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Blaubaum, Elias (1847–1904)

by Hilary L. Rubinstein

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Elias Blaubaum (1847-1904), minister of religion and editor, was born on 19 November 1847 at Rotenburg in the German landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, son of Orthodox Jewish parents Aaron Blaubaum, drapery merchant, and his wife Marianne (Miriam), née Nussbaum. About 1870 Elias graduated from the Royal Provincial College of Kassel, where he had specialized in education, and became assistant minister and Hebrew teacher to the Jewish community of Gudensberg. Although never a qualified rabbi, he had received a thorough grounding in Jewish law and lore. In 1873 he arrived in Melbourne to assume the position of inaugural minister of the St Kilda Hebrew congregation, founded mainly by Jews of German origin. His outlook reflected that of his fellow German Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a founder of neo-Orthodoxy.

At the time of his arrival the St Kilda congregation, under lay leadership, had made changes to time-honoured Jewish liturgy and ritual. Blaubaum tolerated these, but made his traditionalist approach clear; although he went on to introduce minor innovations he stalwartly opposed more radical steps. During the thirty-one years of his ministry he proved an implacable foe of Reform Judaism, of the continuing use of Yiddish in Australia, and of political Zionism—although at the end of his life, with the 1903 pogrom at Kishinev as the probable catalyst, he had a change of heart.

On 17 January 1877 at Malvern Blaubaum had married Agnes Rebecca Cohen (d.1892), who had been born in New South Wales. He was naturalized in 1885. A man of restless energy and dogged determination, he had a marked pedagogic bent. His membership of the three-man Victorian Beth Din (rabbinical court) and presidency of the United Jewish Education Board lent him an authority that extended beyond the confines of his synagogue. But his chief significance lay in his editorship, from its foundation in 1879 until his death, of the Jewish Herald (Melbourne). At first a monthly, later a weekly, it circulated throughout Australia, and set the benchmark for Australian Jewish journalism. Through his robust editorials and learned essays on a variety of relevant subjects, it aimed to arouse its readers to their responsibilities as Jews and as citizens. The newspaper campaigned vigorously against anti-Semitism whenever and wherever that occurred in Australia. This, and his personal combativeness and tenacity when confronted with anti-Jewish prejudice, made him the nearest approximation to a nationwide, communal spokesman that Australian Jewry possessed.

At the same time, Blaubaum fostered positive relations with the wider Australian community, writing articles in mainstream journals—such as 'Judaism' for the Melbourne Review in January 1883—and teaching Hebrew at Melbourne's Congregational College. He also wrote pamphlets on religious themes, including On the Mountains (Melbourne, 1892). He had attempted to persuade the South Australian government to allow the establishment of an agricultural colony of persecuted Russian Jews, and was thereby obliged to resign from the outraged Melbourne branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association, which later reinstated him. Despite his doctrinal conservatism, he held progressive social views, championing the secular rights of women and deploring the White Australia policy.

Blaubaum died of cancer on 21 April 1904 at Dr Moore's private hospital, Melbourne, and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. Two daughters and five sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia, vol 1 (Melb, 1991)
  • H. L. Rubinstein, ‘Rev. Elias Blaubaum (1847-1904): Minister, Editor and Scholar’, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, 9, pt 8, 1985, p 567
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society (Victoria) archives (State Library of Victoria)
  • St Kilda Hebrew Congregation archives.

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Citation details

Hilary L. Rubinstein, 'Blaubaum, Elias (1847–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blaubaum-elias-12802/text23105, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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