Access and Provenance

Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content Note

Box and Folder Listing

Subject Tracings


A Finding Aid to the

Kaufmann Kohler Papers

Manuscript Collection No. 29

1851-1959. 5.4 Linear ft.


The KAUFMANN KOHLER PAPERS were donated to the American Jewish Archives from 1947 through 1969. The primary donor was Lilli Kohler, Kaufmann Kohler's daughter. Other individuals including Max J. Kohler were responsible for the donation of materials.

Lilli Kohler, Kohler family members, and other individuals, by the act of donating the KAUFMANN KOHLER PAPERS to the American Jewish Archives, assigned the property rights to the American Jewish Archives. All literary rights to material authored by Kaufmann Kohler are held by the Kohler heirs. Literary rights to materials authored by others are held by the individual author or his/her heirs. Questions concerning copyrights should be addressed to the Director of the American Jewish Archives.

The KAUFMANN KOHLER PAPERS are open to all users and available in the reading room of the American Jewish Archives.


Kaufmann Kohler, the eldest child of Moritz and Babette (Lowenmayer) Kohler, was born in Furth, Bavaria, into a family and community of staunchly Orthodox Jewish persuasion. In Talmudical academies in Mayence and Altona, he attained a mastery of Talmudic knowledge.

At twenty he became a disciple of the dynamic Orthodox leader, Samson Raphael Hirsch, to whom he attributed much of his Jewish idealism. But at the universities of Munich (1864-1865), Berlin 1865-1867), and Erlagen (Ph.D., Nov. 13, 1867), he broke with Orthodox Judaism. The critical methods of his university study told him that Judaism was an historic growth, not every part of which was of equally divine character and value, and in his doctoral dissertation, Der Segen Jackob's, he made a strong plea for modernizing religion. This thesis limited his prospects of obtaining a rabbinical position in Germany, and after two years of post-doctoral study at the University of Leipzig, he was called to the Beth-El Congregation in Detroit, arriving in the United States on August 28, 1869.

Exactly a year later he married Johanna Einhorn, daughter of Rabbi David Einhorn. After two years in Detroit, during which time he led his congregation farther away from its Orthodox background, he was called to Temple Sinai, Chicago, where he introduced many elements of radical reform. At the beginning of 1874, he instituted Sunday services besides the regular Saturday observance, an innovation which evoked violent criticism and denunciation. In September 1879 on the retirement of his father-in-law, Kohler succeeded him as rabbi of Temple Beth-El, New York, where again he introduced supplementary Sunday services, and continued to do battle with his conservative critics and Orthodox denouncers, maintaining his right to decide what was permanent and vital in Judaism, and what was ephemeral. In 1885, in a series of lectures published as Backwards or Forwards, he attacked Alexander Kohut's definition of traditional Judaism.

This polemic led both men, the leading Jewish scholars in America, to action. On Kohut's side, it was one of the factors which resulted in the foundation of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (January 2, 1887) to defend and strengthen traditional Judaism. On Kohler's side, it led him to call the Pittsburgh Conference, with the adoption of the radical Pittsburgh Platform (November 1885), at first repudiated even by some Reform Jews, but later accepted as a statement of principles by American Reform Judaism. Kohler was one of the founders, and for many years president, of the New York board of Jewish Ministers. Succeeding Isaac M. Wise as president of the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati on February 19, 1903, he raised its academic standard notably. Kohler himself taught homiletics, theology, and Hellenistic literature. His seventieth, seventy-fifth, and eightieth birthdays were widely celebrated by American Reform Jewry. Retiring in 1921 at the age of seventy-eight, he returned to New York, where he died in his eighty-third year, on January 28, 1926.

The bibliography of Kohler's writings in Studies in Jewish Literature, issued in celebration of his seventieth birthday, contained at that time 801 items. He took a prominent part in the preparation of the Union Prayer Book, and of the Jewish Publication Society's English translation of the Bible. He wrote textbooks of Reform Judaism, edited the Sabbath Visitor(1881-1882), and the Jewish Reformer (1886), and was editor of the department of theology and philosophy of the Jewish Encyclopedia.

His principal single work was his well-ordered and fully documented Grundriss einer systematischen Theologie des Judentums auf geschichtlicher Grundlage(1910), published in English in 1918 as Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered, a work which mingles a Reform treatment of Judaism with conservative Jewish apologetics. Highly valuable are Kohler's numerous studies on the Jewish origins of Christianity, on Hellenistic, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphic literature, on the origin of the Jewish liturgy, and on comparative religious folklore.

At eighty he published Heaven and Hell in Comparative Religion (1923), tracing the remote folklore origin of Dante's eschatology, and at the time of his death, he was working on The Origins of the Synagogue and the Church, published posthumously in 1929. A collection of his papers, with a supplemental bibliography, was published in 1931 as Studies, Addresses, and Personal Papers and included his "Personal Reminiscences of my Early Life."

Biographical sketch Based on Pool, David de Sola. "Kaufmann Kohler." Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. IX. Ed. Dumas Malone. New York, New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1946.


Alice Block Kohler was the wife of Edgar J. Kohler. She died in 1931.

Edgar J. Kohler, the son of Kaufmann and Johanna (Einhorn) Kohler, was born in 1875. Edgar was a lawyer. He was married in 1924 to Alice Austrian Block. He died in 1941.

Johanna (Einhorn) Kohler, the daughter of David Einhorn, was the wife of Kaufmann. She married Kaufmann in 1870. She died in 1932.

Max James Kohler, the son of Kaufmann and Johanna (Einhorn) Kohler, was born in 1871. Max held a B.S. (1890) and an M.S. (1893) from the College of the City of New York. He also received an M.A. (1891) and an L.L.B. (1892) from Columbia University. He was well known as an historian and a lawyer. He practiced law in New York City and was primarily involved with immigration and the problems of the immigrant. Max was married in 1906 to Winifred Lichtenauer. They had no children. Max Kohler died in 1934.

Rose Kohler was born in 1873. She was the daughter of Kaufmann and Johanna (Einhorn) Kohler. A noted painter and sculptor, her most noted work was the medallion, The Spirit of the Synagogue, a graphic answer to Sargent's painting of The Synagogue. She died in 1947.

Winifred Lichtenauer Kohler, a daughter of the late Joseph M. Lichtenauer and Mrs. R. D. Lichtenauer, was born in 1880. She was the wife of Max James Kohler, whom she married on November 6, 1906. She died in 1922.

Lilli Kohler was the daughter of Kaufmann and Johanna (Einhorn) Kohler.


The KAUFMANN KOHLER PAPERS (1851-1959) document a number of the activities in the career of Kaufmann Kohler and members of the Kohler Family. The collection includes correspondence, telegrams, sermons and addresses, condolences, notes, memorials, photographs, newsclippings, and miscellaneous materials. The bulk of the Papers consists of Kaufmann Kohler's writings and letters of condolence concerning the deaths of Kaufmann Kohler and other family members. The Papers are divided into seven series:

  • The GENERAL series has been divided into two sub-series: Sub-Series 1. Kaufmann Kohler, and Sub-Series 2. Kohler Family. The SERMONS AND ADDRESSES series has been divided into two sub-series: Sub-Series 1. English language, and Sub-Series 2. German language.

    The GENERAL series, Sub-Series 1. Kaufmann Kohler (1869-1943) consists of two boxes of correspondence either between Kaufmann Kohler and others or dealing with him. The first four folders of general correspondence deal with his writings and family matters. The correspondence with is arranged alphabetically spans the period 1869 to 1933 with the bulk concentrated in the period 1903 to 1923. The remainder of the correspondence is arranged around a specific topic and is listed chronologically (1903-1943). This material consists of letters and telegrams of condolence and congratulations and some commentaries of these events.

    The GENERAL series, Sub-Series 2. Kohler Family 1908-1959) consists of two boxes of correspondence between or concerning members of the Kohler Family. The bulk of the material consists of condolences in the form of letters or telegrams. The material is arranged alphabetically by the name of the family members as addressed.

    The SERMONS AND ADDRESSES series, Sub-Series 1. English language consists of three boxes of English language sermons and addresses. These have been placed in an alphabetical file. The list of sermons and addresses appearing in the first folder in Box 5 dates many of these sermons and addresses. The sermons span Kohler's entire career.

    The SERMONS AND ADDRESSES series, Sub-Series 1. English language consists of three boxes of English language sermons and addresses. These have been placed in an alphabetical file. The list of sermons and addresses appearing in the first folder in Box 5 dates many of these sermons and addresses. The sermons span Kohler's entire career.

    The SERMONS AND ADDRESSES series, Sub-Series 2. German language consists of three boxes of untranslated sermons and addresses. These have not been arranged.

    The MANUSCRIPTS AND NOTES series consists of one-half box of manuscript and note material. These are in German, Hebrew and English.

    The PHOTOGRAPHS series consists of one-half box of hotographs which depict activities of Kaufmann Kohler and the Kohler Family. A few are labeled and most appear to be of the late 19th and 20th century.

    The MEMORIAL BOOKLET series consists of about one-half box of memorial booklets and testimonials given to Kaufmann Kohler or to other family members in order to commemorate birthdays, deaths, and anniversaries.

    The PRINTED MATERIAL series consists of approximately one box of original and photocopies of newsclippings and articles. Included are published copies or descriptions of sermons by Kaufmann Kohler and some publications by Max J. Kohler. The material has not been arranged.

    The MISCELLANEOUS series consists of one folder of programs, menus, certificates, wills, biographical material, and college records. The material concerns various Kohler family members and spans the period from 1857 through 1941.


    Box  Folder    Contents
    Note: This series consists primarily of correspondence and telegrams as well as 
    some non correspondence material.
    Sub-Series 1. Kaufmann Kohler
    1     1        A-F, General 1869-1925; 1933 [scattered]
          2        Adler, Cyrus 1903; 1913-1918; 192-1924 [deals
                        primarily with the Hebrew Classical series]
          3        G-M, General 1876-1923 [scattered]
          4        N-Z, General 1873-1925 [scattered]
          5-6      1903 Assuming the Presidency of Hebrew Union College
          7        1913 Seventieth Birthday Congratulations
          8        1918 Seventy-Fifth Birthday Congratulations
    2     1        1920 Golden Wedding Anniversary
          2        1923 Eightieth Birthday Congratulations
          3        1925 Eighty-Second Birthday Congratulations
          4-6      1926 Condolences on the death of Kaufmann Kohler
          7        1929 Origins of the Synagogue and Church
          8        1943 One Hundredth Anniversary of Kaufmann Kohler's birth
    Sub-Series 2. Kohler Family
    3     1        Kohler, Edgar 1917-1920; 1928-1941 [scattered]
    	              [many letters are between other people and
                         deal with Edgar Kohler as a subject]
          2        Kohler, Johanna [Mrs. Kaufmann Kohler] (A-L) 1908;
                        1926-1932 [primarily condolences]
          3        Kohler, Johanna [Mrs. Kaufmann Kohler] (M-Z) 1929-
                        1932 [primarily condolences]
          4        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (A-E) 1929-1956
          5        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (F-L) 1919-1950 [scattered]
          6        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (M-P) 1929-1959
          7        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (R) 1923-1938
    4     1        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (S-Z) 1928-1954
          2        Kohler, Lilli and Rose (unidentified) 1926-1948
          3        Kohler, Max J. (A-Z) 1899-1934
          4        Kohler, Max J.--Condolences (A-K) 1934
          5        Kohler, Max J.--Condolences (L-Z) 1934
          6        Kohler, Max J.--Immigrants and Aliens in the U.S.
          7        Kohler, Rose--Condolences 1947
    5     1        Biographical Material
    Subseries 1. English
    5     2        A
          3        B
          4        C
          5        D
          6        E
          7        F
          8        G
          9        H
    6     1        I
          2        J
          3        K
          4        L
          5        M
          6        N
          7        O
          8        P
          9        R
          10       S
          11       T
    7     1        U
          2        V
          3        W
          4        Z
          5        Untitled
          6        Fragments
    Sub-Series 2. German Language
          7-10     Unidentified
    8     1-9      Unidentified
    9     1-4      Unidentified
          5-8      Fragments
    10    1-2      Fragments
          3-6      Manuscripts (English)
    11    1        Manuscripts (German)
          2-3      Notes (Hebrew and English)
          4-5      Photographs
          6        Memorial Books
    12    1-3      Memorial Books
          4        Kohler, Max--Publications
          5-7      Newsclippings
    13    1-5      Newsclippings
          6        Miscellaneous materials
    See American Jewish Archives card catalogue for additional
    Kaufmann Kohler materials contained in the flat file, special files, 
    and in other American Jewish Archives collections.