Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Falk, Leib Aisack (1889–1957)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Leib Aisack Falk (1889-1957), rabbi, was born on 31 January 1889 at Bauska, Russia (Latvia), son of Abraham Falk, commercial traveller, and his wife Hannah née Hillkowitz. Leib studied at various yeshivot including those in Lithuania at Kovno (Kaunas) and Telsch (Telshyay); one of his early teachers was Rabbi Kook, later chief rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1911 Falk moved to Scotland and in 1912-15 was minister at Dundee, Forfarshire (Angus-shire) where he married Fanny Rosen, daughter of a local pawnbroker, on 2 May 1915. After serving from 1915 at Plymouth, England, he was chaplain in 1918-21 to the 38th-40th Royal Fusiliers (First Judeans) in Egypt and Palestine. In September 1922 he was inducted as second reader at the Great Synagogue, Sydney.

Inspired by his experiences in Palestine Falk was an 'ardent, militant' Zionist. He enjoyed a close friendship with V. E. Jabotinsky and became honorary president of the Sydney Revisionist movement. In the 1920s he was co-editor of the Australian Jewish Chronicle. At the same time he was an admirer of Britain and, until 1948, hoped that Palestine would become a dominion.

Falk's relations with his chief ministers were chequered. He clashed with Rabbi F. L. Cohen over Zionism but respected him for his learning. In 1936 he visited Palestine and received his rabbinical diploma. He failed to establish a working relationship with Rabbi E. M. Levy in 1935-38 and in February 1938 asked to be relieved from the Sydney Beth Din. During the controversy over Levy's forced resignation an untenable situation developed when both Falk and Levy tried to act as chief minister. Falk acted as chief minister until the arrival of Rabbi Dr I. Porush in 1940; again relations were strained and he was eased out of the Beth Din. Falk also encountered difficulties with the synagogue board of management, which felt that he lacked respect for its authority and interfered with administrative policies. In the 1930s he had been forbidden to speak from the pulpit on political matters such as Zionism and was asked not to make public statements without the board's permission; nevertheless he continued to act and speak according to his principles.

In 1935 Falk was commissioned as chaplain to the Australian Military Forces and in 1942 to Eastern Command; he became well known for his Anzac Day addresses. He was also chaplain to the State prisons and to Jewish internees in World War II; although he worked hard to secure their release, he was criticized for lack of sympathy. He believed that refugees should integrate quickly and opposed setting up institutions that maintained their culture. However he became renowned for his sympathetic visits to the sick and for his love of children and animals. He was a devoted family man.

Despite limited financial resources, Falk built up a fine library of Anglo-Judaica, Australiana Judaica and Jewish folklore. It was bought by the Great Synagogue in 1959 and named the Rabbi L. A. Falk Memorial Library. He was also an excellent bookbinder, cabinetmaker and Hebrew calligrapher and, later in life, a talented silver-smith. He contributed to various periodicals and was foundation vice-president of the Australian Jewish Historical Society and a vice-president of the New South Wales branch of the League of Nations Union.

Falk died of hypertensive cardio-vascular disease in St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, on 6 May 1957 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, daughter and three sons. A portrait by M. Nathan is owned by his daughter, and one by Valerie Lazarus is in the Rabbi L. A. Falk Memorial Library.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Freilich, Zion in Our Time (Syd, 1967)
  • I. Porush, The House of Israel (Melb, 1977)
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 5 (1962), pt 6, p 281
  • Hebrew Standard of Australasia, June, Sept 1922, Dec 1935, Jan 1936
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1957
  • Australian Jewish Times, 10 May 1957
  • S. D. Rutland, The Jewish Community in New South Wales, 1914-1939 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1978)
  • minute books 1922-39 (Great Synagogue office, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Falk, Leib Aisack (1889–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/falk-leib-aisack-6136/text10531, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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