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William A. Rosenthall Judaica collection

Identifier: Mss 1086

Collection Overview

The William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection is comprised primarily of postcards, prints and posters, periodicals, clippings, philatelic materials, greeting cards, medals, subject files, and collecting files. The collection also includes ephemera, photographs, textiles, stereoscopes, calendars, and other miscellaneous formats. These materials document the history, religious practices, customs, and daily life of Jewish communities around the world. Collection materials originate from every continent except Antarctica, include over a dozen languages, and span five centuries.

Each of the topics represented in the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection can be found in both iconographic and textual materials across a wide array of formats. These materials depict spaces and scenes of Jewish religious life, such as synagogue architecture and services, holiday celebrations, and prayer and rituals. The collection portrays ceremonies pertaining to the Jewish life cycle, including birth, circumcision, bar mitzvah, marriage, and death and mourning, in both the synagogue and the home. Scenes of Jewish daily life can be found in images of Jewish institutions and charities, Jewish neighborhoods, ghettos, and marketplaces, and depictions of common Jewish professions and Jewish clothing and dress. The collection also contains images of landmarks in Palestine and Israel, including the tombs of prominent figures in Jewish history; cemeteries and tombs in North America, Europe, and North Africa; and portraits of many prominent Jewish figures-academics, artists, authors, bankers, military leaders, musicians, philosophers, philanthropists, politicians, rabbis, and Zionists. Illustrations of biblical figures and scenes round out the iconographic portion of the collection.

Periodicals and clippings provide additional documentation of significant Jewish communal events, such as weddings, funerals, synagogue consecrations, organization fundraisers and fairs, and social activities. The subject of antisemitism is represented through both text and caricatures in periodicals and clippings, as well as throughout the iconographic portions of the collection through caricatures and images of persecution and exile, which are often accompanied by scenes of emigration.

Besides Judaica materials, the collection contains records documenting Rosenthall's collecting efforts, including extensive correspondence with dealers, galleries, and fellow Judaica collectors, as well as invoices and shipping documents for purchases. These records provide insight into the time that Rosenthall invested in amassing his collection and reflect his expressed desire that it provide the most broad and comprehensive view of Jewish life possible. Exhibits and publications featuring portions of the collection are also documented through correspondence, loan agreements, and clippings.


  • Creation: 1493-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1568-1995


Language of Material

Materials in Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, and Yiddish

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the College of Charleston's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. Special Collections claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical and Historical Note

William A. Rosenthall was born in Kenton, Ohio, on March 8, 1927, to Gordon and Florence Rosenthall. He enlisted in the army in June 1945 upon completing high school, and subsequently enrolled at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York. After two years, Rosenthall transferred to Syracuse University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in English, graduating magna cum laude in 1950. In 1951, he entered the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated in 1956 as president of his class with a bachelor's and master's of Hebrew letters and was ordained as a rabbi. He held the position of assistant rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., for a year, then resigned in order to pursue study in Europe and Israel. During his time in Washington, Rosenthall met Irene Ostrower, whom he married in 1957. Their son Gordon was born in 1963 and daughter Marcia in 1966.

After returning to the United States in 1958, Rosenthall became rabbi of Woodsdale Temple in Wheeling, West Virginia. He left the position in 1962 to become the executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), a post he held for more than a decade. When the WUPJ headquarters moved overseas in 1972, Rabbi Rosenthall resigned as executive director, but remained active in the organization's governing body. He also remained active in the International and Latin American Commissions of the American Jewish Committee and the Latin American Committee of the Anti-Defamation League.

Rosenthall next held interim positions at synagogues in New York before relocating to Charleston in 1976 to become the rabbi of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). This was Rosenthall's last and longest tenure, extending from 1976 to 2005. In Charleston, Rosenthall spearheaded efforts to promote interfaith cooperation and served as president of the Christian-Jewish Council of Charleston and the Ministerial Association of Greater Charleston. He served on the boards of the Carolina Art Association and The Charleston Museum and on the Collections Committee of the Gibbes Museum of Art, and he assisted in establishing the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program at the College of Charleston. He was also involved in the Charleston Jewish Fund as part of the Community Relations Committee.

Rabbi Rosenthall's great passion was collecting Judaica, including prints, postcards, medals, stamps, and books and other published materials, depicting every aspect of Jewish life and culture. Rosenthall began collecting as a young man and continued adding to his Judaica collection throughout his life. As a scholar and collector, Rosenthall lectured on Jewish graphic arts and exhibited portions of his collection at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, Savannah College of Art and Design, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion in Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

After almost three decades of serving the congregation, William Rosenthall retired from KKBE in 1992, but remained rabbi emeritus until his death on April 30, 2005.


81.5 linear feet (58 flat boxes, 5 postcard boxes, 28 document boxes, 1 slim document box, 38 oversize folders)


Judaica postcards, prints and posters, periodicals, clippings, philatelic materials, greeting cards, medals, textiles, ephemera, and subject files collected by Rabbi William A. Rosenthall. Materials date from the late 15th to 20th century and document Jewish life on every continent except Antarctica. These materials are mainly iconographic in nature, including artwork depicting many aspects of Jewish history, religion, customs, and daily life. They cover topics such as Jewish holidays, clothing and dress, ghettos and neighborhoods, educational and charitable institutions, emigration and immigration, prominent individuals, cemeteries and tombs, synagogues, biblical scenes, Zionism, and antisemitism. In addition, collecting files document Rosenthall's work in acquiring the materials in the collection.

Collection Arrangement

  1. Postcards, 1897-2003
  2. Prints and posters, 1493-1999, undated
  3. Periodicals, 1768-1993
  4. Clippings, 1790-2003
  5. Stamps, 1903-2000, undated
  6. Objects, 1819-1993
  7. Rosh Hashanah greeting cards, circa 1900-1984
  8. Records, forms, and correspondence,circa 1810-1986
  9. Ephemera,1895-1990, undated
  10. Stereoscopes, 1868-1906, undated
  11. Collecting files, 1951-2002
  12. Exhibits and publications, 1964-1995
  13. Subject files, 1856-2002, undated
  14. Miscellaneous formats, 1919-1933, undated

Acquisitions Information

Materials donated in 2007 by Irene O. Rosenthall.

Alternate Form of Materials

Digital reproductions of prints and photographs available online in the Lowcountry Digital Library. Digital reproductions of postcards available online in the Lowcountry Digital Library.

Related Material

Related materials in Special Collections include the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim congregation records, 1798-2002 (MSS 1047) and the William A. Rosenthall Papers (mss 1087)

Separated Material

Published items removed and cataloged separately.

Processing Information

Processed by Amy Lazarus, August 2014.


Inventory of the William A. Rosenthall Judaica collection, 1493-2002
Processed by: Amy Lazarus; translations and additional research by Sarah Glover; machine-readable finding aid created by: Amy Lazarus
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources supported the processing of this collection and encoding of the finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Special Collections
College of Charleston Libraries
66 George Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424
(843) 953-8016
(843) 953-6319 (Fax)