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Gunther Plaut, Major Reform Rabbi, Dies at 99

February 16, 2012 By:
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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Rabbi Gunther Plaut, a major figure in Reform Judaism, died in Toronto at age 99.

Plaut, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was quoted by media around the world on issues pertaining to Reform Judaism.

In 1981, he published a volume of commentary on the Torah and Haftarah that has become the standard text used by the Reform movement; it took 17 years to write. The commentary utilized the Torah translation that was done in the 1960s by Philadelphia's Jewish Publishing Society.

According to Barry Schwartz, a Reform rabbi and director of JPS, the Plaut commentary was recognized as one of the great works produced in the non-Orthodox world. "It was a modern commentary coupled with a modern translation of the Torah that was both scholarly and accessible," the director said.

"I don't think there is a Reform Rabbi in the United States that doesn't use the Plaut Commentary," continued Schwartz, who said he believes the success of the text inspired the Conservative movement to produce their own contemporary commentary, Etz Chaim.

In later years, Plaut turned to writing fiction, publishing two novels and a collection of short stories. He also wrote several well regarded histories of the Reform movement, including The Rise of Reform Judaism: A Sourcebook of Its European Origins.

Plaut, a native of Germany who fled the Nazis in 1935 and came to the United States, held pulpits in Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., before moving to Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple, where he was spiritual leader from 1961 to 1977.

After receiving his U.S. citizenship in 1943, he enlisted as a chaplain in the U.S. Army and served as a frontline chaplain in Belgium and Germany. He was ordained a rabbi from Hebrew Union College in 1939.

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