Gunther Plaut Was 99

The Jerusalem Post headline is: “Reform Movement mourns passing of Gunther Plaut”

Well, I think more than just Reform Jews mourn the passing of this congregational rabbi and Bible scholar.

One of the first Jewish books I read was Gunther Plaut’s Reform Judaism chumash (five books of Moses with commentary). Dennis Prager recommended it along with the Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Hertz chumash.

I appreciated Rabbi Plaut’s clarity but was not persuaded to follow him into Reform Judaism.

I did hear Rabbi Plaut lecture at Stephen S. Wise temple one Sabbath circa 1995. He was short and clear and energetic. He moved like a boxer. The words just tripped over his tongue. He was a polished speaker, but not persuasive to me in any area where I did not already agree with him.

Though Rabbi Plaut was erudite and eloquent, he was hampered by representing a thin religion. It’s really hard to get excited about Reform Judaism, which has far more in common with the moods of modernity than with the Torah.

I remember meeting Reform rabbis at Stephen S. Wise (not on the payroll of the temple) who self-identified as atheists.

One lunch, Dennis Prager introduced me to the Mexican help as “the most religious member of his profession.”

My profession at the time was writing about a certain scandalous sector of the entertainment industry.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Reform Judaism on Friday mourned the death of Rabbi Gunther Plaut, the author of commentaries on the Torah and Haftarah that became standards in the religious movement.

The rabbi passed away last Wednesday at the age of 99 and was laid to rest in Toronto.

“Rabbi Plaut was an incredible teacher and rabbi far beyond the flocks he led at his congregations,” said Union for Reform Judaism president- elect Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “Millions of Jews have come to learn our sacred stories under his guiding hands. His legacy will continue on for generations of Jews around the world.”

Plaut’s best known work is The Torah: A Modern Commentary, which was first printed in 1981 and is now in its 13th edition. The book has sold nearly 120,000 copies to date and is used in most Reform Jewish congregations in North America.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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