Rodef Shalom Congregation is the oldest Jewish congregation in Western Pennsylvania and the first Reform congregation established in the region. It approved its constitution and bylaws on Nov. 9, 1856 and received its charter in 1859,Rodef Scholem Society charter, 1859, Allegheny County Charter Book, Vol. 1, Pages 162-165 (online). but it traces its origins to emerging Jewish communal activities underway over the previous decade. The founders of Rodef Shalom were also among the founders of the Bes Almon Society in 1847 and Shaare Shemayim Congregation in 1848. Rodef Shalom emerged around 1855, following a series of splits and mergers between the German contingent of Shaare Shemayim and the Posner contingent of a breakaway congregation called Beth Israel. The groups reunited in 1860, using the name Rodef Shalom.
Following a visit from Rabbi Isaac M. Wise in 1863, Rodef Shalom made the first step in its liberalization. It voted to join the Reform movement and to adopt the new Minhag America prayer book. The following year, a coalition of Posner, Dutch and traditional German members broke away from Rodef Shalom to form Tree of Life congregation. A second shorter-lived split occurred in 1874, when a small group of Rodef Shalom members formed Congregation Emanuel, which held services in English rather than German.
Rodef Shalom initially rented space on St. Clair Street in Allegheny City (now the North Side of Pittsburgh). On March 20, 1862, it dedicated a synagogue (Charles Bartberger, architect) on Hancock Street (Eighth Street) in downtown Pittsburgh. It dedicated a second, larger synagogue (Charles Bickel, architect) at the same location in early Sept. 1901 and expanded the building with a school annex in 1904. As its membership migrated from the North Side to the East End in the first decade of the 20th century, Rodef Shalom dedicated a new synagogue (Henry Hornbostel, architect) on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside in 1907. The building has since been expanded numerous times. A 1912 addition added the Fanny Edel Falk Memorial recreational complex behind the synagogue. The complex was demolished in the 1930s.Berg, Martha. “Rodef Shalom and the Falk Family,” October 2021 (online—YouTube). A 1938 addition (Ingham & Boyd, architects) added a religious school wing, the Levy Hall auditorium, and the Cohen Chapel. A 1956 addition (Alexander Sharove, architect) included Freehof Hall. To better connect the modern design of the new social hall with the older Beaux Arts sanctuary, the congregation in 1965 commissioned “Relief,” a technically innovative work of abstract ornamentation by architect professor and sculptor Kent C. Bloomer. The Biblical Botanical Gardens were added to the grounds in 1986. The historic main sanctuary was restored in 1989 and 1990. A 2000-2003 addition (The Design Alliance, architects) included a porte-cochere entrance, accessibility improvements, meeting spaces, and classrooms.
The Rodef Shalom Sisterhood (now Women of Rodef Shalom) was established in 1905 and has been responsible for many beloved attractions and traditions within the congregation, including the Templayers theater troupe, the Freehof Book Review series, the Rodef Shalom gift shop, the Rodef Shalom docent program, the floral arrangements for holidays, among others.“Congregational Notes: Rodeph Shalom,” Jewish Criterion, April 14, 1905, p. 6.
Rodef Shalom Congregation actively promoted the advancement of Reform Judaism throughout Western Pennsylvania. It developed congregations, community organizations, and religious schools in smaller communities throughout the city of Pittsburgh and in several surrounding small towns. It encouraged the creation of Temple Sinai in 1946 and assisted with the development of Temple Emanuel of the South Hills in 1951, Temple David in Monroeville in 1957, and Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills in 1968.
Spiritual leaders include Rev. Louis Naumburg (1865-1870), Rabbi Lippman Mayer (1870-1901), Dr. J. Leonard Levy (1901-1917), Dr. Samuel H. Goldenson (1918-1934), Dr. Solomon B. Freehof (head rabbi 1934-1966, emeritus to 1990), Rabbi Walter Jacob (assistant rabbi 1955-1966, head rabbi, 1966-1996, emeritus 1996-present), Dr. Mark Staitman (associate rabbi 1975-1997, head rabbi 1997-2003) and Rabbi Aaron Bisno (2003-present).
Presidents include Max Arnold (1856-1857), Joseph Myers (1858-1859), Henry Rosenbach (1860), William Frank (1861-1862), Joseph Morganstern (1863-1865), Louis Morganstern (1866-?), Nathan Gallinger (?-1870), Emanuel Wertheimer (1871-1886), Simon Kaufman (1886-1889), Abraham Lippman (1889-1910), Josiah Cohen (1910-1930), Marcus Aaron (1930-1941), Eugene B. Strassburger (1941-1949), S. Leo Ruslander (1949-1953), M. L. Aaron (1953-1972), Irving M. J. Kaplan (1972-1976), Allen H. Berkman (1976-1982), Albert I. Raizman (1982-1986), Sidney N. Busis (1986-1990), Marvin M. Josephs (1990-1992), Charles L. Deaktor (1992-1995), Barton Z. Cowan (1995-2000), Eileen Lane (2000-2002), Alan M. Lesgold (2002-2004), Susan Friedberg Kalson (2004-2006), Anne M. Molloy (2006-2008), Alan M. Lesgold (2008-2010), Donald L. Simon (2010-2012), Ann Roth (2012-2014), Eric A. Schaffer (2014-2016), Harlan Stone (2016-2018), Karen Brean (2018-2020), and Matthew Falcone (2020-present).“Rodef Shalom Congregation: 150 Years of Living by Jewish Values,” Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation, 2005 (catalog record). Berg, Martha. “Our Story,” Rodef Shalom Congregation website (online—Rodef Shalom Congregation website).
Executive directors include Bernard Callomon, Vigdor Kavalier, and Jeff Herzog.
|↑1||Rodef Scholem Society charter, 1859, Allegheny County Charter Book, Vol. 1, Pages 162-165 (online).|
|↑2||Berg, Martha. “Rodef Shalom and the Falk Family,” October 2021 (online—YouTube).|
|↑3||“Congregational Notes: Rodeph Shalom,” Jewish Criterion, April 14, 1905, p. 6.|
|↑4||“Rodef Shalom Congregation: 150 Years of Living by Jewish Values,” Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation, 2005 (catalog record).|
|↑5||Berg, Martha. “Our Story,” Rodef Shalom Congregation website (online—Rodef Shalom Congregation website).|