DR. RONALD B. SOBEL – Senior Rabbi Emeritus
Immediately following his ordination from the Hebrew Union College in 1962, Ronald B. Sobel, Ph.D., came to New York City to serve as the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanu-El. Initially expecting to be with the congregation for a maximum of three years, Rabbi Sobel remained at Emanu-El for 40 years — becoming associate rabbi in 1968 and then senior rabbi in 1973. At the time of Rabbi Sobel’s consecration, he was the youngest senior rabbi elected to the pulpit of Temple Emanu-El.
Rabbi Sobel was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935 and at an early age moved, with his parents, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Educated in the public schools there, Rabbi Sobel took his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating cum laude with a major in philosophy and a minor in English literature. The Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati provided post-graduate study, and it was there that Rabbi Sobel earned both his bachelor’s and master’s of Hebrew letters, as well as his ordination.
In the years following his ordination, and while attending to his full-time duties at Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Sobel pursued advanced graduate studies at New York University, where he earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1980. He also is the recipient of three honorary degrees: Doctor of Humane Letters from Long Island University, Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and Doctor of Laws from St. John’s University.
Rabbi Sobel’s rabbinic thesis was titled “Josephus’ Conception of History in Relationship to the Pentateuch as a Source of Historical Data,” a writing that has been referenced in several other scholarly works. His doctoral dissertation was “A History of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.” He has authored five articles for the Encyclopedia Americana, and several essays and articles of his have been published in various periodicals and journals. In 1975, he co-edited with Sidney Wallach Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Pursue, a volume of historical and theological writings published by KTAV.
An important aspect of Dr. Sobel’s rabbinate was his involvement in interfaith relations. In 1975 he was the first rabbi to preach from the high pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, at a time when he and Monsignor James Rigney initiated an intensive two-year dialogue program between the Temple and the Cathedral. From 1977 to 1979, Rabbi Sobel was chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultation, an organization founded in the late 1960s to represent the interests and concerns of world Jewry at the Vatican and with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He also served as a member of the board of governors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and as vice chairman of the National Board of Religion in American Life.
In the early 1980s, Rabbi Sobel helped found the Yorkville Emergency Alliance, an interfaith, nonpolitical group of men and women who created, on New York’s Upper East Side, a unique community organization to deal with the plight of the poor, the elderly, the homeless and the hungry; he served as its second chairman. In 1991, Rabbi Sobel joined a small group of Catholic priests, Protestant ministers and Muslim imans to create A Partnership of Faith in New York, an ambitious effort to establish a grassroots coalition of congregational clergy throughout all five boroughs, and served on its executive board.
In 1982, Rabbi Sobel was elected a fellow of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences. Between 1983 and 1992, Rabbi Sobel served as chairman of the Joint Commission on Rabbinical Placement, representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), HUC-JIR and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism). From 1986 to 1990, he served as chairman of the National Executive Committee of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith. Previously, he had chaired its National Intergroup Relations Committee and was chairman of its nominating committee. In 1990 the ADL elected Rabbi Sobel honorary chairman of its National Executive Committee and honorary vice chairman of the National Commission. In 1993, Rabbi Sobel was awarded an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a recognition authorized by the U.S. Congress and bestowed upon citizens who have contributed significantly to American life while maintaining their religious, ethnic and cultural heritages.
Rabbi Sobel also has served the American Jewish Committee as a member of its National Board of Governors, its National Executive Council and executive board of the New York Chapter (honorary member). He also has been the chairman of the American Jewish Congress’ Commission on Jewish Life and Culture. And, representing the CCAR to the Synagogue Council of America (SCA), he chaired the SCA’s Commission on International Affairs.
In September 2012, Rabbi Sobel was appointed president of the Leo Baeck Institute, the foremost research institute devoted to the history of German-speaking Jews. Its 80,000-volume library and extensive archival and art collections represent the most significant repository of primary source material and scholarship on the Jewish communities of Central Europe over the past five centuries.
Rabbi Sobel and his wife, Joanne, have been married for nearly 57 years. They have two sons, Peter Jeremy and David Marc.