Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman, The First Rabbi of Los Angeles

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Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman

Rabbi Abraham Wolfe Edelman, First Rabbi of Cong. B’nai B’rith

Values Code: I-H-E-L-P

Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman, the man who prepared the solid foundation upon which Los Angeles Jewry is built, came to a kind of wild west frontier town.

He served from 1862 – 1885 as Spiritual Leader of Congregation B’nai B’rith of Los Angeles.

History records a myth as if the myth were history, that Rabbi Edelman was a “traditional” Orthodox Rabbi.

 

The pioneer Rabbi of Los Angeles was born in Poland in 1832. Abraham Edelman came to the United States with his wife, Hannah Pessah Cohn, in 1851, and eight years later they moved to San Francisco where he seems to have spent his time continuing his own Hebraic studies, teaching Hebrew, and for a time acting as a drygoods salesman.

It was Joseph Newmark, Los Angeles’ great organizer and him­self the lay-Rabbi and Judaic scholar of the community, who per­suaded Rabbi Edelman to come to Los Angeles as its first full-time Jewish spiritual leader and community servant.

There were two good reasons for Rabbi Edelman to be called: the small community had a number of children who needed a synagogue and a teacher was needed to maintain their ethnic identity and spiritual heritage.

The adult Jews wanted a spokesman and an ambassador to help them in their religious and ethnic needs.

Rabbi Edelman spoke Spanish and soon was dubbed the padre by the Span­ish-speaking residents of this Pueblo.

Edelman joined many civic organizations, including the Masonic Lodge #42, and he served as the founding Master of a lodge at Wilmington.

He donated to many charitable causes and did everything he could for the Jewish community, which numbered about 200 at his arrival, as well as the over-all community.

Congregation B’nai B’rith, The First Synagogue Building in Los Angeles

Fraternal affiliation by Los Angeles Jewry, as with others, was part of the Americanization process.

Rabbi Edelman fulfilled with dignity his role as spokesman and ambassador.

He combined the offices of Rabbi and Cantor; he never claimed ordination. Before coming to Los Angeles he had never held a pulpit.

In those days a Cantor did not need an operatic voice, but he had to be skilled in liturgy, and Edelman was.

The Myth

Rabbi Edelman was retired from his position in 1886, the victim of his own success and the growth of the Los Angeles community.

He was eased out under cover of a myth, calculated to protect the congregation and spare the Rabbi’s feelings.

Harris Newmark, President of B’nai B’rith Congregation from 1881 to 1887, started the myth by stating that in 1886, when local Jewry instituted a much more liberal ritual, Rabbi Edelman’s con­victions induced him to resign.

The evidence indicates that Rabbi Edelman was never part of a truly Orthodox establishment.

Reform Judaism came to the West Coast as the slow reforming of Or­thodoxy, the adaptive process of a living faith accommodating to the new life of the West.

Rabbi Edelman, during his long career, gave innumerable evidences of his nonOrthodox inclination – mixed seating, a mixed choir, Conformation, English prayers and English sermons.

Congregation B’nia B’rith was a “reforming” congregation with a “reforming Rabbi.” They developed a Reform Judaism rounded in tradition and committed to contemporary relevance.

Rabbi Edelman, who had set it on the road to greatness, was still the frontier clergyman. He lacked glamour for the, new era. He was too earthy. Perhaps he was a bit tired. He had lost his image.

Los Angeles still loved “old Edelman,” but they decided to shelve him. The myth was devised to salve the conscience of the community and the feelings of the Rabbi.

 

In 1929, when Congregation B’nai B’rith became known as Wilshire Boulevard Temple, its president was Dr. David W. Edelman, son of its founding Rabbi.

Dr. David W. Edelman 1869-1933, #WS0089.

 

Real Estate

Rabbi Edleman purchased property at the corner of 6th and Main Streets and erected a multi-story building. This building supplied him with rents to suppliment his salery and retirement.

After his death his estate, made mostly of the building’s value, totaled $200,000, much of which he disgnated for charity.

Rabbi Abraham Edelman was the first of a line of Los Angeles Rabbis that had real estate holding – making pressures from their Boards easier to handle.

 

Family Life

Mrs. Abraham W. Edelman, #WS0090

Abraham Edelman married Hannah Pessah Cohn in Warsaw in 1851.

Together they had 6 children, two girls and four boys.

The girls were named Rachel and Matilda. The boys were named, Benjamin, Abraham M., Henry W. and David W.

 

More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham Wolf; Jewish Padre to the Pueblo; Pioneer Los Angeles Rabbi, Abraham Wolf Edelman; Los Angeles; Stern, Norton B. & Kramer, William M.; 38/3&4
  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1
  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham; Interview with His Descendents Mrs. Aaron Dechter and Mr. Arther W. Silver; LA; 1968; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham; They Called the Rabbi Padre; Rabbi William M. Kramer; 42/2-3
  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham; Historic Letter from the Bishop; 1880; Rabbi William M. Kramer; 42/2-3
  • Edelman, Rabbi Abraham; Why Did the Rabbi Go East?; 1890; Rabbi William M. Kramer; 42/2-3

 

More Early Los Angeles Jewish Pioneers

For more Early Los Angeles Jewish Pioneers click here for the Table of Contents.

Some, but not all of the Los Angeles Pioneers, can be reached by clicking on their name on the list near the upper right of this page.

 

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