Rabbi Joseph Rosenbloom, longtime spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel, dies at 91

Rabbi Joseph Rosenbloom 

By Eric Berger & Robert A. Cohn, Associate Editor & Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Rabbi Joseph Rosenbloom, who served Temple Emanuel for almost six decades, died Monday, Aug. 3, surrounded by family and friends. He was 91 and resided in St. Louis since the mid-1950s.

Rosenbloom, who congregants called “Rabbi Joe,” was born in Rochester, N.Y. on Dec. 5, 1928, the son of Morris and Pearl Vinik Rosenbloom. 

He attended a Presbyterian college in Wooster, Ohio and then went on to the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, where he was ordained as a rabbi.

In an interview with the Jewish Light in 2018 around his 90th birthday, Rosenbloom spoke of “the two great loves of his life,” his wife of 46 years, Cordelia Rosenbloom, who died from multiple myeloma in 1998, and his second wife of nearly 20 years, Gloria “Abby” Rosenbloom, who is living with Alzheimer’s. 

Rosenbloom began his long rabbinic career at Congregation Shaare Emeth in 1954 as assistant rabbi to the esteemed Rabbi Julius Gordon, who died unexpectedly at age 56.  He served admirably as interim rabbi, but he declined an offer to lead the large congregation. “I can’t explain why I turned it down,” he told the Jewish Light

Instead, he spent five years in Lexington, Ky., as the rabbi of a Reform congregation, Temple Adath Israel, and as a chaplain at a hospital before taking the Temple Emanuel job in 1961. 

“He really loved his congregation, and growing up, almost every vacation, if it was a long vacation, he would get a call to come home because something had happened, and it was never a negative thing for him. He just loved serving his community,” said his daughter Dena Rosenbloom. 

Her father liked the relatively small size of Temple Emanuel, which has a membership of 260 families.  

“I think it meant the world to him to become part of this community to where over time, he was involved with these families over multiple generations and that connection and intimacy was a huge part of who he was,” said Dena Rosenbloom.

Rosenbloom, who also taught as an adjunct professor at Washington University, officially retired when he was 75 but continued to serve the congregation as rabbi emeritus and was called out of retirement three times when Temple Emanuel was without a rabbi. In 2013, the congregation hired Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh as senior rabbi. At her installation, Rosenbloom said, “Rabbi Hersh is my rabbi.”

“He encouraged my rabbinate, he encouraged the relationships that I was building with members who he had known their entire lives, and he was so happy that Temple Emanuel was thriving,” Hersh said. 

Malachi Owens, Jr. met Rosenbloom when Owens became Temple Emanuel’s cantor in 1977. Owens described the rabbi as “very pastoral” and good at counseling people who were grieving. 

“He had lots of opinions with politics and finances and sometimes he would bring politics into his sermon, appropriately, but he would always pull the congregation in and at the end of his sermon he would always say, ‘And if you agree with me say, “Amen,” and course everyone would say, ‘Amen,’” Owens said.  

Rosenbloom continued to go to Temple Emanuel every day and officiate at lifecycle events until the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Survivors include his wife, Gloria “Abby” Rosenbloom, and daughters Deborah Rosenbloom, Dena Rosenbloom (Douglas) and three grandchildren. A third daughter, Eve Rosenbloom, pre-deceased him.

A private funeral service was held.