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Archive - Jacob B. Agus Collection

Identifier: ARC-1000-007

Scope and Contents Note

Jacob Agus's papers consist of correspondence documenting a wide range of scholarly, congregational, ideological, and political concerns, 1938-1991; manuscripts of writings, including sermons, lectures, articles, portions of books, and reading notes, ca. 1940s-1980s; files documenting his work on and membership in the Rabbinical Assembly, 1944-1986; a fairly miscellaneous group of subject files, assembled by the Ratner Center, consisting of items both gathered and produced by Agus on a range of topics, 1942-1984; and recordings, 1957-1979, of lectures, sermons, and other talks mostly by Agus, with some by others. Since some material is undated, all dates given here are approximate.

The correspondence series (I) is the strongest in this collection. Covering all of his adult life, and all of his life as a working rabbi and scholar, it includes letters written by Agus as well as letters received by him. Like many rabbis, the distinctions between Agus's personal and several professional lives were blurred. Thus, even though the correspondence is divided fairly arbitrarily into three sections--reflecting, probably, whether it was kept at home or at his synagogue office--it should be used as a unit. In some cases a sequence of correspondence is divided in half, with Agus's letters in one section and replies in another. There is additional correspondence in the subject files and in the Rabbinical Assembly series.

The Rabbinical Assembly series (IV) includes correspondence, reports, writings, and notes written by Agus himself, but it also includes a fair amount of material that all members of the Rabbinical Assembly received.

The writings (Series II) remain partly unprocessed. The job of disentangling them awaits a scholar or doctoral student intimate with and interested in Agus's work. In the meantime, researchers are welcome to wade through them as best they can.


  • Creation: 1938-1991


Language and Scripts Used

English, Hebrew, Spanish.


There are no restrictions to accessing this collection, except for the original sound recordings which are closed, however, written permission is required to print or publish. Digital surrogates of the recordings can be found on the JTS Digital Collections site,, in the "Audio Collections" folder.


Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the Librarian about literary rights. Original audio recordings are closed; digital surrogates can be found on the JTS Digital Collections site,, in the "Audio Collections" folder.

Biographical Note

Rabbi Jacob Agus was a leading thinker in the Conservative movement’s liberal wing, heading Rabbinical Assembly committees on the sabbath, prayerbook, and ideology of the Conservative movement. He was also a scholar, teacher, author, editor, long-time rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and a promoter of interfaith communication--which he referred to as “dialogue” or “trialogue.”

Agus (the family name was originally Agushewitz), was born in Poland in 1911 and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1927. He attended the Talumdic Academy, New York, graduating in 1929, received his bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University in 1933, and was ordained by YU in 1935. In 1940 he received a PhD in Jewish Thought from Harvard University and married Miriam Shore the same year. Agus’s rabbinic career took him to Congregation Beth Abraham, Norfolk, Virginia, 1934-1936; Temple Ashkenaz, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1936-1940; Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, Chicago, 1940-1942; and Beth Abraham United Synagogue Center, Dayton, Ohio, 1942-1950. In 1945 Agus formally affiliated with the Conservative movement by joining the Rabbinical Assembly. In 1950 he became the rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, where he remained for thirty years, retiring in 1980.

As an influential member of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Agus was active in the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, chaired the Prayer Book Committee (1952-1956) and worked to define Conservative Jewish ideology through a series of conferences, committees and other gatherings, including the Continuing Conference on Conservative Ideology (1956-1963). With Morris Adler and Theodore Friedman he co-authored the “Responsum on the Sabbath,” 1950, that allowed Conservative Jews to use electricity and drive on the Sabbath.

As a scholar, Agus produced several books on Jewish philosophy and many articles on this and other themes, and served as an advisor on Jewish topics for encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, and scholarly journals. He taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, St. Mary’s Seminary and Ecumenical Institute (where he was also a founder of the Interfaith Roundtable), Temple University, and Dropsie College.

In 1965 Agus accepted an invitation to teach at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamerico in Buenos Aires. He remained in Argentina for two months, then traveled to Brazil where he spent two weeks lecturing under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee and the Brazilian Institute for Culture and Information. In Latin America Agus developed continuing ties with students and colleagues--among them Marshall Meyer, then director of the Seminario. These ties are documented by the correspondence in this collection.

In addition to his rabbinical and scholarly work, Agus adopted the cause of interfaith and interracial relations, dubbing his forays into Jewish/Christian and Jewish/Christian/Muslim relations “dialogue” and “trialogue.” As noted above, he was a founder of St. Mary’s Seminary’s Interfaith Roundtable. He also served on the boards of the Baltimore National Council on Christians and Jews, and the predominantly African-American Morgan State University, also in Baltimore.

Agus died on September 26, 1986.


16 Linear Feet (14 boxes)

Collection Arrangement

The collection consists of 5 series and several subseries:

I. Correspondence, 1938-1991; Undated

Personal, 1938-1991; Undated

Office, circa 1966-1979

Office, circa 1976-1985

II. Writings, Manuscript, circa 1940s-1980s


Sorted Roughly by Title


III. Subject Files, circa 1942-1984

IV. Rabbinical Assembly, circa 1944-1986 Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 1949-1986

Committees on Conservative Ideology, 1950s-1960s

Conservative Judaism, 1973

Prayer Book Committee, 1944-1960

Publications Committee, 1982

Synagogue Center Movement, RA Pronouncement on, Undated

Sabbath Revitalization Committee, 1949-1952

V. Sound Recordings, circa 1957-1979

Location Note

Materials are available (by appointment only) at The Special Collections Reading Room, The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. E-mail

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Miriam S. Agus, 1995.

Related Archival Materials Note

An oral history interview conducted by Helen Sollins of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland with Agus is available at the JHSM, 15 Lloyd St., Baltimore, MD 21202. Phone: 410/732-6400.

Guide to the Jacob B. Agus Collection
Julie Miller
May 20, 1999
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Funding for the retrospective conversion of the original finding aid documents to produce this guide using Archivists’ Toolkit was made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
Edition statement
2nd ed.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary Repository

3080 Broadway
New York N.Y. 10027 USA