Gruenewald, Max

views updated


GRUENEWALD, MAX (1899–1992), German rabbi and professor. Born in Koenigshuette, Upper Silesia, Germany, his father was a Jewish educator in the region. After service in World War i, he was ordained at the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary and received his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Breslau.

By 1938, Gruenewald served at the "Haupt" or "main" synagogue in Manheim for 12 years and had been elected president of the Jewish community (1933), the only rabbi to hold both offices in Germany. Owing to the rising tide of antisemitic legislation, he resigned these posts to accept a position in Berlin to work as a member of the inner council of all German Jewry. After several detentions and interrogations by the Gestapo, in discussion with Dr. Leo Baeck, he left for Palestine in late 1938 because "he saw and felt that no essential change could be effected in the fate of German Jews."

In 1939 Gruenewald accepted an invitation to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The beginning of World War ii left him stranded in New York and he accepted a weekend pulpit at Congregation Bnai Israel in Millburn, n.j. On May 13, 1945, Gruenewald left for Palestine to rejoin family, returning that December to accept what became a full time position in Millburn. Although offered other posts, both academic and congregational, his decision to stay in Millburn was in part prompted by his wish to build a new community fashioned with the values of his rabbinate in Manheim, rather than enter a more established congregation.

With the growth of the Millburn congregation, Gruenewald commissioned Percival Goodman to create a new form of synagogue architecture, highlighted by works of art from three "advance-guard U.S. abstractionists," according to Time magazine. Herbert Ferber designed an external burning bush sculpture, Robert Motherwell designed the lobby painting, and Adolph Gottlieb created the ark curtain, the original of which hangs at the Jewish Museum. Throughout his life Gruenewald dedicated himself to the preservation of the German Jewish cultural heritage. He died in Millburn.


Newark Sunday News (July 23, 1950); Archives and letters of Rabbi Max Gruenewald; cbi, ajr information: December 1969; Time (November 19, 1951).

[Steve Bayar (2nd ed.)]