Nathan Ehrenfeld, chief rabbi of Prague, ca. 1890. (YIVO)

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Ehrenfeld, Nathan

(1843–1912), rabbi and teacher. Born in Csusz, Hungary, Nathan Ehrenfeld studied at the most prestigious rabbinical schools of that country: Pressburg (Hun., Pozsony; mod. Bratislava) and Eisenstadt. At the latter—and, then, at the rabbinical seminary in Berlin—he was the pupil of the Orthodox rabbi and scholar Esriel Hildesheimer (1820–1899). Ehrenfeld completed his university studies in Vienna and earned a doctorate in Kiel with a dissertation on Yosef Albo’s Sefer ha-‘ikarim (The Doctrine of Joseph Albo on the Principles and Criteria of Religion). Later he was active as a rabbi in the Prussian towns of Brandenburg an der Havel and Prenzlau, and, from 1878, in Gniezno, Poland.

In June 1890, Ehrenfeld was asked to succeed Markus Hirsch (1833–1909) as chief rabbi of Prague. Despite subsequent offers from a number of Jewish communities in Germany—including one from Berlin in 1900—he remained there until his death in 1912. After his death, Ehrenfeld was succeeded by Heinrich Brody (1868–1942), the husband of his eldest daughter; Brody was an expert in medieval Hebrew poetry and later served as director of the Institute for the Research of Medieval Hebrew Poetry in Berlin and Jerusalem.

Ehrenfeld had three daughters and two sons (the elder, Salo, became a gymnasium teacher in Prague; the younger, Semi, was a merchant in Vienna). An acknowledged scholar, rhetorician, and teacher, Ehrenfeld was especially in demand to speak in distant communities. He placed great emphasis on religious education, was actively involved in its formulation, and also oversaw the inspection process in Prague’s schools. Despite considerable conflict within Prague’s Jewish community, he managed to reconcile the various factions. An adherent of religious orthodoxy, he addressed theological questions in a strictly conservative way. For example, he unequivocally opposed cremation and prohibited the burial of urns in the Jewish cemetery in Prague.

Suggested Reading

Alexander Kisch, “Zum Tode des Oberrabbiners,” Prager Tagblatt (18 February 1912): 3.



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley