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Papers of Israel Elfenbein (1890-1964) Collection

Identifier: RG 773

Scope and Content Note

The materials in the Papers of Israel Elfenbein relate mainly to Rabbi Elfenbein’s work as a congregational rabbi and to his writings, both in published and in manuscript form. The collection consists of correspondence, sermons and lectures relating to congregations in Nashville, Chicago and New York City, including Brooklyn and the Bronx. There is also correspondence with various Jewish periodicals and organizations, materials relating to the Elfenbein Jubilee Volume, Rashi Responsa, and some of Elfenbein’s unpublished manuscripts, as well as writings by others, personal and family correspondence, financial papers, and newspaper clippings.

Correspondents include Cyrus Adler, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Salo Baron, Chaim Bloch, Yosef Burg, Rabbi I. Goldfarb, Dr. Leo Jung, and Louis Marshall. The material mainly concerns Jewish personalities, Jewish history and liturgy and Elfenbein’s writings. The materials in this collection date from 1911-1970.


  • 1911-1970

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and French.

Access Restrictions

Permission to use the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Israel Elfenbein was born in Buczacz, Poland on September 15, 1890 to Elyakim and Rivka Henshe Elfenbein. He attended several yeshivot in Buczacz before he immigrated to the U.S. in 1906, where he began his studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, later the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University. He attended New York University, from where he received his B.A. in 1913, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, from where he received his ordination in 1914 and his Doctor of Hebrew Letters in 1915. His first rabbinate was at Temple Adath Israel in Nashville in 1915-1916. He later served as rabbi at synagogues in Chicago and New York City, including the West 95th Street and the Sea Gate Kneseth Israel synagogue in Brooklyn.

Dr. Elfenbein developed an interest in medieval Halachic Responsa early in his student days. He devoted himself to research and published a number of books, as well as many articles in contemporary Jewish journals in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. A good deal of his writings remained in manuscript form, many of which are represented in this collection.

Elfenbein was a lecturer at the Herzl Institute in New York City in the late 1950s-early 1960s. He was a member of the United Synagogue of America, the Academicians, the American Oriental Society, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Board of Jewish Rabbis, the American Jewish Congress, and the American Committee for Israeli Affairs. He was the author of The World of Rashi; Maimonides, The Man and His Times; Palestine Under Turkish Rule as Reflected in Responsa Literature; Problems of Jewish Reconstruction in America; and The Synagogue as a Leavening Force in American Jewry; among others. He also published under the pseudonyms Dayan al Yahud, Israel Shenhabim, and Ben Elyakim. In 1957, he edited the memorial book dedicated to I.Z. Frischberg. In 1962, he assisted in the compilation of a volume celebrating his own jubilee. Elfenbein was the executive director of the Education and Expansion Department of the Religious Zionists of America, also known as the Mizrachi Organization in the U.S., from 1938-1962, and the editor of Or Hamizrach (Light of the East), a Hebrew publication for rabbis, teachers and students. In addition, he contributed articles to Sinai, Tarbitz (Hit), Talpiot (a neighborhood in Jerusalem), Jewish Quarterly Review, and Jewish Forum. He attempted to publish a journal of Jewish scientific studies, Hameasef (Literary Anthology), in 1923, but was unsuccessful. He was the editor of The Voice of the People from 1932-1944. He was married to Etta Hurwitz Elfenbein, with whom he had daughters Annette (Goldie) Barth and Sarah Rothman and son Ira Lee.

Israel Elfenbein died in New York City on September 13, 1964.


5.625 Linear Feet (13.5 manuscript boxes)


This collection contains the personal and professional papers of rabbi, Hebrew scholar, author, and editor Israel Elfenbein. These materials include correspondence with and relating to congregations, Hebrew periodicals, organizations, Elfenbein’s writings, personal correspondence, sermons, clippings, and manuscripts by Elfenbein and by other writers.


The materials in this collection are arranged topically and by format. Personal names of correspondents have been transliterated, journal titles and organization names have been transliterated and translated, and the titles of speeches and writings have been transliterated and translated. Yiddish names have been transliterated according to YIVO standards except when the individual is known in English by another spelling. Hebrew publications and manuscript titles have been transliterated according to Encyclopedia Judaica standards. The language of the materials and number of letters often follows the description of the folder contents in parentheses. The collection is organized in four series, some of which have been further subdivided into subseries.

Acquisition Information

The collection was given to the YIVO Archives by Etta Elfenbein, Israel Elfenbein’s wife, in April 1971.

Related Material

The YIVO Library has several books by Elfenbein, many of which are represented among the manuscripts in this collection, as well as copies of the Elfenbein Jubilee Volume and the I.Z. Frischberg Memorial Volume. There are also some other materials about the Mizrachi Organization of America, where Elfenbein was executive director of the education department. The American Jewish Historical Society has the American Jewish Congress Records, I-77.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

The original inventory was completed c.1970s. Additional processing completed in February 2012.

Guide to the Papers of Israel Elfenbein (1890-1964) 1911-1970 RG 773
Processed by YIVO staff. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States