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Tobias Geffen Papers

Identifier: P-516

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the surviving papers of Rabbi Tobias Geffen who served as a rabbi in New York City (1904-1907), Canton, Ohio (1907-1910), and Atlanta, Georgia (1910-1970). It includes extensive correspondence with members of his family, autobiographies in Yiddish and English (several versions) and other material relating to his personal life.

Also included are several copies of his books and articles, both in published and manuscript form, various manuscript novellae, manuscript annotations on books and articles written by others, manuscript sermons delivered by Geffen on various holidays and special occasions, etc. Of special interest is the extensive documentation of Geffens' rabbinate in Atlanta, consisting of correspondence, responsa to numerous religious questions, and various charitable efforts on behalf of institutions in Europe and Palestine. There is a large body of material relating to the dietary certification of Coca-Cola. The responsa represent request from sixty-one different Jewish communities throughout the South. Among the correspondents are the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, internationally prominent rabbis in Europe and Palestine, etc. The subjects discussed include supplying etrogim, sacramental wine, Passover, the Sabbath, Kashrut, gittin, schochetim, etc. Of unusual interest is Geffen's involvement with Jewish soldiers in World War I and assistance to Jewish prisoners in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, and his efforts to make the orphan home kosher and to give the orphans a religious education.

The collection also contains material on the synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel of Atlanta, Georgia (financial records, Purim ball, etc.), the sisterhood, the Hebrew School, youth work in the synagogues and the Shearith Israel Lodge of Independent Order of Brith Abraham in the synagogue. Also included is a family tree of Tobias Geffen and Sara Hene Rabinowitz.


  • undated, 1884-1985


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Tobias Geffen (1870-1970)

Tobias Geffen was born on August 1, 1870. He was an American Orthodox rabbi. He served as the leader of Congregation Shearith Israel in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1910 to 1970. Geffen is widely-known for his 1935 decision that certified Coca-Cola as kosher.

Geffen was born in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (called Kovno at the time, part of the Russian Empire). He immigrated to the United States in 1903 and became rabbi of New York's Congregation Ahavat Zedek in New York City. In 1907, he moved to Canton, Ohio, to become the rabbi of a small synagogue. In 1910, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel until his death.

Geffen organized the first Hebrew school in Atlanta. He began a daily class in Talmud. Geffen also standardized regulation of kosher supervision in the Atlanta area under his central authority. He was the leader of the Southern division of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. Geffen published eight books of Talmudic and Biblical exegesis.

Geffen died on February 10, 1970.



17.7 Linear Feet (32 manuscript boxes, 1 oversized box, 1 oversized folder in a shared box)

Language of Materials










Contains the surviving papers of Rabbi Tobias Geffen who served as a rabbi in New York City (1904-1907), Canton, Ohio (1907-1910), and Atlanta, Georgia (1910-1970). Includes extensive correspondence with members of his family, autobiographies in Yiddish and English (several versions) and other material relating to his personal life.


The collection is arranged into nine series as follows:

  1. Series I: Personal Affairs, undated, 1884, 1899, 1901, 1905-1906, 1911-1913, 1915-1970, 1980, 1982, 1985
  2. Subseries A: Autobiography, undated, 1901, 1927-1929, 1934, 1943, 1948-1949, 1954, 1956-1963, 1965, 1970, 1982
  3. Subseries B: Personal Matters and Honors, undated, 1899, 1916-1935, 1941-1959, 1964-1965
  4. Subseries C: Efforts on Behalf of Family, undated, 1923, 1925-1926, 1929-1930, 1935-1936, 1938, 1940-1941, 1943, 1945, 1947-1948, 1951-1956, 1959-1962, 1964-1965
  5. Subseries D: Family Correspondence, undated, 1884, 1905-1906, 1911-1913, 1915-1926, 1928-1942, 1944-1970, 1980, 1982, 1985
  6. Series II: Writings, undated, 1888-1899, 1903, 1918, 1924-1928, 1931-1951, 1954-1966, 1968-1969
  7. Subseries A: Manuscript Novellae and Other Writings, undated, 1888, 1891-1899
  8. Subseries B: Published Writings with Manuscript Additions, undated, 1888-1898, 1918, 1924-1928, 1931, 1935-1936, 1938-1947, 1949-1951, 1954-1956, 1958-1961, 1963-1965
  9. Subseries C: Sermonic Material, undated, 1903, 1932-1937, 1945-1949, 1954, 1957-1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968-1969
  10. Series III: Career, undated, 1907-1908, 1910-1911, 1913-1969
  11. Subseries A: Smichos, Contracts, and Letters of Congratulations, undated, 1907, 1910, 1922
  12. Subseries B: Invitations, undated, 1923, 1925, 1928, 1935, 1938, 1941, 1956-1960, 1963-1964, 1967
  13. Subseries C: Professional Correspondence, undated, 1908, 1913-1914, 1916-1918, 1921-1928, 1931, 1933, 1935-1938, 1940, 1943, 1950-1951, 1955-1966, 1968
  14. Subseries D: Professional Activities and Responsa, undated, 1913-1969
  15. Subseries E: Divorces, undated, 1910-1911, 1914-1968
  16. Series IV: Charitable Work, undated, 1911-1941, 1950-1968
  17. Subseries A: Disbursements to Individuals, Work with Prisoners, Soldiers, undated, 1916, 1918-1925, 1927-1936, 1938, 1940, 1951-1962
  18. Subseries B: Charitable Institutions, undated, 1911-1941, 1950-1968
  19. Series V: General Correspondence, undated, 1916-1918, 1921-1922, 1924, 1927-1932, 1935-1939, 1951-1952, 1956-1967
  20. Series VI: Communal Activities, undated, 1914-1917, 1922-1924, 1926, 1928-1934, 1936, 1940, 1947-1949, 1954-1956, 1958, 1963
  21. Series VII: Synagogue Activities, undated, 1916-1964, 1966-1968, 1970, 1976
  22. Subseries A: Synagogue Program, undated, 1925, 1929-1930, 1932, 1934-1936, 1940, 1945, 1957-1958, 1961, 1964, 1966
  23. Subseries B: Purim Ball, 1934, 1936-1939, 1946-1948, 1950-1956, 1958-1961, 1963
  24. Subseries C: Synagogue Finances, undated, 1916-1957
  25. Subseries D: Sisterhood, Brith Abraham Lodge, undated, 1918-1938, 1940
  26. Subseries E: Activities with Young People, undated, 1925-1926, 1929, 1934-1935, 1950
  27. Subseries F: Hebrew School, undated, 1929-1936, 1939
  28. Subseries G: Miscellaneous Material, undated, 1917-1918, 1926, 1931-1932, 1938-1941, 1943-1956, 1963-1964, 1966-1968, 1970, 1976
  29. Series VIII: Index of Major Correspondents and List of Jewish Communities
  30. Series IX: Family Tree of Tobias Geffen and Sara Hene Rabinowitz, undated

Acquisition Information

Gifts of Rabbi David Geffen, December 1979; Louis Geffen, January 1979; and Rabbi Samuel Geffen (per Joel D. Ziff), June 1980.


Includes former P-589 and P-516.

Please note that permission to publish and quote from the Rabbi Tobias Geffen papers must be obtained from the Geffen Family prior to publication.

Guide to the Tobias Geffen Papers, circa 1884-1985 P-516
Reprocessed by Marvin Rusinek
© 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • September 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States