Dr. W. Gunther Plaut, C.C., O.Ont.

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Wolfgang Gunther Plaut, Rabbi

Also Known As: "Günther"
Birthdate: (99)
Birthplace: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Death: February 8, 2012 (99)
Toronto, Toronto Division, ON, Canada
Place of Burial: Scarborough, ON, Canada
Immediate Family:

Son of Jonas Plaut and Selma Plaut
Husband of Elizabeth Plaut
Father of Rabbi Jonathan V. Plaut and <private> Plaut
Brother of Rabbi Walter H. Plaut

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Dr. W. Gunther Plaut, C.C., O.Ont.

Wolf Gunther Plaut, CC, O.Ont (November 1, 1912 - February 8, 2012) is a Reform rabbi and author. Plaut was the rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto for several decades and since 1978 is its Senior Scholar.

He was born in Münster, Germany. His father's name was Jonas and his mother's name was Selma. Gunther had a younger brother, Walter who was the Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, NY at the time of his death in 1964 at the age of 43. Gunther received his Doctor of Laws degree and in 1935 fled the Nazis and went to the United States. In 1939, he received his ordination as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College. After receiving his U.S. citizenship on March 31, 1943, he enlisted as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. He was eventually assigned to the 104th Infantry "Timberwolf" Division and served as a frontline chaplain with the 104th in Belgium and Germany. He held pulpits in Chicago, Illinois (1939–1948) and at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota (1948–1961). He moved to Holy Blossom Temple in 1961.

He published a volume of commentary on the Torah and Haftarah, which has become the standard Humash used by the Reform movement. He was a long-time columnist for the Canadian Jewish News as well as a contributor of opinion pieces to various Canadian newspapers such as the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He was the first recipient of the W. Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award. In 1978, he was the honoree of the Toronto Jewish National Fund Negev Dinner.

He is a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and was also vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In 1978 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1999. In 1993, he was awarded the Order of Ontario. In 1999, he received the Commander's Cross (Komturkreuz) of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

All of Rabbi Plaut's papers are housed at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Rabbi Plaut's entire library was donated to York University and is housed at York's Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections.

A number of years ago, Plaut was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and has withdrawn from all public activities.

His son, Jonathan V. Plaut, is also a celebrated Reform rabbi, who currently serves as rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, Michigan.[1]

Wolf Gunther Plaut was born in 1912 to Jonas and Selma Plaut, in Munster, Germany. He earned his law degree in 1934 from the University of Berlin, but was unable to practice law because of Nazi racial laws. In 1935 he was the recipient of a scholarship from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he and numerous other refugee scholars of the time studied. Astonishingly, he also participated in the Jewish Olympic Games in that same year (tennis). Plaut married Elizabeth Strauss in 1938, was ordained in 1939, and began his first pulpit in Chicago, at the Washington Boulevard Temple, where he served until 1948.

Of equal importance was Plaut’s attainment of American citizenship, granted in 1943. The day after this milestone, Plaut enlisted in the Army as a Chaplain. On leave with his congregation’s permission for three years, Rabbi Plaut was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp, conducted the first post-war Jewish religious service in Germany, in the gutted Cologne Synagogue, and brought the first Sefer Torah back to Germany. He was decorated with the Bronze Star for his service.

Upon his return to civilian life, Plaut resumed his rabbinical duties, first at Washington Boulevard Temple, and then, beginning in 1948, at Mt. Zion Hebrew Temple, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Never one to rest on his laurels, Rabbi Plaut became President of the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, and Chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Ethics in Government. In 1961, Plaut again decided it was time for a change and accepted the pulpit at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Plaut not only discharged his rabbinical duties, but also wrote five books in five years, beginning in 1961. The Book of Proverbs - A Commentary, Judaism and the Scientific Spirit, The Rise of Reform Judaism, The Growth of Reform Judaism, and The Case for the Chosen People all appeared in quick succession, one per year. An additional book, Your Neighbour is a Jew, rounded out the 60's, accompanied by articles in various periodicals. His contributions to the Toronto newspaper, the Globe and Mail, became a constant feature during the 1970's and ‘80's. His book writing continued, albeit at a slower pace, on into the 1980's. His autobiography, Unfinished Business, along with his Herculean undertaking in authoring and editing The Torah: A Modern Commentary, were both completed in 1981.

Gunther Plaut retired from his rabbinic appointment at Holy Blossom in 1977, but has continued his very productive affiliation with HBT as their first Senior Scholar. Subsequent to his retirement, he served on the Ontario Human Rights Commission as vice-chairman, and then as a member of a board of inquiry. He was President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1983 to 1985, and has served as vice president of the Governing Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. As of this writing, in 2007, a ninety-five-year-old Rabbi Plaut still visits his office at Holy Blossom Temple when he is able.

-- The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives


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Dr. W. Gunther Plaut, C.C., O.Ont.'s Timeline

November 1, 1912
Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
October 7, 1942
Age 29
Chicago, IL, USA
February 8, 2012
Age 99
Toronto, Toronto Division, ON, Canada
February 12, 2012
Age 99
Scarborough, ON, Canada
Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa