Mortimer Cohen (1894-1972), Papers.

  • Dates: ca. 1916-1973
  • Size: 3.5 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 10
  • Languages:
    • English
    • Hebrew
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Dov Peretz Elkins
  • Date: 1994-1995
  • Related Collections: Records of Beth Sholom, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

MS, 8/95; rev. JM, 9/95; rev. EK, 2/03

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen was born in New York City on March 1, 1894, and was raised there and in Charleston, South Carolina. He received a B.A. from the City College of New York in 1915, rabbinical ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1919, and earned a Ph.D. from Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Studies in Philadelphia in 1935.

In 1919 Cohen became the rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in the Logan section of Philadelphia. He retired in 1964, but continued to serve the congregation as rabbi emeritus until his death in 1972.

By the mid fifties, recognizing the need to follow Philadelphia's Jewish population to the city's northern suburbs, Rabbi Cohen commissioned the prominent architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new synagogue. The new building, located in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, was finished in 1959. Both Wright and Cohen were credited with the building's design, a tribute to their six year collaboration on the project.

In addition to his congregational responsibilities, Rabbi Cohen also wrote books and chapters of books, articles, pamphlets, book reviews for Philadelphia newspapers, and a column in the Jewish Exponent. He also wrote plays, and composed four oratorios with Beth Sholom's music director, Gedaliah Rabinowitz. His radio show, "Mr. Everyman Speaks," was broadcast on WCAU.

Cohen's books include: Jacob Emden: A Man of Controversy, 1937 (originally his doctoral dissertation); Beth Sholom Synagogue: A Description and Interpretation, 1959; and a book on the bible for teenagers, Pathways Through the Bible, 1946.

Rabbi Cohen was a founder and president of the Jewish Book Council and editor of its In Jewish Bookland; a member of the Jewish Publication Society's Publication Committee; president and founder of the Logan Zionist District; President of the Philadelphia branch of the United Synagogue of America; president of the Board of Philadelphia Rabbis; vice-president and a founder of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and active in other Jewish organizations in and around Philadelphia.

Rabbi Cohen married Helen Kalikman in 1925 and had two daughters. Helen Kalikman Cohen collaborated with Patricia Talbot Davis on Together They Built a Mountain, 1973, a book about Cohen's work with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Beth Sholom synagogue.

Mortimer Cohen died on January 27, 1972.

Collection Description

Rabbi Mortimer Cohen was a prolific writer, consequently the bulk of these papers consists of his writings in both published and unpublished form. Also included are clippings and reprints of writings by others gathered by Cohen; photocopies of correspondence between Mortimer and Helen Cohen and Dov Peretz Elkins (donor of these papers); curriculum vitae and autobiographical statements; invitations to Cohen's seventieth birthday celebration; articles about the Beth Sholom synagogue building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; index cards containing Cohen's reading and sermon notes, some dating back as far as 1916 when Cohen was a student at The Jewish Theological Seminary; a few photographs of Cohen and others (descriptions of these have been added to the Ratner Center's photograph database); and some miscellaneous notes and writings.

Cohen's writings date from the late 1920s until around the time of his death in 1972. They consist of written and typed invocations (including a group delivered at events of Beth Sholom's sisterhood, 1960s), lectures, and sermons. Cohen often spoke about books on Jewish themes and current events such as women's suffrage, the Rosenberg case, the civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile crisis, violence in society, and events in Israel. Some of his sermons discuss his collaboration with Frank Lloyd Wright in the planning and construction of Beth Sholom's synagogue in Elkins Park. In relation to the latter, Cohen's sermons also contain discussions of the broader issue of the place of beauty and art in Jewish life.

Published versions of Cohen's writings include clippings of his book reviews and articles, including a series that came out in the The Jewish Exponent (1928-1937) and published copies of his pamphlet, Counterattack: Scapegoats or Solutions written with Maurice B. Fagan (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council, 1945). Also included are published versions of Cohen's plays, "Judith of Bethulia" and "By These Lights We Walk," (both New York: National Jewish Welfare Board, 1947), and of the oratorio he wrote with Gedaliah Rabinowitz, "The Eternal Prophet," based on the book of Amos (New York: Block Publishing Co., 1945).

Clippings of book reviews, reprints of articles and other writings can be found scattered throughout Cohen's writings where he may have used them as reference material. Additional printed material gathered by Cohen is arranged in a small group of subject files, on such topics as education, the "Great Society" of the 1960s, and literature.

Other items of interest in the collection include Cohen's curriculum and teaching material used in classes in Biblical cantillation at Beth Sholom's religious school, 1955-1956, with related notes. Also of note are clippings of reviews of Together They Built a Mountain.

Series List

  • I. Writings By Cohen, 1928-1971; n.d.
  • II. Correspondence, 1952-1971
  • III. Subject Files, 1959-1968; n.d.
  • IV. Personal Papers, 1959-1969
  • V. Writings About Cohen, 1964-1973
  • VI. Helen Kalikman Cohen, 1972-1975
  • VII. Miscellaneous Notes and Writings, 1916-1973; n.d.

Box List
Box  Folder(s)  Description
  I. Writings of Mortimer Cohen, 1928-1971; n.d.
1      Invocations and Addresses, 1959-1969
 1     1959-1969
 2     A-W, n.d.
 3-4     Sisterhood invocations, 1962-1969, n.d.
      Lecture Texts, Notes, and Other Writings, 1935-1968, n.d.
 5     "The Bible for Law," 1928-1948, n.d.
 6     "The Bible for Literature," 1935-1946, n.d.
 7     "The Bible as Poetry," 1946-1949, n.d.
 8     "Social Ideals of the Prophets," 1947, n.d.; "The Bible as History," n.d.
 9     "The Hebrew Prophets," 1953; "The Great Rabbis," n.d.
 10     "Four Jews Who Changed the World," n.d.
 11     "The Jewish Book as a Mirror of Jewish Life," introductory lectures, n.d.
2 1-3     "The Jewish Book as a Mirror of Jewish Life," A-Z, n.d.
 4     "Towards a Mature Religion," n.d.
 5     Cantilation Curriculum for Beth Sholom Religious School, 1955
 6     Golah V'Nechar - A Summary
 7     "Vitalizing the Teaching of the Bible", other educational materials, n.d.
      Newspaper articles written by Cohen:
 8-9     Book reviews, 1958-1965; n.d.
3 1     Clippings from The Jewish Exponent, 1928-1965:
      "Aspects of the Jewish Spirit as Mirrored in High Holidays," September 7, 1928
      "Onscrewing [sic] the Inscrutable' Some Reflections Concerning Jewish Education," August 16, 1929
      "Twitting the Gods: A Modern Engages in an Age-Old Pastime," April 11, 1930
      "These Too are Americans: Jewish Figures in the Building of Our Nation," July 11, 1930
      "Rabbi, What Are You?," September 16, 1932
      "Spinoza, Our Half-Brother," November 18, 1932
      "Jeremiah and Josephus," December 23, 1932
      "The Rabbi-Interpretation of Life's Values," June 30, 1933
      "Mark Twain and the Jews," May 24, 1935
      "Mordecai M. Kaplan: Interpreter of Judaism," May 14, 1937
      "What is a Good Book? Literature of Power for the Modern Jew," May 21, 1937
      "New Insights Into Jewish Civilization," April 2, 1965
      Clipping from The JPL Bookmark: "The Bible As a Source of Fiction," March, 1955
      Clippings from the Beth Sholom Letter, 1964, n.d.
 2-3     Pageants and Pamphlets:
      By These Lights We Walk, 1947
      Counterattack: Scapegoats or Solutions (cowritten with Maurice B. Fagan), 2 copies, 1945
      The Eternal Prophet, An Oratorio, 1945
      Judith of Bethulia, 1947
      On the Bible, A Conservative Viewpoint, 1953-1954, n.d.
      Sermons, Sermon Notes, and Fragments, 1930-1964:
 4-5     Sermons, 1948-1960, n.d.
 6-7     On books, D-T, n.d.
 8-9     Holidays, 1950-1959, n.d.
4 1-2     Passover, 1948-1960, n.d.
 3-6     Rosh Hashanah, 1930-1958
 7-8     Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, B-Y n.d.
5 1-3     Weekly sermons, 1948-1964
 2-7     Weekly sermons, A-M
6 1-2     Weekly sermons, P-W
 3-4     Yom Kippur, 1939-1959
  II. Correspondence, 1952-1971
 5 Letters to Dov Peretz Elkins (Denny or Danny), 1952-1971
 6 Correspondence with others, 1956-1968
  III. Subject Files, 1959-1968, n.d.
 7 The Bible as Wisdom, 1947, n.d.
      Clippings and Notes on:
 8-10     Books, A-W, 1961-1967
7 1     Education, 1959
 2-3     The Great Society, 1961-1968
 4     Poetry and novels, 1960-1962, n.d.
  IV. Personal Papers, 1959-1969
 5 Curriculum vitae, biographical statements, publication lists, 1959-1969, n.d.
 6 Photographs, n.d.
  V. Writings About Mortimer Cohen, 1964-1973
 7 Invitations to, announcements of seventieth birthday celebration, 1964; articles on Beth Sholom Synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1964; obituaries and eulogies, 1972-1973
  VI. Helen Kalikman Cohen, 1972-1975; n.d.
 8 Correspondence, 1972-1973 (mostly letters to Dov Peretz Elkins); n.d.; reviews of Together They Built a Mountain, 1975; n.d.
  VII. Miscellaneous Notes and Writings, 1916-1973, n.d.
 9-10 Notes, Dov Peretz Elkins, Morris Goodblatt, 1959-1973; 1949-1964, n.d.
8 1-4 Notebooks (7) of lecture and reading notes, 1916-1917, n.d.
 5 Notes on lectures of Dr. Otis Rice
 6 Miscellaneous notes and writings
9-10 Index cards containing reading and sermon notes