Rabbi Dr. Leo Kahn Bequest
Eliezer (Leo) Lipman Kahn was born in Sulzburg on September 7, 1842. He studied Talmud with the most renowned orthodox rabbis of his time: Altmann (Karlsruhe), Bamberger (Würzburg), and Hildesheimer (Berlin). He also studied at the university – the subject of his PhD-thesis was “Jewish education according to the Talmud”.
Following the French Revolution (1789), the desire of European Jews for legal emancipation as well as for far-reaching Jewish reforms grew stronger. Famous orthodox rabbis opposed such reforms – among them Raphael Hirsch of Frankfurt who became their “Spiritual Guide”.
Among his most erudite students were Rabbi Marcus Lehmann of Mainz and Rabbi Dr. Kahn who became Wiesbaden’s orthodox rabbi in 1869 – half a year after the inauguration of the Reform Synagogue of Wiesbaden on Michelsberg.
In Wiesbaden, whence, under Rabbi Abraham Geiger (1932 – 38) Jewish Reform was to celebrate its victory within German Judaism, Dr. Kahn worked tirelessly to establish an orthodox infrastructure, an orthodox synagogue, school and boarding school, a ritual bath (mikwe) and cemetery as well as food stores with kosher products.
His greatest achievement may have been to know how to read the signs of the times when the “Austrittsgesetz” (Secession Bill) introduced by Eduard Lasker was passed by Parliament on July 28, 1876. The law enabled Jews to leave their mostly liberal community without having to give up their Jewish affiliation. On the basis of this Secession Bill Kahn succeeded in founding the first German neo-orthodox “Austrittsgemeinde” of Germany – almost completely autonomous from the Liberal Community.
The bequest left to the Paul Lazarus Foundation by Kahn’s great-grandchild contains as of a collection of unpublished documents: correspondence with the State Ministry of the King of Prussia; correspondence with orthodox and liberal Jewish colleagues; drafts of sermons, drafts of essays and contributions to the neo-orthodox Jewish press. The bequest also includes documents concerning the Neo-Orthodox Community, as well as personal matters.