Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harry Mordecai Freedman (1901–1982)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published:

Harry Mordecai Freedman (1901-1982), rabbi and Hebrew scholar, was born on 17 October 1901 at Vitebsk, Russia, son of Barnett (Dov) Freedman, tailor, and his wife Beila Henah. His family moved to England when he was a young child, settling in London, where he attended a government school, then studied at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva and the University of London (BA, 1923; Ph.D., 1930). Receiving his rabbinical ordination from Jews’ College in 1924, he was appointed as minister of the North Manchester Synagogue. He married Rebecca (Bea) Ginsberg on 17 March 1925 at Philpot Street Synagogue, Mile End, London. While undertaking his pastoral duties, he completed his doctorate as an external student at the University of London. He was naturalised as a British citizen on 22 October 1931.

In 1938 Freedman moved to Australia as rabbi of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation at South Yarra, being inducted on 16 August 1938. He also served as the Av Beth Din (head of the Jewish rabbinical court) in Melbourne. In 1947 he was appointed rabbi of the Elwood Talmud Torah Congregation. On accepting a position as rabbi at the Yeshiva Ketana of Bensonhurst at Brooklyn, New York, in 1950, Freedman moved to the United States of America. He taught Jewish philosophy at the Yavneh Seminary and at the Teachers’ Institute at Yeshiva University. Returning to Australia in 1956, he became the senior rabbi at the Central Synagogue, Bondi Junction, Sydney. He was invited to serve on the Sydney Beth Din and continued to do so until his retirement in 1965, when he and his wife moved back to Melbourne to be nearer their family.

A world-renowned Hebrew scholar, Freedman translated into English eight of the thirty-four volumes of The Babylonian Talmud (1935-48). He also translated Midrash Rabbah with Maurice Simon (ten volumes, 1939) and five volumes of Menahem Kasher’s Torah Shelemah (complete Bible) under the title Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation (1953-79), and translated and co-edited several of the volumes of the Encyclopedia Talmudica. With A. Newton Super he compiled One Hundred Years: The Story of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation 1841-1941 (1941). He published commentaries on Genesis, Joshua and Jeremiah in The Soncino Books of the Bible and served as a member of the advisory committee for the new English translation of the Bible for the Jewish Publication Society of America. In 2001 his children published posthumously his Chumash (five books of Moses) with commentaries, based on the JPS translation.

Rabbi Freedman was an active Zionist when Zionism was still a fringe movement in the Anglo-Jewish world, and a strong supporter of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement. In addition to helping to establish the department of Semitic studies at the University of Melbourne in 1944, he campaigned for the creation of Mount Scopus Memorial College, a Melbourne Jewish day school, in 1949. He was active in interfaith dialogue in Melbourne. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 4 December 1982 at North Caulfield, Melbourne, and was buried at the Chevra Kadisha cemetery, Springvale.

Select Bibliography

  • H. L. and W. D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia (1991)
  • J. Aron and J. Arndt, The Enduring Remnant (1992)
  • M. Jones and I. Lutman, Orach Chaim (2000)
  • Journal of Proceedings (Australian Jewish Historical Society), vol 9, part 4, 1982, p 307
  • Australian Jewish News, 10 Dec 1982, p 35
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Freedman, Harry Mordecai (1901–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 October, 1901
Vitebsk, Russia


4 December, 1982 (aged 81)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.