American Jewish Preaching on the First World War

Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf

in European Judaism

Joseph Krauskopf immigrated from his native Prussia to the United States at the age of fourteen, and was ordained with the first class of students at the newly established Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Quickly establishing a reputation for his spellbinding oratory, he became rabbi of Knesseth Israel in Philadelphia, one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States, with a membership composed predominantly of congregants with German background. Although he was a strong supporter of US military action during the Spanish-American War, the First World War caused him considerable anguish, as he remained attached to his roots in German culture throughout his career. In a series of Sunday morning discourses and holiday sermons beginning on Rosh Hashanah 1914, Krauskopf expressed horror at the widespread suffering caused by the war, strongly supported the initial US policy of neutrality, and vehemently criticized expressions of growing support for the Entente Cordiale. While upholding the US war effort after America's entry into combat, as the end drew near he continued to excoriate policies that would humiliate and impoverish Germany, with prescient warnings of future disasters.