Access and Provenance

Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content Note

Box and Folder Listing


A Finding Aid to the

Max Nussbaum Papers

Manuscript Collection No. 705

1928-1974. 13.1 Linear ft.


The Max Nussbaum Papers were donated to the American Jewish Archives in 2003 by Ruth Nussbaum, Sherman Oaks, California and Temple Israel, Hollywood, California. Ruth Nussbaum and Temple Israel, by the act of donating the Max Nussbaum Papers to the American Jewish Archives, assigned the property rights to the American Jewish Archives. All literary rights to material authored by Max Nussbaum are held by Nussbaum and his heirs. Questions concerning rights should be addressed to the Director of the American Jewish Archives.

The Nussbaum Papers are open to all users and available in the reading room of the American Jewish Archives


Max Nussbaum (born Moshe) was born in 1908 in Suceava, Bukovina in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire and what is now Romania. He was raised in a German speaking orthodox family but did manage to obtain parental permission to attend secular schools and later the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary in Germany where he was ordained in 1934. He also received a Ph.D. in 1934 from the University of Wurzburg where he graduated summa cum laude. His dissertation was “Kantianism and Marxism in the Social Philosophy of Max Adler.” In taking this bold step - writing his dissertation on a living philosopher and professor in Germany - Nussbaum thrust himself into the heady debates rampant at this time in Germany and Austria within the ranks of those who were known as the Austro-Marxists such as Adler, Otto Bauer and others. In this, Marxism was seen as an economic theory with Kantian social theories embedded within. This philosophical edge stayed with Nussbaum throughout his career. Unfortunately Germany changed rapidly for the worse in the years after he received his Ph.D. and Nussbaum was too busy with his community to engage in this debate as much as he would have liked to.

Nussbaum became the Gemeinde Rabbiner (Community Rabbi) for Berlin, 1936-1940. This idea of serving a whole community rather than a specific temple is displayed in his later life with all of the rabbinic and Jewish organizations that he took part in. His congregation came to understand that this was his vision of how a rabbi served his people. Nussbaum also took advantage of his education and lectured across Europe until travel became inconvenient or impossible. He also wrote for the German, Jewish and European press. By the late 1930s he realized that he needed to leave. He was able to secure a position in Muskogee, Oklahoma at Congregation Beth Ahaba through the help of Stephen S. Wise, whom he had met in 1939 at a Jewish-Arab conference in London. Nussbaum and his wife left Germany in 1940. While in Muskogee, Nussbaum taught philosophy at the State University of Oklahoma and was the director of the Jewish Students’ Center.

In 1942 Nussbaum was hired by Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, where he spent the remainder of his career. During this time he was in contact with Jewish leaders to get reports from Germany. Chaim Weizmann was his contact in London for information. Nussbaum only learned much later through the Red Cross that his parents had died during the Holocaust, of dysentery and starvation on a transport to a concentration camp. According to those close to Nussbaum, this information haunted him for the rest of his life.

Nussbaum threw himself into international Jewish work after arriving in Hollywood. He was a member of the first United Jewish Appeal (UJA) delegation to Palestine in 1948. In 1958, under the auspices of the UJA, Nussbaum reported on the condition of Jews in Israel, Berlin and Paris. In 1958 he was the chairman of the Los Angeles delegation of the UJA at their conference in Jerusalem. In 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 Nussbaum attended the annual Zionist Congress and in 1959 was a World Jewish Congress (WJC) delegate in Stockholm. He continued working with the WJC, attending the 1965 and 1968 World Executive in Strausbourg, France and Geneva, and also as a guest of the British section in London and a participant of the 5th Plenary Assembly. In 1965 Nussbaum visited Germany, always a difficult journey for him, as a guest of the Senate of Berlin. Nussbaum was also the chairman of the American Section of the WJC for four years.

Nussbaum earned and was awarded many accolades. He was the first rabbi to be on Ralph Edwards’ “This is Your Life” in 1959, the same year that the California Assembly unanimously passed a resolution commending, “Max Nussbaum for his outstanding career as religious leader, humanitarian and spearhead of interfaith understanding and cooperation.” 1959 was a good year for Nussbaum since he also was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1961 he was given a Doctorate of Literature by Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia. In 1969 Nussbaum became the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and in 1970 the vice-president of the American Jewish Congress.

Nussbaum was an ardent Zionist his entire life. 1964-66 he was the Chairman of the American Zionist Council and the President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). In 1969 he and his wife were awarded the Brandeis Award by the ZOA.

Much of Nussbaum’s work took him away from Temple Israel, though the congregation learned to accept the fact that they were blessed with a high profile rabbi. They were also lucky in that Nussbaum was insatiably intellectually curious. A good example of this was his interest in the Reconstructionist movement. Always in favor of meaningful adult education, Nussbaum started a Reconstructionist discussion group at Temple Israel. This was not seen as unusual by those who knew him. It was yet another display of his unending passion for knowledge.

Rabbi Nussbaum died suddenly July 20, 1974.


Papers contain the correspondence, writings and sermons of Rabbi Nussbaum as well as scrapbooks put together by his secretary Thelma Cohen. These scrapbooks cover much of Nussbaum’s time at Temple Israel in Hollywood, Cal. and his work with the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC). Nussbaum was often a guest and participant in many assemblies of the WJC in the 1960s and the correspondence file in box one folder seven demonstrates this.

The bulk of this collection consists of Rabbi Nussbaum’s sermons. The sermons are arranged chronologically if a date was available and alphabetically if not. There is also one box of sermon notes which are untitled and undated. One half of the first box of sermons are in German and many of the sermon notes are in Hebrew or Yiddish. Nussbaum’s sermons are all in English after he moved to the United States in 1940. Many of his initial sermons are in regard to life in Nazi Germany and the condition that Jews were living in across Europe.

Nussbaum often used personal examples in his sermons to demonstrate a much larger point, but occasionally the personal experience spoke for itself. And example of this is a sermon in which he recollects watching the Freidenstempel burn on Kristallnacht in 1938. In this exceptionally moving sermon he relates how Jews in Berlin knew that the restrictions were becoming more constricting and that there were rumors of people being relocated, but he never thought it would come to this. His memories of seeing the firefighters and neighbors watching the temple burn without helping, and in fact being pleased with the fire, was seared into his memory. Only one small Torah scroll was salvaged by a congregation member, which Nussbaum brought with him to the United States. After this experience Nussbaum realized that he had to leave Germany, but was unable to secure employment until 1940 with Stephen S. Wise’s assistance.

Many of Nussbaum’s thoughts on Naziism and the war are recorded in his sermons. The remainder of Nussbaum’s sermons deal with Zionism, Israel and the role of America in relation to these two realities.


Box  Folder    Contents


1	1	General correspondence. 1944-1963.
	2	Diary. 1944 or 1945.
	3	Diary. 1948.
	4	Sabbatical material. 1968.
	5	School notebook. 1928.
	6	Wise, Stephen S. 1940-1949
	7	World Jewish Congress. Adolf von Thadden. 1966-1974.	
SERIES B. WRITINGS (1941-1973)
	8	“Auschwitz.”
	9 	Autobiography.
	10	Balfour Declaration. 24th anniversary. 1941.
	11	Central Conference of American Rabbis. Symposium. “Chosen or Choosing People.”
	12	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Correspondence. 1973.
	13	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Correspondence. 1956.
	14	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Drafts. Hebrew.
	15	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Correspondence and drafts. 1956, 1959.
	16	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Drafts.
	17	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Drafts.
	18	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Drafts.
	19	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Pamphlet.

2	1	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Bound volume. German.
	2	“Christian Forerunners of Zionism - Lovers of a Dream.” Bound volume. German.
	3	Inter-faith forum. 1945, 1948.
	4	 “The Jews in Greater Germany.”
	5	“Kantianismus und Marxismus in der Sozialphilsophie Max Adler.” Dissertation. University of Wurzburg. 1934.
	6	Lag B’Omer.
	7	Nazi Germany. Speeches. 1940-1941.
	8	Outline of Philosphy. State University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.	

SERIES C. SERMONS (1932-1974)

3	1	1932. German.
	2	1936. German.
	3	1937. German.
	4 	1938. German.
	5	1939. German.
	6	1940. German.
	7	1941.
	8	1942.
	9	1943.
4	1	1944-1946.
	2	1947.
	3	1948.
	4	1949.
	5	1950.
	6	1951.
	7	1952.

5	1	1953.
	2	1954-1955.
	3	1956.
	4	1957.
	5	1958.
	6	1959.

6	1	1960.
	2	1961.
	3	1962.
	4	1963.
	5	1964.

7	1	1965.
	2	1966.
	3	1967.
	4	1968.
	5	1969.

8	1	1970.
	2	1971.
	3	1972.
	3	1973.
	4	1974.
	5	A-F.
	6	G-L.
9	1	M-R.
	2	S-Z.
	3	Bible class.
	4	“Eretz Israel, Galut and Chutz La’aretz in their Historic Settings.”
	5	Goldwyn, Samuel. Memorial service. 1974.
	6	Israel. Notes.
	7	Robinson, Edward G. Eulogy. 1973.
	8	Temple Israel sermons. 1950-1951.

10	1	Sermon notes. n.d.
	2	Sermon notes. n.d.
	3	Sermon notes. Untitled. n.d.
	4	Sermon notes. Untitled. n.d.

X-468	1	Scrapbook. 1944.
        2	Scrapbook. 1958.

X-469   1	Scrapbook. 1960.
    	2	Scrapbook. 1961.
        3	Scrapbook. 1962.

X-470	1	Scrapbook. 1962.
        2	Scrapbook. 1963.

X-471	1	Scrapbook. 1965.
     	2	Scrapbook. 1967.
    	3	Scrapbook. 1968.
        4	Scrapbook. 1970.

X-472	1	United Jewish Appeal. Trip to Europe and Palestine. February 1948.
        2	United Jewish Appeal. Trip to France, Berlin and Israel. March 1953.
        3	World Jewish Congress scrapbook. 1956.

Copyright © 2004 The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives