Deutsch, Gotthard, 1859-1921

Alternative names
Birth 1859-01-31
Death 1921-10-14

Biographical notes:

Rabbi and professor of history at Hebrew Union College; b. in the village of Dolne Kounice (Kaintz), Moravia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

From the description of Papers, 1859-1921 (bulk 1900-1920). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70922436

Gotthard Deutsch was born on January 31, 1859 in the village of Dolne Kounice (Kaintz), Moravia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Descended from a line of scholars and teachers, Deutsch received his early education in Dolne Kounice and Nikolsburg. In 1876, Deutsch entered the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary and the University of Breslau. While there, he came under the influence of the historian Heinrich Graetz. Upon completing his studies at Breslau, Deutsch entered the University of Vienna in 1879. He was awarded a Ph.D. in history from the University in 1881.

After receiving his Ph.D. Deutsch obtained the position of religious school instructor in the city of Bruenn, Austria, serving there from 1881 until 1887. Shortly after being elected a permanent teacher at Bruenn, he decided to enter the rabbinate. He was ordained by Isaac Hirsch Weiss, under whom he had studied in Vienna. His sole post was in the city of Most (Bruex), in Bohemia, where he was rabbi during the years 1887 through 1891. It was while there that he married Hermine Bacher on May 10, 1888.

After responding to an advertisement for faculty published by Isaac Mayer Wise, Deutsch was appointed professor of Jewish history and philosophy at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Serving as a professor for thirty years (1891-9121), Deutsch built a reputation among the students and faculty for his teaching and the depth of his knowledge. Deutsch was especially renowned for his index file, which recorded every major event in Jewish history since 1800 together with relevant source material. In addition to his teaching duties, Deutsch was acting president of HUC in 1903.

Deutsch was involved in three major crises during his years at HUC. The first occurred in 1903, just before he became acting president. In that year, he submitted his resignation from the faculty, citing his desire to devote his time fully to his literary labors. In the end, he was persuaded to withdraw his resignation.

The next crisis occurred in 1905. In that year, Deutsch decided that he wanted to make a trip to Russia to gather information about the Jewish communities there. Russian passport law, however, denied visas to Jews unless they were sales representatives and were staying in Russia for a specified length of time. Thus, Deutsch's first request for a visa to enter Russia was denied. After this denial, Deutsch began a campaign in the press, and through the aid of the U.S. State Department and Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth -- a son-in-law of Theodore Roosevelt -- Deutsch was able to force the Russians to grant him a visa.

The major crisis of Deutsch's time at HUC resulted from the anti-German hysteria of World War I. Before America's entrance into the war, Deutsch had been a supporter of Woodrow Wilson's policy of neutrality and a negotiated settlement. In line with these concepts, Deutsch had become a member of the Peoples' Council of America for Democracy and Peace. On October 5, 1917, federal agents raided the Cincinnati offices of the Council. As a result of this raid, the Board of Governors of HUC called upon Deutsch to explain the nature of his relationship with the Council. At a special meeting of the Board, Deutsch apologized for any embarrassment his association with the Council may have caused the school, stating that he had become a member only out of his desire for universal peace. This explanation was accepted and no action was taken by the Board.

Within this atmosphere, Deutsch appeared on November 21, 1917 as a witness at a citizenship hearing for Hyman David Sway, a local printer. During the hearing, Deutsch was asked by Judge Howard C. Hollister which side he wished to see win the war; Germany, or the United States. Angered that his loyalty was being challenged, Deutsch refused to answer the question. Hollister then disqualified Deutsch as a witness for Sway.

As a result of this action, public outcry arose calling for Deutsch's removal from the HUC faculty. Only by mustering the support of the leading Reform rabbis, presenting evidence from students then serving in the armed forceds, and admitting that he had made a mistake in handling the loyalty question, was Deutsch able to avoid being removed from the faculty. Even then, the Board of Governors passed a motion of censure against him.

Besides his teaching skills, Deutsch was well known as a writer. He succeeded Isaac Mayer Wise as editor of the German language publication Die Deborah in 1901. He was a contributor to the American Israelite , the American Hebrew, the Jewish Chronicle of London, and all the other major Jewish periodicals of his time. He was an original member of the board of editors for The Jewish Encyclopedia, being responsible for the articles dealing with modern Jewish history. His major publications were Scrolls (a collection of his periodical writings; 3 volumes, 1917-1920); History of the Jews (1904); and two novels in German: Andere Zeiten (1906) and Unloesbare Fesseln (1903). At the time of his death, there was general regret that Deutsch had not been able to publish a major book on modern Jewish history.

Recognized as a leading Jewish historian of the period, Gotthard Deutsch died in Cincinnati on October 14, 1921. He was survived by his wife Hermine, his three sons, Hermann, Eberhard, and Zola; and two daughters, Edith and Naomi.

From the guide to the Gotthard Deutsch Papers, 1859-1922, 1900-1920, (The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives)


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  • Jewish college teachers--Ohio--Cincinnati
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