Ohio History Journal

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"Bull Moose" Rabbi: Judaism and

Progressivism in the Life of a

Reform Rabbi




"When he spoke," Mrs. R. told me, "it was just like the voice of God."

This is how one of his congregants described Rabbi Isador Philo almost

fifty years after his death. His successor in the pulpit of Reform temple

Rodef Sholom in Youngstown, Ohio, eulogized Philo in 1948 with similar

words: "He was blessed with a rich, resonant voice and a keen analytical

mind...his entire dignified physical appearance and spiritual bearing were

those of one who walks with God." Philo himself would have been most

pleased with another turn of phrase from his successor, who praised the late

rabbi's "prophet-like restlessness as a soldier of the Almighty."l

What was it that made this man so impressive that though he had only a

regional career, he is remembered by many in his local community as such a

source of Jewish pride? Certainly dramatic flair was part of his appeal-and

his slight British accent could not have hurt.2 But when we peel away the

layers surrounding the local myth of Isador Philo, we encounter the fascinat-

ing story of an immigrant boy who literally created his persona out of an am-

bition to become the perfect American Jew. Isador Philo's life and career

provide an excellent case study of the complex interplay of personality, op-

portunity, social mores, and Jewish values which comprise the process of

"Americanization." Especially compelling is the fact that Philo, adapting

himself in a way specific to his era and its values, shaped for himself an intel-

lectual synthesis which illumines a critical aspect of the intersection of

Judaism and Americanism in the early twentieth century.

Little can be verified about Philo's family, childhood, and education. He

was born on July 24, 1873, in Cardiff, Wales. His family had immigrated to

Great Britain from Breslau, Germany, not much before Isador's birth, in the



Amy Hill Shevitz is Instructor in American Jewish History at California State University,

Northridge, and the University of Judaism (Los Angeles). A doctoral candidate in American

history at the University of Oklahoma, she is writing her dissertation on the small Jewish com-

munities of the Ohio River Valley.


1. Obituary of Isador Philo by Sidney Berkowitz, Central Conference of American Rabbis

[CCAR] Yearbook, 59 (1949), 251.

2. Irving Ozer, et al., These are the Names: The History of the Jews of Greater Youngstown,

Ohio, 1865 to 1990 (Youngstown, 1994), 91.