HELLER , U.S. Reform rabbinical family. maximilian heller (1860–1929) was born in Prague and lived in the heart of the ghetto. He came to the United States in 1879, two years after his parents. Heller was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1884, the second class of ordainees. After two years in Chicago, where he was assistant to Rabbi Bernhard *Felsenthal, and then Houston, Texas, for a year, he was named to the pulpit of Temple Sinai, New Orleans, and remained there for the rest of his life. Firmly grounded in Jewish scholarship, Heller was an able preacher and a felicitous writer. Though identified with the Reform movement, he took a position independent of the majority of his contemporaries, and in particular was an early adherent of Zionism. Out of respect for Rabbi Isaac Mayer *Wise, who was a mentor, Heller did not declare his Zionism until after Wise's death in 1900. Heller was active in furthering social causes in Louisiana and was a prolific writer for the Jewish press. During 1909–11 he was president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a position that was almost denied him because of his Zionism. He sought to reconcile Reform Judaism and Zionism at a time when most Reform rabbis were strongly anti-Zionist. He stressed that Zionism was the fulfillment of the prophetic vision and that the people and Zionism were "one and inseparable." His position, widely unpopular at the time, gained adherents over time. In 1912 he became professor of Hebrew at Tulane University.
His son, james gutheim heller (1892–1971), was born in New Orleans, receiving his B.A. from Tulane and his M.A. from the University of Cincinnati (1914); he was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1916. His first position, interrupted by war service as an army chaplain, was as assistant rabbi at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia. In 1919 he went to Little Rock, Arkansas, and in 1920 to the Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, where he remained until his career in the pulpit came to an end in 1952. Like his father he was a devoted disciple and later a biographer of Wise, but also like his father his adherence to Zionism was strong. Heller was active in the Central Conference of American Rabbis, serving as president during 1941–43. At the 1942 convention he helped secure the adoption of a resolution favoring the creation of a Jewish division to fight in World War ii, which brought about a crystallization of the anti-Zionist element that established the American Council for Judaism. A graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Heller was a keen musician and his compositions include several pieces for the synagogue. He received a prize from the Society for the Publication of America Music for a string quartet that he composed. Upon retirement he became president of the Labor Zionist Organization of America, and then joined the Israel Bonds organization as executive director. In 1965 he published Isaac Mayer Wise, His Life, Work and Thought.
J.G. Heller, As If It Were Yesterday: A History of Isaac M. Wise Temple K.K. B'nai Yeshurun 1842–1942 (1942); idem, Isaac M. Wise: His Life, Work and Thought (1965).
[Sefton D. Temkin /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]