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Sicher, Gustav

(1880–1960), rabbi and Zionist activist. Gustav (Benjamin Ze’ev) Sicher was born in Klatovy, in the Czech lands. He studied medicine in Vienna but decided to become a rabbi. Later he completed a doctoral dissertation in philosophy under František Drtina at the Charles University in Prague.

Sicher began his rabbinic career in 1906 in Náchod. In 1927, he was appointed rabbi of Praha Vinohrady, the largest Jewish congregation in Prague. After the Nazis occupied the country in 1939, Sicher moved to Palestine, where he founded a synagogue for Czech Jews in Jerusalem and also worked as a chaplain at Hadassah Hospital. In May 1946, Sicher was invited to become rabbi of the Jewish community in Prague. After a year of hesitation (during which he was accused of betraying Zionism; his situation was debated in the daily papers), he decided to accept the offer. He then served as chief rabbi of Bohemia from 1947 until his death in 1960.

In 1906, Sicher had founded the Sinai Association for the support of traditional Judaism in the Czech lands. He was active in the Zionist movement, was a member of Mizraḥi, ran as a candidate for the Židovská Strana (Jewish Party) in 1921, and was revered as a scholar by Jews and non-Jews alike. In his efforts to renew traditions, he often consulted religious authorities abroad, including Gedalyah Rosenman, the chief rabbi of Białystok; Levi Freund, a rabbi in Lwów; and Avraham Kook, the chief rabbi of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. As a writer and translator, he was in contact with a number of German, Hebrew, and Czech writers and poets, including Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, Franz Werfel, Max Brod, Otokar Fischer, Franz Rosenzweig, and Josef Svatopluk Machar. His translation of the Pentateuch into Czech is highly regarded.

Back in Czechoslovakia, Sicher endeavored to reestablish traditional Jewish communal life in Bohemia. His attempts were hampered by the decimation of the Jewish population during the Holocaust as well as by the Communist government. For example, when religious marriages were legally invalidated in Czechoslovakia in 1950, Prime Minister Antonín Zápotocký obliged Sicher to uphold this law. In honor of Sicher’s seventy-fifth birthday, the Council of Jewish Religious Communities in Prague published a festschrift containing a number of his outstanding essays and an appreciation of his literary work.

Suggested Reading

Rada židovských náboženských obcí (Council of Jewish Religious Communities), Jewish Studies: Essays in Honour of the Very Reverend Dr Gustav Sicher, Chief Rabbi of Prague (Prague, 1955); Efraim Sicher, “The Concept of Work in the Writings of Chief Rabbi Dr. Gustav Sicher,” Shvut 5 (1997): 136–143.