Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brodie, Sir Israel (1895–1979)

by Hilary L. Rubinstein

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Israel Brodie (1895-1979), rabbi, was born on 10 May 1895 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, second son of Aaron Brode, drapery traveller, and his wife Jane, née Magid, immigrants from Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. The product of a pious home, with scholars and rabbis among his ancestors, Israel attended Rutherford College of Technology, Newcastle; intent on a rabbinical career, in 1912 he enrolled at both University College and Jews' College, London (B.A., 1915). Having graduated with first-class honours in Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, he proceeded in 1916 to Balliol College, Oxford (B.Litt., 1921). His studies were interrupted by service as a British Army chaplain in France in 1917-19.

After congregational and welfare work in London's East End, in 1923 Brodie succeeded Joseph Abrahams as rabbi to the Melbourne Hebrew congregation (whose synagogue was then situated in Bourke Street, but from 1930 in Toorak Road, South Yarra) and as head (1923-37) of the Victorian Beth Din, the Jewish religious court. In 1926 he published the first of several editions of English Prayers and Readings. He continued an involvement with adult education: his series of lectures on Judaism and Christianity, delivered in 1932, were appreciated by followers of both faiths.

His impact extended beyond Melbourne. Brodie made several interstate visits and pressed for solidarity among the scattered Jewish communities of Australia. Welcoming the increase in Eastern European Jewish immigrants to Victoria during the 1920s, he chided congregants who viewed the influx as a threat to their own standing in the general community. He led efforts to assist the social and economic integration of these newcomers—who were to spearhead a reinvigorated Melbourne Jewish community—and championed their cause in the Australian Jewish Herald.

Brodie lacked the squeamishness towards the Zionist movement evinced during the interwar period by many Australian Jews who feared that the spectre of 'dual loyalties' might call into question their vaunted devotion to the British Crown and Empire. He believed that Zionism was not only just in itself, but also a necessary adjunct to Judaism and a stimulus to Jewish consciousness. In 1927 he became foundation president of the Zionist Federation of Australia (of which Sir John Monash was honorary president) and served in that capacity until 1937 when he relinquished his pulpit and returned to England.

During World War II Brodie served as an army chaplain in France and was one of the last evacuees from Dunkirk. He subsequently became a chaplain in the Royal Air Force in the Middle East and in 1944 was made senior Jewish chaplain to the British forces. Appointed principal of Jews' College in 1946, on 30 June at the Great Synagogue, London, he married a Warsaw-born schoolteacher, Fanny Levine; they were to remain childless. Energetic and effective as a rabbi, gifted with ability and intellect, he found that his deep-seated Zionism had assumed a particular relevance in the light of the Holocaust. In 1948 he succeeded Dr Joseph Herman Hertz as chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth. Determined to consolidate his authority among the antipodean congregations and to boost their morale, Brodie made several visits to Australia, notably in 1952 and 1962. He retired in 1965 and was knighted in 1969.

Short in stature, dark, somewhat rotund, with a neat goatee and a mellifluous voice, Sir Israel was a man of dignity and sincerity whose tenure of office and solid body of published scholarship were distinguished. Survived by his wife, he died on 13 February 1979 at Lambeth, London.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Wynn, The Fortunes of Samuel Wynn (Melb, 1968)
  • N. Rosenthal, Look Back with Pride (Melb, 1971)
  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1971-1980
  • B. Patkin, Heritage and Tradition (Melb, 1972)
  • H. L. and W. D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia (Melb, 1991)
  • Jewish Chronicle (London), 16 Feb 1979
  • Daily Telegraph (London), 14 Feb 1979
  • Australian Jewish Times, 22 Feb 1979
  • Australian Jewish Herald, 23 Feb 1979
  • Melbourne Hebrew Congregation records (Synagogue Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Hilary L. Rubinstein, 'Brodie, Sir Israel (1895–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brodie-sir-israel-9586/text16895, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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