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Porush, Israel (1907–1991)

by Victor Kleerekoper

from Australian Jewish News

Israel Porush, photo of painting by W. E. Pidgeon, 1961

Israel Porush, photo of painting by W. E. Pidgeon, 1961

National Archives of Australia, A1200, L40777

The late Rabbi Dr Israel Porush had the love of the Jewish community at heart throughout his life, his nephew Rabbi Steven Link said last week. 

Rabbi Link, of Melbourne’s Kew Synagogue, was conducting the funeral at the Melbourne Chevra Kadisha Cemtery, attended by representatives of virtually all sections of the Melbourne Jewish community and a number of community leaders from Sydney. 

The doyen of the Australian rabbinate, Rabbi Porush died in Melbourne last Wednesday after a long illness. He was 83. 

For more than 30 years the chief minister of Sydney’s Great Synagogue and head of the Sydney Beth Din, he was one of the founding fathers of the post-war Australian Jewish community. 

Although his dominant influence was felt most notably in Sydney during the 1940s, '50s and ’60s, his writings, interfaith activities, communal representation, travels to smaller communities and involvement with the Australian rabbinate for 50 years extended his impact throughout Australia and internationally. 

“He had a love for his fellow man and only saw the good in people,” Rabbi Link said. “He was recognised as the uncrowned chief rabbi of Australia.” 

Rabbi Link spoke also of Rabbi Porush the family man and how important his family was to him; and he spoke of Rebbetzin Bertha Porush and the strength and courage she gave the rabbi for 57 years. “They were a team.” 

A message of tribute was read from Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, who said that with Rabbi Porush’s passing the world rabbinate had lost a jewel. 

En route to the cemetery, the aron stopped outside the Mizrachi Synagogue where Rabbi Porush had a seat of honour from the time of his retirement to Melbourne and where he conducted a weekly Talmud shiur following the first minyan every Shabbat.

Among the Sydney people at the funeral were Rabbi Porush’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law Mr and Mrs William Link, nephew Moriah College principal Lionel Link and Adele Link, Moritz Stark and Rev Henry Amzalak, Lionel Singer and Great Synagogue president David Newman. 

Great Synagogue senior minister Rabbi Raymond Apple said from Jerusalem that Rabbi Porush “was the most remarkable figure on the Australian rabbinical scene for over half-a-century”. 

“As senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue, head of the Sydney Beth Din, president of the Australasian rabbinate and in so many other roles, he developed a stature that impressed all who came into contact with him. Dignity, bearing, moderation, erudition and eloquence were among his hallmarks. 

“In his hands the good name of Jewry and Judaism were consistently safe. Fortunately, recent years afforded us a number of opportunities to gather the community to show the esteem in which he was held; to honour a man as a living legend is a rare privilege. 

“He will be sadly missed, not least by his admiring successor in the pulpit of the mother congregation of Australian Jewry. May his memory be blessed.” 

After retiring from the Great Synagogue in Sydney in 1973, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Porush, who survives him, moved to Melbourne in 1975, where he continued to participate in communal affairs. 

Born in Jerusalem in 1907, Rabbi Porush attended Yeshivat Etz Chaim in Jerusalem and later the famous pre-war German Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, where he obtained his smicha. He was also awarded a PhD in mathematics from the University of Marburg in 1931. 

After a rabbinical posting in Finchley Synagogue, London, from 1934-40, he accepted a call to the Great Synagogue in Sydney just as World War II began. 

Always aware of the importance of a united Jewish representative body, he was one of the founding members of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. 

He also played a pioneering role in the spread of Jewish education as honorary director of the NSW Board of Jewish Education. 

For more than 20 years he was a part-time lecturer in Hebrew at Sydney University and enthusiastically supported the Australian Jewish Historical Society, serving as president from 1948-74. 

A prolific writer, he contributed many, papers to its journal, wrote extensively for the Australian Jewish press and was a noted author; two of his books — Today’s Challenge to Judaism and The House of Israel — received worldwide recognition. 

As a scholar with an international reputation, Rabbi Porush collaborated in the Soncino translation of the Talmud into English and was responsible for translating two of the 63 tractates — Meilah and K’ritot. He was also a major contributor to Encyclopaedia Judaica and wrote the section on Australian Jewry which appeared in the Year Book supplements. 

In 1946 Rabbi Porush founded the Association of Jewish Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, serving as president until 1975. When he stepped down from that office, he was appointed life president. 

In addition, to Rebbetzin Porush, Rabbi Porush is survived by his daughter Naomi Leibler, sons-in-law Bert Mond and I si Leibler and their families.

Original publication

  • Australian Jewish News, 31 May 1991, p 8

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Citation details

Victor Kleerekoper, 'Porush, Israel (1907–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 7 August 2020.

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