Bettan, Israel

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BETTAN, ISRAEL (1889–1957), U.S. rabbi. Born in Kovno and educated in yeshivot in Lithuania, Bettan came to the United States at the age of 18 where he enrolled at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Rabbinical Seminary, but soon transferred to Hebrew Union College. He received his B.A. from the University of Cincinatti (1910), his ordination from huc in 1912, and his D.D. three years later writing on early Reform in rabbinic responsa.

He then went to a Congregation B'nai Israel in Charleston, West Virginia, where he established his reputation as an excellent preacher and congregational leader. He served with the American Forces in France in World War i, having taken leave of his congregation, and then returned to Charleston, where he was rabbi until 1922, when he was named chairman of the Department of Homiletics of huc. He taught at huc for 35 years, including midrash. As a professor of homiletics it was his task to prepare future rabbis for the life cycle and communal events that they were to lead, from weddings to funeral, bar mitzvah to invocations and benedictions. He believed in the power of the pulpit and taught his students how to use that power to motivate their congregations. His unique style of teaching made him very popular among students who valued the practical experience as well as the intellectual guidance he offered.

Active in the Reform movement, he was twice named a member of the committee that revised the Union Prayer Book. He also served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1956 and retired from teaching the next year to continue his presidency.

Among his writings was The Five Scrolls: A Commentary (1950) and Studies in Jewish Preaching and Opposition of Orthodoxy to Early Reform (1914).


M. Meyer, Response to Modernity (1988); S. Karff, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at One Hundred Years (1976); K. Olitzky, L. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]