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Wolpe, David J.


WOLPE, DAVID J. (1958– ), U.S. congregational rabbi, orator, teacher, and writer. Wolpe was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His early education was in Jewish day schools in Harrisburg and later at Akiba Academy in Philadelphia. Wolpe's father, Rabbi Gerald Wolpe, served as the spiritual leader of Philadelphia's Har Zion Congregation, one of the flagship congregations of the Conservative Movement.

Wolpe attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. degree in English literature; he also spent a year studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh. Wolpe enrolled in the University of Judaism's (uj) pre-rabbinical program in 1982 and was immediately identified as one of their most promising students. During his two years at the uj, Wolpe published his first monograph, "Secret Thought and Normal Mysticism." He also served as a rabbinic intern at Congregation Adat Ariel in North Hollywood. After spending a year studying at the Schechter Institute and The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Wolpe continued his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (jts) from which he was ordained in 1987.

Wolpe joined the faculty of the University of Judaism in 1987 and taught there for eight years. He also served as director of the library and as special assistant to uj President Robert Wexler. In 1995 Wolpe took a position at jts as both an instructor in Jewish Thought and as assistant to Chancellor Ismar Schorsch.

A frequent contributor to a variety of Jewish and general periodicals, Wolpe's first book, The Healer of Shattered Hearts, appeared in 1990. This was followed by In Speech and In Silence (1992), Teaching Your Children about God (1993), Why be Jewish? (1995), Making Loss Matter (1999), and Floating Takes Faith (2004).

Wolpe was persuaded to return to Los Angeles to accept the position of senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in 1997. Since his arrival, the congregation has increased from 1,150 member families to over 1,800. He inaugurated Friday Night Live, an innovative Shabbat evening program that draws over 1,700 single Jewish adults each month. In general, Wolpe attracts in excess of 1,000 attendees for each Shabbat morning service.

After returning to Los Angeles, Wolpe undertook a part-time lecturer position at the University of Judaism, where he teaches homiletics. He also serves as a lecturer in modern Jewish thought at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In 2002, Wolpe generated considerable controversy when, during a Passover sermon, he opined that the Exodus story was most likely not the record of an actual event, citing a lack of archeological evidence. He was, however, insistent that the mythic narrative remains important for the Jewish people.

With the retirement of Ismar Schorsch from the position of chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2005, Wolpe was heralded as a likely candidate to succeed him. Nevertheless, Wolpe elected to remain at Sinai Temple. In an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal in December 2005, he urged that Conservative Judaism be reconceived in terms of the covenantal relationships that Jews have forged with God, one another, and with the rest of the world. He advocated that the name of Conservative Judaism be officially changed to Covenantal Judaism.

[Robert Wexler (2nd ed.)]

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