Rabbi Herman Schaalman, the oldest living Reform rabbi and the first director of the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, has died. He was 100.
Schaalman, a leader in the Reform movement for seven decades, died Tuesday, Jan. 31, according to the Union for Reform Judaism.
He served a small congregation in Iowa before moving to Chicago to become the Midwest director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which later became the URJ. He was named senior rabbi of Chicago’s Emanuel Congregation in 1956, and served for 30 years, though he continued to teach Torah classes at the temple after his retirement.
He was a founder and the inaugural director of the URJ’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), the first of the URJ’s summer camps, which have now grown to 18.
“Rabbi Schaalman became my teacher for the first time 45 years ago last month; several times each month during the winter of 1972, he would make the almost 100 mile drive from Chicago to Beloit College to teach a course on Modern Jewish History,” said Rabbi Marc E. Berkson of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills. He delivered prepared remarks at Schaalman’s funeral.
“His intellect and eloquence captured the entire class—several of us so profoundly that, ultimately, we chose to devote our lives to the Jewish people.”
A native of Munich, Germany, Schaalman was one of five young men selected by Rabbi Leo Baeck to come to the United States on scholarship in 1935 to study for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
He married his wife of 76 years, Lotte, the day after his ordination in 1941, since rabbinic students at the time were required to be unmarried, according to the URJ. Lotte Schaalman died in December.
Schaalman was active on committees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which he served as president from 1981 to 1983, and was instrumental in helping define the organization’s positions on interfaith marriage and patrilineal descent.
He also served as president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Chicago, was a past president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and was a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Schaalman also taught at Catholic and Protestant seminaries, including Northwestern University’s Garrett Theological Seminary from 1957 to 2014; the Chicago Theological Seminary; the Catholic seminary of the Society of the Divine Word, and the North Park College Theological Seminary, according to the JUF News.
Schaalman received many awards and honors throughout his lifetime, including a Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College in 1966 and the Order of Merit, First Class, in 1995 by the president of Germany. The International Council of Christians and Jews gave Schaalman its highest honor, the Interfaith Gold Medallion-Peace Through Dialogue.
In addition, the Chicago Theological Seminary established The Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman Chair of Jewish Studies in 2005 and, in 2012, the University of Chicago initiated the Herman E. and Lotte Schaalman Civilization Program for study in Jerusalem.
“Rabbi Schaalman inspired generations of rabbis, as well as countless Jews and people of all faiths to search for God and repair our world,” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said in a statement. “As a teacher and community leader, his legacy extends from prewar Germany to the pillars of contemporary Reform Judaism, and includes introducing innovation, preserving tradition, and embracing diversity. The current work of the URJ owes much to the pioneering interfaith outreach and cutting-edge theology of Rabbi Schaalman. He will be sorely missed.”