Bohnen, Eli Aaron

views updated


BOHNEN, ELI AARON (1909–1992), U.S. Conservative rabbi. Bohnen was born in Toronto, Canada, and immigrated to the United States following his graduation from the University of Toronto in 1931. He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1935 and earned a Doctor of Hebrew Letters there in 1953. Bohnen served congregations as rabbi in Philadelphia (1935–39) and Buffalo, New York (1939–48) but left his pulpit to serve as a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War ii. He was with the 42nd (Rainbow) Infantry Division during the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945, an experience that moved him to work as an advisor to the U.S. military regarding *displaced persons. He also wrote the Rainbow Haggadah for soldiers celebrating Passover on the battlefield. Returning to the United States, Bohnen moved to Providence to become rabbi of Temple Emanu-El (1948) and eventually president of the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis. As a member of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Bohnen wrote responsa for the Conservative movement reflecting his view that for some Jews halakhah had become an idol to be worshipped and that contemporary values should be considered in interpreting Jewish law. He served as president of the *Rabbinical Assembly (1966–68) during the tumultuous times of the Vietnam War and urban race riots. He decried tensions within the American Jewish community and called for greater interdenominational cooperation, insisting that the breach with Orthodoxy was "of their making, not ours." Upon his retirement in 1973, Bohnen served as rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El.


P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]