Treasure Trove: David Matlow recalls the famous German rabbi, Leo Baeck, on his 150th birthday

Rabbi Leo Baeck, from the collection of David Matlow

Leo Baeck (1873-1956) was a Reform rabbi who was the spiritual leader of German Jewry during the Nazi period. In his book This People Israel: The Meaning of Jewish Existence he expanded on his idea that ethics is the core of Judaism, and that man-made ritual law creates a framework for the realization of the ethical. This book was written in part while Baeck was in a concentration camp, and includes lectures and sermons he gave in Theresienstadt where he served as rabbi. 

After the Second World War, Baeck moved to London. He taught at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and served as the president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He believed that “the way to our humanity does not lead away from our Judaism, it leads through our Judaism.”  

This Leo Baeck trading card appeared in the series of Jewish Symbols and Ceremonies released by the West London Synagogue in 1961. He has also been honoured by dozens of organizations and institutions around the world, including the Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. In 1991, the asteroid 100047 Leobaeck was named in his honour.

The 150th anniversary of Leo Baeck’s birth is May 23, 2023.