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Jacob, Walter


JACOB, WALTER (1930– ), U.S. Reform rabbi and university administrator. Jacob was born in Augsburg, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1940. He received his B.A. from Drury College (Springfield, Mo., 1950) and ordination and an M.H.L. from Hebrew Union College in 1955. He earned his D.H.L. in 1961 from huc-jir, which granted him an honorary D.D. in 1980. Immediately following ordination, Jacob was named assistant rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, Penn., under Rabbi Solomon *Freehof, serving as well as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force during the years 1955–57. In 1966, Jacob succeeded Freehof as senior rabbi, becoming emeritus in 1997. He was also adjunct professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (1968–74).

Jacob took an active role in helping to re-establish Reform Judaism in Germany, where he served as president of the Abraham Geiger College, the first rabbinic seminary in Central Europe since the Holocaust. Splitting his time between Berlin and Pittsburgh, he also served as president of the Solomon B. Freehof Institute for Progressive Halakhah, an international forum for Jewish law, and of the Associated American Jewish Museums, which organizes free art exhibits for synagogues and Jewish centers. Previously, Jacob served the Reform movement in the United States in several high-profile roles, including president of the *Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccar) (1991–93). His interest and expertise in Jewish law led him to serve as chairman of the Responsa Committee of the ccar and chairman of the International Responsa Committee of the *World Union for Progressive Judaism (wupj). As president of the Religious Education Association of the United States, he wrote on interfaith issues. Jacob was also an overseer of huc-jir, a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the wupj and chairman of the Publications Committee of Hebrew Union College Press. As ccar president, Jacob sought to integrate a broader reinterpretation of halakah, in accordance with Reform theology, into the deliberations and decisions of the Reform movement.

He was made a Knight Commander of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1999 and received the Commander of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great from Pope John Paul ii in 2004.

In addition to compiling several volumes of responsa on a wide variety of issues, Jacob edited, wrote, or co-authored a number of books, including Christianity Through Jewish Eyes, (1974); The Healing Past: Pharmaceuticals in the Biblical World (with Irene Jacob), (1993); and Not By Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism (1997).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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