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Rabbi Robert L. Lehman Collection

Identifier: AR 25598

Scope and Content Note

The Rabbi Robert L. Lehman Collection focuses on the development of a rabbi and of his role in leading his congregations, especially in leading the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights, a congregation whose members consisted largely of fellow German-Jewish immigrants. The collection includes numerous sermons, substantial correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, notes, congregational and conference publications, photographs, diplomas, and a few objects.

The small first series holds some personal documents, primarily several folders of letters friends and congregants as well as a few articles about himself and about his uncle, Rabbi Max Freudenthal. Items from his life prior to becoming a rabbi are also included here.

The heart of the collection is Series II, which holds the professional papers of Rabbi Robert Lehman. It centers on his training as a rabbi, with documentation of his early position as assistant rabbi in Baltimore, his primary role as rabbi in Washington Heights, and work with later congregations following his retirement. The countless sermons in this series provide insight into his personal preaching style and themes over the years and with different congregations, while correspondence and congregational papers show other aspects of his rabbinical duties and the activities of the congregations he led. Some of the personal correspondence of Series I includes letters of congregants of the Hebrew Tabernacle. One subseries of Series II documents his work with professional associations and as representative of German-Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Documentation of Rabbi Robert Lehman's rabbinical education will be found primarily among the papers of Series II. Such documents include coursework from Hebrew Union College and information on his student rabbi positions. His diplomas, including later doctoral degrees and the certificate of his ordination as a rabbi, will be found in Series III.


  • 1928-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1950-2002


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, German, and Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Access Information Collection is digitized, with the exception of the correspondence, due to privacy. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Readers may access the correspondence and the remainder of the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Reserve" button.

Access Information

Collection is digitized, with the exception of the correspondence, due to privacy. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

On May 3, 1927, Horst Lazard Lehmann was born to Michael Lehmann and Toni Lehmann of Heilbronn, Germany. The Lehmann family were observant Jews, with a liberal Orthodox background. From April to May 1933 Horst Lehmann attended the Volksschule in Heilbronn until his father, director of the Dresdener Bank in Heilbronn, was transferred to his hometown of Schweinfurt, Germany on May 1, 1933.

In 1937 Toni Lehmann was asked to tend her ill uncle, Rabbi Max Freudenthal of Nuremberg. As a gesture of gratitude he granted her request and asked his son, who lived in the United States, for an immigration affidavit for the Lehmanns. In March 1938 the Lehmann family came to the United States; during immigration Horst Lehmann's name was changed to Robert L. Lehman. On May 4, 1940 he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights, a Reform congregation made up largely of fellow German-Jewish immigrants, that leaned toward traditional or conservative practices.

After graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1945, Robert Lehman served for two years in the army. Following his army service, he attended Long Island University, graduating with honors in philosophy in 1949. He then studied at Hebrew Union College, and was a student rabbi at congregations in Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, and Chicago. On June 1, 1954 Robert L. Lehman was ordained as a rabbi.

His first position was as assistant rabbi at Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked under Rabbi Abraham Shaw. There his responsibilities included giving weekly sermons and overseeing the youth education program. The position was only intended to be temporary and he stayed for a little over two years.

In December 1956 Rabbi Robert L. Lehman was installed as rabbi at the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights, the congregation he had joined upon coming to the United States. He would spend the rest of his life with this congregation, serving for forty-one years and giving sermons on diverse topics. As rabbi, he led the congregation through the turbulent 1960s and the instability of the 1970s-early 1990s, when Washington Heights became known as one of the more dangerous neighborhoods of New York City, with a high crime rate and a crack cocaine epidemic. By 1972 an estimated ninety percent of the congregation had moved out of the immediate neighborhood of the synagogue due to these problems, but still attended synagogue services. For these reasons, the congregation moved in 1974 from its earlier location at 161st Street north to Fort Washington Avenue and 185th Street. The move allowed Rabbi Robert Lehman to initiate more community programs at the synagogue, such as a yearly film festival, concerts, and the Open Mind Adult Education Program, in addition to the Hebrew school and religious education classes already held for the youth. He also helped to organize an oral history project that resulted in a book, Reflections on the Holocaust, published in 1978, on the fortieth anniversary of Kristallnacht. In 1980, he led the congregation in its "Boat People" project, where the congregation adopted a Vietnamese immigrant family in need.

While rabbi of the Hebrew Tabernacle, Rabbi Robert Lehman married Ilona Tucker, a fellow refugee born in Germany. They had one daughter.

In addition to leading his congregation, Rabbi Robert Lehman continued his education at Yeshiva University and earned a certificate from the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health in pastoral counseling, In 1979 he received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College, and in 1985 earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminar. In addition, he was active in professional organizations, including having been a member of the executive committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as that organization's National Committee on Ethics and its Committee on Aging. He was also on the executive committee of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and was President of the American Federation of Jews from Central Europe.

In 1985 Rabbi Robert Lehman returned to Heilbronn, his birthplace, as part of memorial events for former Jewish residents from the city (its Woche der Begegnung). Theere he gave a sermon in the Kiliankirche, the first rabbi to do so, reflecting on the events of the Holocaust and the city's efforts to address its past. Later, in 1991, he participated in activities for former Jewish residents of Schweinfurt, as part of the city's twelve-hundredth anniversary. The activities included a series of interfaith talks in the St. Johanniskirche, in which he took part, as well as the installation of a memorial plaque in the Jewish cemetery.

Rabbi Robert Lehman retired from his position at the Hebrew Tabernacle in June 1997, becoming Rabbi Emeritus of the congregation. In 2000 he became a rabbi of the liberal Congregation Or Chadasch in Vienna, travelling monthly from New York to conduct services and perform other rabbinical duties. From 2001-2002 he served as part-time rabbi for Temple Israel in Lawrence, New York.

Rabbi Robert L. Lehman died in 2003.


9.75 Linear Feet


The Rabbi Robert L. Lehman Collection focuses on the development of a rabbi and of his role leading his congregations. The collection includes copious sermons, substantial correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, notes, congregational and conference publications, photographs, diplomas, and a few objects.

Related Material

A number of archival collections in the LBI Archives and books in the LBI Library relate to the German-Jewish community in Washington Heights and the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights. One of these is the book Frankfurt on the Hudson (st 2895); the LBI Archives hold an early manuscript of this work as well (MS 502). Included in the LBI Archives is the Berta Kuba Collection (AR 11991), which contains materials on the congregation and some correspondence with Rabbi Robert L. Lehman. The LBI Archives also hold The oral history collection of the Research Foundation for Jewish Immigration, New York (AR 25385), which contain an oral history by Robert L. Lehman.

Histories of the Hebrew Tabernacle congregation include A history of the Hebrew Tabernacle Congregation of Washington Heights; a German-Jewish community in New York City (F 128.9 J5 E4), which includes an introduction by Rabbi Robert L. Lehman.

The LBI Library includes the book, Reflections on the Holocaust, which contains histories of members of the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights (D 811.5 M27).

Separated Material

Some books and a number of publications without extensive notations were removed to the LBI Library. When removed, photocopies of the title pages and copyright information of the items were retained in the collection in the folder where they were found.

A sewing kit used in the United States army and tefillin were removed to the LBI Art and Objects Collection.

Processing Information

During processing of the archival collection, similar materials were grouped together to form series and subseries. Some original order was observed, resulting in the current organization of the sermons, the most prominent documentation in the collection. Some larger folders were further subdivided into multiple folders. Certificates were removed from their frames.

Guide to the Papers of Rabbi Robert L. Lehman (1927-2003) 1928-2013 AR 25598
Processed by Dianne Ritchey and Jerry Lindenstrauss
© 2014
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from RabbiRobertLehman.xml

Revision Statements

  • March 2017:: dao links added.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States