Rabbi Elkan Cohn: Eminent & Accomplished Pioneer Rabbi of San Francisco for 29 Years – 1860-1889

Rabbi Elkan Cohn

Values Codes I – H – E – L – P


Elkan Cohn was born in Kostin, a province of Posen, Poland, then controlled by Prussia.

Rabbi Elkan CohnWS-8-1111

Rabbi Elkan Cohn, #WS8/1111

He  arrived in Albany, New York, in 1854 to serve as a rabbi.

In 1855, he took part in a convention in Cleveland to establish Reform Judaism in America. He was chosen vice-president of the assembly.


San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco elected Cohn as their rabbi in 1860.

With the assistance of the lay committee, Rabbi Cohn led the membership in the direction of Reform.

Not all agreed, and Orthodox-leaning members broke away in 1863 to form Congregation Ohabai Shalome.

Rabbi Cohn was an excellent preacher.

He delivered sermons in English, German, and French.

He served Congregation Emanau-El for 29 years.

His level of scholarship was such that Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, leader of the Reform Movement, referred to Cohn as “eminent and accomplished.”

Rabbi Elkan Cohn passed away in 1889, while still serving as rabbi.


  • Norton B. Stern, “Rabbi Elkan Cohn,” Western States Jewish History 41/1.