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Aaronsohn, Michael

AARONSOHN, MICHAEL

AARONSOHN, MICHAEL (1896–1976), U.S. rabbi. Born in Baltimore, Aaronsohn attended the University of Cincinnati (B.A., 1923) and was ordained the same year at Hebrew Union College. When the U.S. entered World War i in April 1917, Aaronsohn, who was entitled to a clerical exemption from military service, enlisted the following month. When his parent expressed anxiety over his decision he wrote them that "as good Jews, you should [trust] in God implicitly … without a word of doubt or discouragement." Antisemitism in the U.S. was on the rise during the war and one of the most common accusations was that Jews shirked military service. Aaronsohn, who rose to the rank of battalion sergeant-major (he served with the 147th Infantry Regiment, 39th Division of the aef), expressed disgust at Jewish draftees who claimed that they were ineligible for overseas duty because they were foreign born, telling his parents that "while I am a Jew and love everything that Judaism stands for, nevertheless I cannot stand for a hypocrite or a low down coward."

While attempting to pull a wounded comrade to safety during the Meuse-Argonne offensive (September 29, 1918), Aaronsohn was blinded by an artillery shell. After eight months at the Red Cross school for the blind he returned to Hebrew Union College and was able to complete his studies when the college hired his sister Dora to be his note taker. During his rabbinic career Aaronsohn promoted a number of causes associated with the mental and physically disabled, for example serving a term as president of the Hamilton County (Ohio) Council for Retarded Children. He was instrumental in founding the Jewish Braille Institute in 1931, which made Jewish texts such as the Bible and Talmud more widely accessible through a free monthly magazine called the Jewish Braille Review.

Aaronsohn also served as a chaplain to several organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. An active member of the Republican Party, he gave the invocation at the Republican National Convention in 1940 and unsuccessfully ran for Cincinnati City Council in 1949, where he campaigned for "a scientific system of taxation." Aaronsohn was the author of numerous articles and three books, including Broken Lights (1946), an autobiographical novel.

[Frederic Krome (2nd ed.)]

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