a variety of progressive and community organizations. He was a member of the Peace Society of England. [21]   Moreover, his father's career in social reform served as a model for his humanistic orientation.  Sternheim’s early personal experiences prepared him well for the role of a social reform and intellectual rabbi in the early 20th century.

            The sacred side of Sternheim's progressive reform orientation appears in his participation in liberal religious Judaism of England.  In 1902, Claude G. Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist and thinker, along with Lillian Montagu, Henrietta Franklin, and others established the Jewish Religious Union. Initially, the organization sought to address the religious needs of disaffected English Jews.  In its beginning, Montefiore and Montagu were the driving forces in England's liberal Judaism. [22]

The Jewish Religious Union evolved into a reformist group that sought to modernize Jewish religious rituals and practices. The group held its first "modernized" service on October 18, 1902.  Sternheim was secretary of the East End Branch of the organization for five years. [23]   The Chairman of the East End Branch was Harry Lewis, [24] who also was associated with Toynbee Hall and later served on the faculty of the Jewish Institute of Religion in its first year of operation. [25]     The Institute was a reform seminary founded by Rabbi Stephen Wise in New York. Lewis gave the third sermon offered by members of the Jewish Religious Union to its members. [26]   The East End Branch of the Jewish Religious Union held services on Saturday afternoon at the Commercial Street Council School.  On November 17, 1905, Lewis was the preacher at the Jewish Religious Union service and Sternheim composed what the Jewish Chronicle called a special prayer.

Family connections played a role in Sternheim’s involvement in the Jewish Religious Union. Sternheim had professional ties to Montefiore through his father's employment by the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women. Montefiore was a member of the Association’s Gentlemen’s Committee and a major financial contributor to the Association. [27]

The future rabbi was also involved in charity work.  He was a member of the East End Aid Society.  He represented the members of the Aid Society reminding the Board of Guardian the central London charity organization that the East End group that contributed to the poor of the East End. [28]    In addition, he was a contributor to the Board of Guardians.  The Board of Guardians was the charitable arm of the Jewish community in London. [29]   Sternheim had a solid position in the charitable and civil life of London’s Jewish community.  At age twenty-nine he gave up this promising role to move to the United States.

The Move to America 

            Sternheim arrived in the United States on March 27, 1911. [30] His essay on Spinoza suggests the reason he left England. [31] He wrote that religious intolerance existed in 20th century England as it had in 17th century Amsterdam. Spinoza was excommunicated from the synagogue on July 27, 1656, because of his non-orthodox philosophy. Perhaps it was Sternheim's perception that England had not eradicated intolerance and bigotry and therefore he felt it  was necessary to leave England for the United States.

             According to family legend, Sternheim was also influenced to move to the United States by Rabbi Stephen Wise of the Free Synagogue of New York City. Wise, who delivered an address to the Jewish Religious Union East End branch in March, 1910. [32] Sternheim’s daughter, Ruth, said that Wise suggested to Sternheim that he come to the United States to further his career.  Wise's religious and social views of the world fit with Sternheim's progressive attitudes and values.  British liberal Judaism was more "conservative" than American or German Reform Judaism. [33] Wise, a social reformer, called for social justice.  He supported workers over employers and spoke out against political corruption. [34] A third reason that Sternheim immigrated to the United States could be that the English rabbinate was ill paid and poorly regarded by the Anglo-Jewish community. [35]

                        Sternheim married Miriam Benjamin on July 24, 1908. [36] Along with his wife and infant daughter, Naomi, he came to the United States in 1911. After landing at Ellis Island, Sternheim and his family initially settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he held the position of head worker at the Council Educational Alliance, a Jewish settlement house established at the turn of the century by the National Council of Jewish Women. [37]  

While he was in Cleveland, Sternheim was fortunate to work in association with Rabbi Moses J. Gries, a prominent figure in the synagogue center movement and a leader of the Cleveland Educational Alliance. Gries saw the synagogue and Alliance as all encompassing Jewish communal centers. [38]   Gries was the Rabbi of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Cleveland and the President of the Central Conference of Rabbis from 1913 to 1915. [39]  

In his position at the Alliance, Sternheim worked with Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants who settled in Cleveland in the early 1900s. As previously noted, Sternheim worked with Eastern European Jews when he worked in the East End of London.  Jewish settlement houses in the United States were established to address issues of Americanization. Upper class German Jews felt lower class Eastern European Jews would stigmatize them unless they were acculturated to American values and norms. [40]   Sternheim may have not agreed with this view of the immigrant's need to be assimilated, but such efforts toward Americanization likely was his job. The fact that he stayed in this position for only one year could reflect his attitude about assimilation. Sternheim's work reflects his support of cultural pluralism rather than assimilation. [41]

            During his tenure as head-worker at the Alliance, Sternheim organized a lecture series for the settlement house members. Two men who participated in the lecture series later played important roles in his career.  The first, Max Heller, a reform rabbi from New Orleans, lectured to the members of the settlement house. At the time, Heller was President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In 1912, Heller helped Sternheim obtain a position as rabbi of a reform congregation in Greenville, Mississippi. [42]  

            A second person who would later help Sternheim was Henry Churchill King, the president of Oberlin College. King spoke to the Council Educational Alliance audience about the "Challenge of the Modern World" on April 13, 1912. [43] In addition, Newton D. Baker, the Mayor of Cleveland, was present at the lecture.  King dined with Sternheim and the staff of the settlement house afterwards. Sternheim established a working relationship with King, who later helped Sternheim professionally and loaned him money. Sternheim, the intellectual, was associated with academic administrators throughout his career, as shown in his relationship with another speaker, Charles Franklin Thwing, a congregational clergyman who was the president of Case Western Reverse University and a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation.36  

Sternheim's position in Cleveland was short-lived. Throughout his career, Sternheim never held any position for any length of time, and he frequently assumed new appointments as either a rabbi or lecturer. Nevertheless, it is clear that he started his rabbinical career with hope and enthusiasm.

                        Sternheim Holds Rabbinical Pulpits in Small Town USA                     

Established in 1901, the Hebrew Congregation of Greenville, Mississippi, was young and small.  Heller’s support was likely pivotal in Sternheim's 1912 appointment to Sternheim’s first rabbinical position in Greenville. No longer perceived as "scholoar-saints," rabbis of the early 20th century needed mentors to help them move their careers forward. 

Sternheim quickly warmed to his role of civic leader. Progressives like Sternheim were interested in establishing public institutions that state or municipal governments would take over once they were up and running.  As an intellectual and social reform rabbi, Sternheim worked to establish a democratic community institution, a public library. Libraries are the repositories of the collective knowledge of society. During his tenure in Greenville, he helped establish the community's first public library and was secretary of the organizing committee that raised funds to establish the library. [44] Establishing a public library parallels Sternheim's role as an intellectual and educator. Sternheim asked Jane Addams to speak at the opening celebration of the library, but she declined due to other commitments.  

            During his tenure in Greenville, Sternheim also served as president of the Mississippi and Tennessee Jewish Religious Teachers' Association as well as the secretary for the Jewish Religious Teachers' Association of the Southern States. Religious education has traditionally played an important role in the Jewish community as it has the potential to strengthen the religious identify of young Jewish people in communities where assimilation and loss of Jewish identity are a threat. This was certainly the case in Mississippi and later in Louisiana, where Sternheim held positions as rabbi and religious school official. [45]

            Sternheim’s leadership position in religious teachers’ associations was an example of the rabbi’s attempt to raise his status in the regional Jewish community.  Associations of religious schoolteachers have the prestige and status of directing and setting policy for the Sunday school teachers of one's own congregation as well as other communities. Holding such leadership positions is consistent with Sternheim's view of himself as an educator and academic.

             Academically, Sternheim continued to participate in American sociological organizations. He was a member of several sociological associations as well as the American Sociological Society from 1913 to 1920. Sternheim was a member of the Southern Sociological Congress, an organization oriented toward applied sociology and social reform. [46]   The organization's membership included many clergymen. For example, in addition to Sternheim, Rabbi Morris Newfield of Birmingham, Alabama, attended a number of the Congress meetings, and in 1918, Newfield was elected vice-president of the organization when it met in Birmingham. [47]   

            In May, 1914, Sternheim spoke at the Southern Sociological Congress’s meetings in Memphis, Tennessee along with the National Conference of Charities and Correction.  The National Conference of Charities and Correction had sessions on public health, child welfare, courts, prisons, and charities.  The Southern Sociological Congress had session about race relations, the church and social service.  Sternheim spoke about the role of the “church” in human services in the city.  A loving God demanded that religious people work for the betterment of the poor.  The Church should be active in the political life of the city as well as public education. [48]

Like many other early 20th century American sociologists, Sternheim was a religious leader. Additionally, Sternheim, like many progressives, was concerned with social change, social problems, and social reform.  He did not advocate radical social change, but like other sociologists, was concerned with the welfare of immigrants and children.  Sternheim did not leave a record regarding his attitude about race relations, but African Americans did participate in the meetings that he attended of the Southern Sociological Congress.

            Sternheim's tenure at the Hebrew Union congregation in Greenville lasted only three years. He seemed unwilling or unable to establish roots in one community. Sternheim wrote Heller that he was not happy in Greenville and asked for help in finding another rabbinical position. Heller was able to help Sternheim obtain a new position in Louisiana. [49] As World War I heated up in 1915, Sternheim became the rabbi of the reform congregation at Baton Rouge's B'nai Israel Temple. Like many Jewish leaders, Sternheim was concerned with the plight of Jews in the war torn countries of Eastern Europe. [50]   

During his tenure in Baton Rouge, Sternheim worked to raise funds for Jewish war relief, and the money he raised went to the Joint Distribution Committee.  Several years later Rabbi Sternheim traveled to Bismarck South Dakota, where he spoke at churches obtaining pledges of $800 for relief of suffering Jews in Europe. [51]

Another social reform movement that Sternheim participated in was the social hygiene or purity movement, which was concerned with sex education and control of venereal disease. In 1915, Rabbi Sternheim was the President of the Louisiana State Social Hygiene Association and spoke at the Purity Congress in Kansas City in that year. Sternheim wanted to include discussions of social hygiene in the classroom as the subject arose in each academic subject.

 Sternheim's view of sex education fell in the middle of the spectrum between that of the purity group that wanted to influence social morality and the doctors who wanted to fight venereal disease. He did not advocate a class discussion of human sexuality; rather, he favored discussing the sexual reproductive behavior of plants and animals. [52] In addition, he recommended combining the teaching of morality in the church and the dangers of venereal disease in the classroom. [53] Sternheim’s involvement in the social hygiene movement paralleled his father’s work in the anti-white slavery crusade. Both men were concerned with social morality and public health.

Besides participating in social causes, Sternheim supplemented his income by reviewing books, whereby he could combine the intellectual with the financial. While in Baton Rouge, he wrote book reviews for the Survey Graphic, a social service oriented magazine.  In May, 1914, Sternheim reviewed Municipal Franchises by Delos F. Wilcox. Progressives were deeply concerned with good government and how transit and utility companies obtained franchises for their businesses. Sternheim pointed out the importance of citizen involvement in the study and oversight of municipal franchises. [54]   

Another book that Sternheim reviewed was War and The Private Citizen by A. Pearce Higgins for the Survey. [55] Sternheim took note of Higgins' view of how war affects international law and private citizens. Higgins argued that private citizens needed to be concerned about the loss of their rights. As a rabbi, Sternheim was aware that these same issues were affecting Eastern Europe Jews.  In addition to writing book reviews for the Survey, he was a book review editor for The American Jew, a short-lived periodical published in St. Louis. [56]  

            Sternheim stayed at B'nai Israel in Baton Rouge for two years before taking a pulpit in Sioux City, Iowa, in August 1916. Before leaving, he wrote Rabbi Heller that he was despondent about his position in Baton Rouge, but said that he was not willing to take a job in Fort Wayne, Indiana, because it would not offer him an opportunity to improve his situation. [57]  

Sternheim became the rabbi of the Mt. Sinai Congregation in Sioux City, Iowa. [58] Established in 1900, the congregation was small but stable. Sternheim demonstrated his varied writing interests when he first came to Sioux City. One example includes a project in which he edited and updated a history of the Jews of Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport. Stenheim also wrote a summary of his participation in a wide range of Jewish organizations where he took a leading role, including a community institute, war relief, and working with the poor in the community. [59]    He also wrote articles about the history of Jews in Moline and Rock Island, Illinois.

One of the first tasks Rabbi Sternheim took on in Sioux City was the establishment of the city's Hebrew Institute. Hebrew Institutes had their roots in the Jewish settlement and community center movement and were common in the United States in the first part of the 20th century. [60]   The Institute was a combination of a community center, social settlement, and meeting place for Jewish community organizations such as the B'nai Brith and Zionist organizations. Both German and Russian Jews used the Institute, and Sternheim served as the Hebrew Institute's first president.

Sternheim never strayed from his roots of serving the community via the social settlement. While his work was more religiously oriented during his time in Sioux City, he continued to demonstrate his commitment to sociology. [61]   In 1917, he was elected President of the Sioux City Sociological Club, a position he held for three years. The Sociological Club's membership was non-sectarian. One of his presidential addresses was devoted to the meaning of democracy and the effects of World War I.  He believed World War I brought about social change, a demand for justice, and a search for a more perfect democracy. He said workers and capitalists needed to cooperate, but workers had the right to strike for better working conditions and higher wages. 

Sternheim said there were three pressing social problems that the nation faced after World War I: a need for justice, a means of providing more efficient relief, and a resolution of conflict between labor and capital. [62]

            Like many Progressives, Sternheim was concerned about the disorganization of industrial society and the dislocation of labor. He decried the overcrowding of cities, which led to lust, rage, violence, immorality, and a rebellion against the authority of law. [63]   In a 1917 presidential address, he said that the ills of the nation could be cured with education and sociological knowledge. According to Sternheim, sociology addressed the causes of and solutions to man's degeneration. Further, inherited organization and surroundings determined each person's physical, mental, and moral strength or weakness. He emphasized that people are the total of their natural inheritance and the environment in which they grew up. [64] This emphasis on sociology is an example of a shift from the saint to intellectual. Although there was a moral overtone to his statements, Sternheim sought to derive his authority from a sociological perspective.

In another presidential speech to the sociological club of Sioux City, Sternheim praised Herbert Hoover, who supervised the post-World War I American Relief Administration effort. According to Sternheim, "an enduring peace was more important to this member of the American Peace Society than the role of generals." [65]   Hoover represented the idealization of the modern organizational leader-he was the engineer, administrator, and technician who represented moral leadership. Like Sternheim, he was concerned with the welfare of humanity. After World War I, Sternheim continued his fundraising for Jews who were suffering because of pogroms in Eastern Europe and the dislplacements of the War.

For Sternheim, the welfare of humanity also included the cultural and religious well being of the Jewish community. Modern Judaism called for new organizational responses to the community's religious needs. With this concern in mind, Sternheim organized a chapter of the Intercollegiate Menorah Association at Morningside College in 1918, a Protestant liberal arts college in Sioux City. The purpose of the Menorah Association, which was founded at Harvard University in 1906, was to increase knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture among Jewish college students and the larger college community. [66] The Morningside College chapter had a membership of 18. Alfred E. Craig, the President of Morningside College, agreed to be the honorary President of the organization. [67] Sternheim saw the need to incorporate a non-Jewish leader of the college into a Jewish organization to help ensure its success. This was the second time Sternheim established a friendly working relationship with a Protestant college administrator. He skillfully allied himself with academic administrators in an effort to advance his agenda and career. 

            Increasing Jewish students' knowledge of Jewish culture was at the core of Sternheim's support of the Menorah Association.  Jewish culture, according to Sternheim, was based on knowledge of the Talmud and Midrash.  He wanted the members of the Menorah to be passionate Jews. In an address to the Menorah Association, Sternheim said, "I am a Jew, I love its religion, I glory in its traditions, I revel in its culture, I yearn to share its charm with all my brother men.” [68]   Leaders of the Menorah believed its purpose was to educate the Jew so he could take his rightful place in advancing the progress of religion. The Menorah stood for the virtues of integrity, chastity, and morality. At a Christian college, the Jewish student was to show the non-Jewish student the virtues of Judaism based on the laws handed down by Moses. [69]

Two years later, Sternheim agreed to a request of Henry Hurwitz, Chancellor of the Intercollegiate Menorah Association, to raise money for the national Menorah organization. [70]    However, Sternheim was unsuccessful in this fundraising effort even though he established a fundraising committee of religious, business, civic, and academic leaders in Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota, including the president and vice-president of his congregation, both of whom who were businessmen. The failure suggests the reduced influence of rabbis at the close of World War I.  In fact, in the middle of the campaign, Sternheim resigned from his pulpit at Mt. Sinai and moved to Chicago. [71]  

Prior to leaving the rabbinate Sternheim gave a speech to the Northwest District Iowa Library Association.  Much of the speech reflected on his career.  He said, clergyman were supposed to be able to made an address on any topic on short notice.  Sternheim had prepared himself to do this by be a lecturer for the National Home Reading Union in England.  In his speech, he quoted Canon Barnett of Toynbee Hall where he had worked as a settlement house worker and his experience in Cleveland where the settlement house operated a library for the city.  Sternheim told his audience that he was an institution builder.  He had helped established a library in Greenville, Mississippi.  Sternheim the educator told the librarians that communities should establish libraries in elementary schools.  Moreover, he emphasized the importance of having speakers in libraries discuss books in the library.  He wanted to have librarians to increase the public’s interest in reading.   Having special lecturers review novels and travel books may have foretold Sternheim’s career plan. [72]     

In Sioux City, Sternheim was politically active in the city regarding obtaining permission for Jewish children to be absent from school on Jewish religious holidays.  The Jewish Year Book reported that he got the local school district to permit Jewish children to be absent from school on the “high holidays”. [73]

                        Shift to Freelance Lecturer Role

             The reason for Sternheim's resignation from the Sioux City temple in 1920 and subsequent move to Chicago is unknown. He became a professional lecturer on a wide variety of subjects, and his lectures reportedly were well received. Examples of topics included "Ruskin and the Religion of Beauty," book criticism, "The Settlement Ideal," and "Judaism and Peace." Thus, Sternheim was a rabbi turned freelance lecturer. Between 1920 and 1929 he lived in Chicago, Boston, Albany, New York, and New York City.  He toured the country lecturing and conducting summer institutes in small colleges and school districts. Sternheim was on the road much of the time during the 1920s. 

            An example of where lecturing took Sternheim and the topics he spoke about was his examination of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt.  In July 1929, he spoke to the Neenah Wisconsin Rotary Club.  He said, American needed a stronger commercial ethics code based on his analysis of the book. [74]

            The lecturer role was an important component of Sternheim's career. In England, Sternheim was a speaker for the National Home Reading Union. [75] While working as the settlement head worker in 1912, Sternheim was an official lecturer of the American Peace Society. Finally, he "freelanced" as a professional speaker to earn a living during the 1920s. The numerous lectures Sternheim gave to civic organizations and his sermons to three congregations prepared him for his career as a professional lecturer.  

            Sternheim struggled professionally during the 1920s. In April 1923, he wrote his academic friend, Chancellor Henry King, that his wife was seriously ill and asked for a loan. [76]   King loaned Sternheim $25.00. To help overcome financial problems, Sternheim continued reviewing books to increase his income. In 1928, he corresponded with the John Day Publishing Company, requesting  copies of books he wanted to review.

            In 1928, Sternheim returned to the rabbinate, serving Butte, Montana, B'nai Israel Temple, a position he held for eight years. His tenure in Butte was longer than that of the other congregations he had served. Sternheim continued his involvement in the field of social welfare while serving as rabbi, at B’nai Israel Temple.  In 1931, he served as President of the Montana Welfare Association and was active in the field of public health. Sternheim feared that industrialization was undermining the health of children, and he called for rebuilding children's physiques. Sternheim favored early childhood education and the building of more schools in Montana. From his perspective, improved education would reduce dependency, delinquency, crime, and disease.

            Meanwhile, Rabbi Sternheim continued his religious role as a leader of the Jewish community.  In 1931, he conducted Jewish New Year services at B'nai Israel Temple, where he offered two sermons to his congregation, "Jew's Debt to Judaism," and "Shuvah Yisroel." [77]

            During his years in Butte, public lectures continued to play a part of Sternheim's role as a community leader. In 1935, he gave the commencement address to the local high school. The address had special meaning for the seasoned lecturer--his younger daughter, Ruth, was graduated from high school that spring.

            After leaving his post in Butte, Sternheim moved to Chicago in 1937.  He again earned a living lecturing at colleges.    In June of 1937, Sternheim wrote Merle Ward, the President of Ferris Institute about speaking at the teacher’s college.  Ward had met Sternheim in Butte, Montana.  Sternheim spoke at a Summer Institute for young rural teachers.  This is another example of Sternheim networking with academic leaders to enable him to earn a living.   

During Sternheim’s residence in Chicago he lived near the University of Chicago.  His daughter, Ruth’s future husband lived in the same building.   In 1939, Emanuel and Miriam moved to Lafayette, Louisiana because of Miriam’s poor health.  Sternheim served the Rodoph Sholom Temple.  There were few Jews in Lafayette and other small Louisiana towns.  Sternheim traveled to small Jewish communities conducting services for the faithful.  A few weeks before Pearl Harbor he warned of the need to defend democracy. The Rabbi married his daughter, Ruth in Lafayette on January 4, 1940.  Two years later Rabbi Sternheim died in Lafayette Parish Louisiana on March 3, 1942.  Many of the religious and civic leaders of Lafayette the funeral conducted by Rabbi Cline of Port Arthur Texas.         


            For much of his life, Rabbi Emanuel Sternheim associated with powerful and influential people who helped him advance his career.  They included wealthy business leaders, rabbis, and college presidents. Because Sternheim considered himself  to be a social scientist as well as a modern intellectual Jew  and Jewish cleric, he sought the company of academics.     

Emanuel Sternheim’s career fits Carlin and Mendlovitz’ hypothesis of  the need for 20th century rabbis to reinvent themselves because of loss status and authority. He used his college education, speaking ability, and organizational experience to advance his career and income. There is only one direct statement that Sternheim made regarding his dissatisfaction with his rabbinical post, yet he left three congregations in a period of nine years. He left the rabbinate after abruptly leaving his pulpit in Sioux City.  He combined the role of rabbi with that of an educator both religiously and secularly. Thus, in his own career, he transformed the role of rabbi as scholar-saint to that of a modern day scholar.

Sternheim was a social reformer with a concern for social justice, the welfare of the poor, immigrants, and women. His father served as a role model and likely guided him to the rabbinate. Sternheim's early experience as a social or community activist made possible his role as a rabbinical ambassador to the gentile community. In addition, his university education and ability to speak publicly served him well. Rabbi Sternheim was a social reformer, civic leader, intellectual, and a freelance lecturer. His influence and authority as a congregational rabbi were never great, but he did achieve success as an organizational leader. He helped establish a public library, a community center, and a Jewish cultural organization.

Sternheim’s dissatisfaction with his rabbinical career is suggested by his frequent job changes and his withdrawal from the rabbinate in 1920. He was a man with intellect and job skills, but he did not enjoy great career success if one measures success by stable employment. He played an active role in these communities by serving as an officer in numerous volunteer organizations. Yet, he did not maintain long-term relationships with the congregations he served and did not seem to be interested in establishing roots in those communities. If Sternheim found particular meaning and purpose as a rabbi in Butte, Montana, he never left a record of it. It was only in Butte that he had any long-term relationship with his congregation. Perhaps the Western Jewish community of Butte was more inclined than its predecessors to accept Sternheim's unusual mix of urbanity and restlessness along with his strong commitment to Judaism and Jewish culture. Thus, he was able to end his rabbinical career in this small mining community in Montana. 


[1] Jerome E. Carlin and Saul H. Mendlovitz, “The American Rabbi: A Religious Specialist Responds to Loss of Authority,” in Understanding American Judaism: Toward the Description of a Modern Religion, The Rabbi and the Synagogue, (vol. 1. ed. Jacob Neusner New York 1975), 165-214.

2 Ibid., 171

[3] Ibid., 186-194.

[4] Ibid., 194-95.

[5] The Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC) 1 June 1900, p.25.

[6]   JC “National Reading Union,” 9 September 1898.  In The Jewish Chronicle there are many brief mentions of meetings conducted by the Jewish Literary and Society that Sternheim was a member. See JC 16 December 1910, p. 6; 2 January 1903, p. 36; 2 March 1906, pp. 4-5; 2 January 1903, pp. 6-7.

[7] Sternheim’s educational history is somewhat confusing and unclear.

 He wrote in the Reform Advocate in 1916, p. 12 that he studied at University College, London and in Germany.

[8] Emanuel Sternheim "Spinoza, An Essay," Monthly Review 27, no. 81, (June 1907), 36-50.  JC 10 February 1911, pp. 14-15.

[9] See “Some Biographical Items,” Sternheim Family Papers no date.  Reform Advocate p. 12.

[10] Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement 1890-1914 (London, 1967).

[11] Carl Milofisky and Albert Hunter, “The Force of Tradition at Toynbee Hall: Culture and Deep Structure in Organizational Life,” 1995 on the Internet. http://comm-org.utoledo.edu/papers96/miofsky.html. David Kaufman, Shul with a Pool: The ‘Synagogue-Center’ in American Jewish History (Hanover New Hampshire, 1999).  JC 30 July 1915, pp. 12-13.

[12] David Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry, 1841-1991 (Cambridge, 1994), 96-102.

[13] Stephen Aris, But There Are No Jews in England (New York, 1970), 24-40.

[14] JC 30 March 1906.

[15] Emanuel Sternheim, “The After-Maths of War and the Challenge to the Future” (presidential address to Sociological Club of Sioux City, Sioux City, Ia., November 19, 1919).

[16] Ibid.

[17] U.K., Public Office of the Census, 1901 Census of England and Wales.  Jacob Sternheim died in March 1907.

[18] Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements, 4.

[19] Milofsky and Hunter, “The Force of Tradition at Toynbee Hall." The Children Country Holiday Fund was supported by leading Jewish families. See Aris, But There Are No Jews in England, 44.

[20] Ibid., 6.

[21] Emanuel Sternheim, "The Jews of Iowa," Reform Advocate (1916), pp. 3-20.

[22] Steven Bayme, “Origins of the Jewish Religious Union,” The Jewish Historical Society of England Transactions (London, 1982). 61-71; Lily H. Montagu, “The Jewish Religious Union and Its Beginnings,” 1-33.

[23] Notice of meetings or services of the East End branch Jewish Religious Union were found in the Jewish Chronicle.  Potential members were asked to contact Sternheim about joining the Union.  Steven Bayme, “Claude Montefiore, Lily Montagu and the Origins of the Jewish Religious Union,” Transactions The Jewish Historical Society, V. 27, 1982, 61-71.

[24] David Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism, reissue, new and revised edition with an introduction by Solomon B. Breehof (Cincinnati, 1967), 554-57.  (see JC, 6 March 1906) Harry Lewis was of Sephardic background and a rabbi from Manchester, England.  In 1906, he was the rabbi of Park Place Synagogue.  He moved to New York and was known as the Chaplain of New York City. JC 6 March 1908.

[25] Stephen Wise, The Challenging Years: The Autobiography of Stephen Wise (New York, 1949).

[26] Lily Montagu, “The Jewish Religious Union and its Beginnings,” (London, 1927), 6.

[27] Steven Bayme, “Origins of the Jewish Religious Union,” The Jewish Historical Society of England: Transactions Sessions 1978-1980 & Miscellanies Part XII (1982):61-71.

[28] JC 30 March 1906.

[29] Ibid.

[30] See The Statue of liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc, # Ellis Island On-line.  Sternheim had a second name, Manns Jacob Sternheim.  

[31] Sternheim, “Spinoza, An Essay,” 40-41.

[32] Bayme, “Origins of the Jewish Religious Union,” 61-71. According to Bayme, Stephen Wise spoke to the Jewish Religious Union in 1910.  It appears that is where Sternheim met Wise.  JC 4 March 1910, p.6.

[33] Carl Hermann Voss, Rabbi and Minister, 2nd ed. (New York: 1968), p.105. Ruth Burger, Sternheim’s daughter, told the author in 1974 that Stephen Wise influenced her father in his decision to come to the United States.

[34] Leonard J. Mervis, "The Social Justice Movement and the American Reform Rabbi," American Jewish Archives (1955): 171-231.

[35] Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry, 1841-1991, 113.

[36] Miriam Benjamin was the daughter of Harris and Kate Benjamin.  Harris was a tailor.  Miriam had two brothers and two sisters.  The couple married in the South Hackney Synagogue.  Three rabbis participated in the wedding, M. Rosenbaum, J.F. Stern and S. Blackman.

[37] Emanuel Sternheim, “The History of the Jews of Sioux City,” The Reform Advocate (1916), pp. 3-20. Emanuel Sternheim to Henry Churchill King, Sioux City Iowa, October 17, 1911, King Collection, Special Collection, Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio.  In Sioux City, Iowa, Sternheim was the president of the Jewish Educational Alliance.  Miriam Sternheim was the Sisterhood’s secretary.

[38] David Kaufman, Shul with a Pool: The ‘Synagogue-Center’ in American Jewish History (Hanover New Hampshire, 1999), 113.

[39] Ibid., 37, 113.

[40] Marshall Sklare, Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement (New York, 1972), 162-163.

[41] Sternheim, Presidential address, "The After-Math of War." 

[42] Emanuel Sternheim to Max Heller, New Orleans, La, n. d. Max Heller Collection, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.  Sternheim, "The History of the Jews of Sioux City."

[43] Emanuel Sternheim to Henry Churhill King, Oberlin College Special Collections March 27, 1912.

[44] Amanda Worthington," History of Greenville Library System", manuscript n. d., (Washington County Library, Greenville, Mississippi).  Plans for the library were started by Nellie N. Somerville of the Civic Improvement Club.  Somerville was the first woman member of the Mississippi House of Representatives.  Charter members of the library were E. Bass, Rev. Philip Davidison, Mrs. Ann T. Taylor and Rev. W. B. Grey, George Leavenworth and Nathan Goldstein.

[45] Sternheim, "History of the Jews of Sioux City."

[46] Sternheim, “History of the Jews of Sioux City.”; C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge, 1951).

[47] Mark Cowett, Birmingham’s Rabbi: Morris Newfield and Alabama, 1895-1940 (Tuscaloose Alabama, 1986).

[48] Emanuel Sternheim, “The Social Mission of the Church to City Life,” in Battling for Social Betterment ed James E. McCulloch, Southern Sociological Congress, May 6-10, 1914.

[49] Emanuel Sternheim to Max Heller June 27, 1915, Max Heller Collection, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

[50] Oscar Handlin, A Continuing Task: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1914-1964 (New York, 1964).

[51] Bismarck Daily Tribune July 16, 1917. p. 3.

[52] Emanuel Sternheim, “The Sex Problem in Education,” Educational Review 50 (1915): 259-278. Sternheim's concern with public health continued when he moved to Iowa.  He was a member of the American Public Health Association in 1919 (Sternheim, membership certificate 1919).   The organization focused its energy on diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox.

[53] Emanuel Sternheim, "Education and Morality." Social Hygiene 5 (1919), p. 368.

[54] Emanuel Sternheim, review of Municipal Franchises by Delos F. Wilcox, Survey 32 (May 16, 1914), 202.

[55] Emanuel Sternheim, review of War and The Private Citizen, by A. Pearce Higgins Survey 32 (August 29, 1914), 549.

[56] Sternheim to Heller October 20,1914, Heller Collection.

[57] Sternheim to Heller June 27, 1915, Heller Collection.

[58] Mount Sinai Congregation was at 14th and Nebraska.  The Congregation’s president was Herman Galinsky, Secretary J. Levinger.  Its membership was 80 and in 1919 had an income of $7,000.

[59] Sternheim, “The History of the Jews of Sioux City,” 3-20.

[60] Kaufman, Shul With A Pool.

[61] Sternheim, “History of the Jews of Sioux City,” 3-20.

[62] Emanuel Sternheim, “A Sociological Reverie,” Presidential Address Sioux City Sociological Club, Sioux City Iowa, April 1917.  Reveries are states of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing, a fantastic, visionary or unpracticed idea.

Sternheim “The After-Maths of War."

[63] Sternheim, “A Sociological Reverie.”

[64] Ibid.

[65] Sternheim “The After-Maths of War."

[66] Ira Eisenstein, “Henry Hurwitz: Editor, Gadfly, Dreamer,” in “The Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals, ed. Carole S. Kessner (New York, 1994), 191-205. Another rabbi active in the Menorah movement was Bernard Ehrenreich of Montgomery Alabama. Harold Wechsler, "Rabbi Bernard C. Ehrenreich: A Northern Progressive Goes South," in Jews of the South: Selected Essays from the Southern Jewish Historical Society eds. Samuel Proctor and Louis Schmier with Malcolm Stern (Macon Georgia, 1984).


[67] Emanuel Sternheim to Henry Hurwitz 21 March 1918; 3 April 1918; Henry Hurwitz to Emanuel Sternheim 15 May 1918; Henry Hurwitz to Alfred E. Craig 15 May 1918; Henry Hurwitz to Matilda Brodkey 15 May 1918 Henry Hurwitz Collection, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

[68] Emanuel Sternheim, “Address at Inaugural Meeting of the Chapter of Intercollegiate Menorah Association at Morningside College, Sioux City Iowa May 2, 1918.  Seth Korelitz, “The Menorah Idea: From Religion to Culture, from Race to Ethnicity,” American Jewish History 85, (March 1997), 75-100.  The purpose of the Menorah that was found at Harvard University in 1906 was to increase knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture to Jewish College students and the larger college community.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Sternheim to Hurwitz, February 16, 1920, Hurwitz Collection.

[71] Sternheim to Hurwitz, July 28, 1920, Hurwitz Collection.


[72] Emanuel Sternheim, “The Public Library of Tomorrow,” Library Journal 44 (July 1919), 429-435.

[73] Jewish Year Book 5680, p. 4.

[74] The Daily Northwestern, July 19, 1929, p.11.

[75] Sternheim, “History of the Jews of Sioux City,” 3-20.

[76] Emanuel Sternheim to Henry C. King, April 23, 1923, King Collection, Oberlin College

Special Collections.

[77] Montana Standard, September 10, 1931, pp. 1-2.  The Sternheims lived at 651 W. Granite in Butte, Montana.