Platform and prophecy: the rise and fall of Rabbi Stuart E. Rosenberg as foreshadowed in his early Toronto sermons on leadership

  • Michael Brown


Stuart Rosenberg, who served from 1956 to 1976 as rabbi of Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, enjoyed a meteoric rise and suffered as precipitate a fall. A charismatic speaker with a powerful personality, Rosenberg presided over Beth Tzedec as if he were the chief executive of a corporation. The activities he initiated in the synagogue and his high profile in the Jewish and general communities put Beth Tzedec “on the map,” making it, for a time at least, Canada’s premier Jewish religious institution. During his early years at Beth Tzedec, Rabbi Rosenberg published two books of sermons: Man Is Free: Sermons and Addresses and A Time to Speak: Of Man, Faith and Society. Both were widely distributed to colleagues and congregants. His only collections of sermons can be viewed as his written testament. Read from the perspective of a half-century later, the sermons are clearly documents of their time and place. They reflect the well-known, mostly sociological literature on religion, Toronto, and the Conservative Movement written during the 1950s and earlier, as well as the history and mood of the congregation itself. Read in the light of Rabbi Rosenberg’s rise and fall at Beth Tzedec, these sermons appear to be both his platform for early success and a prophecy of his sudden downfall.