Ettelson, Harry William

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ETTELSON, HARRY WILLIAM (1883–1975), U.S. Reform rabbi. Ettelson was born in Mobile, Alabama, and received his B.A. with Phi Beta Kappa honors from the University of Cincinnati in 1900, at the age of 17. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College, where he was valedictorian of his class, in 1904. Ettelson earned his M.A. from the University of Chicago while serving as rabbi of Temple Achduth Vesholom in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1904–10), and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1916 while serving as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Hartford, Connecticut (1911–19). He served as a Navy chaplain at Pelham Bay Training Station during World War i, then became rabbi of Temple Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia (1919–24), where he also served as president of the Philadelphia Board of Jewish Ministers, vice chancellor of the Jewish Chautauqua Society, and a member of the editorial board of the Jewish Publication Society.

In 1925, he moved to Memphis to assume the pulpit of Congregation Children of Israel (later, Temple Israel), where he remained until his death, serving his final 21 years as rabbi emeritus. He was both a religious and civic leader in Memphis, where he was founder and first president of the Cross-Cut Club, an organization of Memphis clergymen of all faiths that formed the nucleus of that city's chapter of the *National Conference of Christians and Jews (nccj). He also instituted several citywide interfaith initiatives, including Peace Heroes Day; Good Will and Brotherhood Day (later expanded by the nccj to Brotherhood Week); and non-sectarian Union Civic Thanksgiving Day services.

Ettelson's reputation as both a scholar and an orator reached its zenith in 1932, when he engaged in a public debate on religion with Clarence Darrow, the noted attorney of Scopes trial fame, who traveled around the country debating clergymen. Although there was no official decision as to a winner, according to the Memphis Press-Scimitar, "by and large, the majority sided with Dr. Ettelson's masterly approach" to the question, "Is Religion Necessary?" That same year, his congregation awarded him the Joseph Newberger Memorial Cup, in recognition of his service to the Memphis Jewish community. In 1940, Southwestern University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

As chairman of the ccar-uahc Joint Commission on Information on Judaism in the 1940s, Ettelson developed the "Popular Studies in Judaism" program. He also served as president of the Hebrew Union College Alumni Association and was a member of the huc Board of Governors as well as of the Executive Board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1912). A frequent contributor to Jewish literary periodicals and a translator of poetry into Hebrew and Yiddish, he also wrote the book, The Integrity of i Maccabees (1925), and published a translation of the epigrams of Shem Tov ben Joseph *Falaquera, a 13th-century Jewish scholar and physician from Spain.


Journal of the 87th Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1976).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]