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Fink, Joseph Lionel


FINK, JOSEPH LIONEL (1895–1964), U.S. Reform rabbi. Fink was born in Springfield, Ohio, and ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1919, which also awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1949. He earned his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1915, his M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1918, and his Ph.D. from Niagara University in 1919. He served first as rabbi of United Hebrew Congregation in Terre Haute, Indiana (1919–24), where as a civic leader, he incurred the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan, which at one point abducted him; he made such an impression on his captors, however, that after they released him and donated $1,800 to the local Community Chest, of which Fink was chairman.

In 1924, Fink was en route to Germany to pursue graduate studies when he stopped over in Buffalo, n.y., and was instead persuaded to remain as rabbi of Temple Beth Zion. Over the course of the subsequent 40 years (34 as rabbi and six as rabbi emeritus, until his death), Fink was to become known as the leading spokesman for that city's Jewish community, as well as a radio personality and community affairs activist. His weekly broadcast, "The Humanitarian Hour," was a popular show for more than a generation of listeners (1930–56). He initiated interfaith dialogue with Catholic and Protestant clergy, served as chaplain of the Buffalo police force and fire department, and was called in as a mediator of civil disputes. Fink founded the local Board of Jewish Education, was president of the Buffalo B'nai B'rith Lodge, and a board member of many civic bodies, including the Community Chest, the Board of Community Relations, and the University of Buffalo. He was appointed to state commissions by the governor of New York, and engaged in public debates with Eugene V. Debs and Clarence Darrow.

A strong proponent of the separation of church and state, Fink for many years chaired the ccar's Committee on Church and State and wrote position papers on religion and state for the rabbinic organization. He served on no fewer than 12 ccar committees, chairing four of them. After having served as corresponding secretary (1928), member of the Executive Board (1948–50), member of the Liberal Judaism Education Board (1950), and vice president (1950–52), Fink was elected president of the *Central Conference of American Rabbis (1952–54). During his tenure as president, he initiated the publication of the ccar Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, and strengthened the ties between the recently merged *Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Immediately after his term of office, he was elected president of the *World Union for Progressive Judaism (1952). He identified as a Zionist and encouraged Arab-Jewish dialogue early on in the history of the State of Israel.


K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Source-book (1993).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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