Tribute to the late Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

By Rabbi David Ellenson, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, USA
I t is with profound sadness that I inform you of the death of our esteemed alumnus, Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, z”l.
Rabbi Plaut was an unparalleled scholar, leader, and rabbi of our Reform Movement and our People. HUC-JIR will be forever blessed that it had the zechut to bring him from Germany to our Cincinnati campus during the 1930s and save him from destruction during the Shoah.
Born in Germany, he studied at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, and received the LLB (1933) Doctor of Laws (1934) from the University of Berlin. He fled from Hitler in 1935 for the United States, and found a safe haven at our Cincinnati campus, where he was ordained in 1939. He served as a chaplain with the Infantry during World War II, was present at the capture of the first concentration camp in Germany, and was decorated with the Bronze Star.
Rabbi Plaut served as a rabbi in Chicago, St. Paul, and, from 1961 on, at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He retired from his post as Senior Rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in 1978 and was appointed its Senior Scholar.
He published over two dozen books on theology, philosophy, and history, as well as works of fiction. His best known work is The Torah — A Modern Commentary, of which he was editor and chief author.
Known as an uncompromising enemy of all manifestations of racism, he was the founder of Toronto’s Urban Alliance on Race Relations; a founding member of the North York (Toronto) Committee on Community, Race and Ethnic Relations, and he served as a one-person federal commission to redraft Canada’s refugee legislation (1984-85). From 1978 to 1985, he served as Vice-Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and upon leaving the Commission served for a number of years as a Board of Inquiry (Adjudicator). All of his decisions have been published.
A leader in the Jewish and larger community, he served as the President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Chairman of the Toronto Jewish Appeal.
Rabbi Plaut served on the HUC-JIR Board of Governors and was honored by HUC-JIR with the Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, in 1964, and the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in 2003.
He also received honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, York University (Canada), and McMaster University. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada and received the Order of Canada Award, the highest award given by the Canadian government.
In his scholarship, congregational calling, and his life, we will not see his like again.

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