Coffee, Rudolph Isaac

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COFFEE, RUDOLPH ISAAC (1878–1955), U.S. rabbi and chaplain. Coffee was born in Oakland, California, and received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1900 and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1908. He was ordained at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in 1904, but later affiliated with the Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis (c. 1910). He spent one year as superintendent of New York's Hebrew Orphan Asylum and then became rabbi of Tree of Life Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh (1906–15). In 1915, he was appointed director of the Social Service Department of B'nai B'rith in Washington, d.c. After serving as rabbi of Temple Judea in Chicago (1917–20) and the Collingwood Avenue Temple in Toledo, Ohio (1920–21), he returned to his native Oakland to become rabbi of Temple Sinai (1921–34). Upon retiring from his career as a pulpit rabbi, he served as secretary of the San Francisco Conference of Christians and Jews (1934–39), president of the Temple of Religion at the Golden Gate International Exhibition (1939–40), and vice president of the Interfaith Committee for Aid to the Democracies (1941–42). He was a member of the editorial staff of The Sentinel in Chicago (1918–23) and the editor of The Jewish Times in San Francisco (1922–24).

It was as a chaplain that Coffee made his pioneering contributions to Jewish communal life. Beginning in 1921, he began visiting the San Quentin and Folsom State Prisons on a monthly basis, at his own expense. In 1925, he was appointed chaplain of the California Assembly, becoming the first Jew to be chaplain of any American legislative body. Subsequently, he became the first rabbi elected president of the National Chaplains Association (later, the American Correctional Chaplains Association). He also served as president (1923–42) and then honorary president of the Jewish Committee for Personal Service in State Institutions (1942 until his death). Concurrently, he was a member of the State Board of Charities and Corrections (1924–31). In 1934, in his capacity as president of the jcps, Coffee was tapped to be the first Jewish chaplain of the new federal penitentiary established on Alcatraz Island. In 1942, he was finally officially appointed chaplain at San Quentin and Folsom; he served the Jewish inmates of all three penal institutions until his death. In 1946, he was named Jewish chaplain of the San Francisco Fire Department. Coffee's writings include Hebrew Cosmology (1908) and Israel's Contributions to America (1910).


L.I. Newman, Central Conference of American Rabbis Yearbook (1955).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]