Rabbi Wolf Gunther Plaut was a Reform rabbi and author. An important figure in the history of the Jewish community in Toronto, he served as rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple from 1961 to 1977 and later as a Rabbi Emeritus and Senior Scholar of the temple.
Born in Germany, Plaut fled persecution under the Nazis in 1935, first settling in the United States. Serving in the Second World War as a U.S. army chaplain, Plaut later served as rabbi in Chicago and St. Paul Minnesota before moving to Toronto in 1961.
Plaut was an important thinker in the Reform movement, authoring a commentary on the Torah and Haftarah which are the standard texts used today. A long-time columnist for many Canadian publications, Plaut’s opinion pieces were a regular feature in the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star.
Made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978, Plaut became a Companion of the order in 1999. He also served as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and as vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Rabbi Plaut was diagnosed in his later life with Alzheimer’s disease. In collaboration with his family, the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections acquired his personal library in its entirety. Duplicates of books already in the general holdings were retained as part of the Plaut Collection in order to preserve the full range of reference material that shaped the thinking and writing of Rabbi Plaut.
The original order in which Rabbi Plaut arranged his books was also preserved, reflecting his intellectual process and how he conceptualized certain issues. As well as a constant interest in theological issues, the library reflects Plaut’s interest in contemporary politics, the social sciences and the arts. The range of subject matter also reflects Plaut’s ongoing efforts at social reform and campaign against intolerance and his advocacy of interfaith dialogue. The library also reflects some of his lighter entertainments: the odd pulpy mystery novel from the 1950s and a scattering of books about chess.
Perhaps Rabbi Plaut’s contribution is best summed up by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, former president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who in June 1999 declared:
W. Gunther Plaut emerged as a leader of his generation, arguably the most prominent rabbi of North American Jewry in the latter half of the 20th century. He was, and remains, Reform Judaism’s pride, its boast, its most valued treasure.
The Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth Plaut Collection will continue this legacy to provide rich and valuable sources for multiple fields of scholarship for years to come.
Link to holdings of Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth Plaut Collection here.
Link to photo gallery of Plaut Collection launch here.
Chantaie Allick, “Human rights crusader Rabbi Gunther Plaut dies at 99”, Toronto Star.com; available from: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1129040–human-rights-crusader-rabbi-gunther-plaut-dies-at-99; Internet; accessed 10 January 2012.
“Gunther Plaut”. Wikipedia.org; available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunther_Plaut; Internet; accessed 09 January 2012.
Michael Moir, Statement of Outstanding Significance and National Importance, re. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth Plaut Collection, Canadian Cultural Properties and Export Review Board, December 19, 2007. York University Libraries fonds, F0066, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, York University Libraries.
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, quoted in John Moscowitz and Natalie Fingerhut, eds., A Rabbi of Words and Deeds: Essays in Honour of the 90th Anniversary of W. Gunther Plaut (Toronto: Holly Blossom Temple, 2002), 87.
[update 18 February 2012]: Several details and spelling errors in this post have been clarified and corrected thanks to the sharp eyes of two readers. The author regrets these errors and thanks the two readers for alerting her. As Mark Sample recently wrote: “We write in public because we are willing to rewrite in public.”