Alfred Gottschalk, 79, who served 25 years as president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, among Reform Judaism's most prominent seminaries, and who became the first to ordain female rabbis in the Reform movement, died Sept. 12 at a hospital in Cincinnati.
He died of injuries he sustained in a car accident last October, said Jean Bloch Rosensaft, a spokeswoman for the college-institute, where Dr. Gottschalk was president from 1971 to 1996.
As chancellor from 1996 until his retirement in 2000, he continued to help guide the institution.
Dr. Gottschalk, who grew up in Germany during Hitler's rise to power, witnessed the anti-Semitic Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938 and spoke of those events as a defining moment of his life.
The morning after the rampage against Jews, Dr. Gottschalk, who was then 8, and his paternal grandfather found fragments of a Torah scroll that had been shredded and thrown into a river.
As he often recalled, his grandfather handed him pieces of the scroll and told him: "One day you'll put them together again."
After his family settled in the United States, Dr. Gottschalk was ordained a rabbi and made social justice a core part of his work. In 1965, he received a doctorate in the Bible and Jewish thought from the University of Southern California.
Early in his career, he was dean of the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and created a program to train Jewish community-service workers.
Most notably, while president of the seminary, he ordained the first female rabbi in North America, Sally Priesand, amid opposition from within the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements.
"Many people felt that this was a violation of traditional gender roles in Judaism and that men alone should serve in the position of rabbi," said Rabbi David Ellenson, the current president of the college-institute. "Once he took this step, the notion disappeared in the Reform movement."
Fourteen years later, the Conservative movement ordained its first female rabbi.
During his tenure as president, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1990 became the first to admit gay and lesbian students to rabbinical studies.
Alfred Gottschalk was born March 7, 1930, in Oberwesel, Germany. In 1939, he emigrated to New York with his mother, Erna, and was reunited with his father, Max, who fled Germany a year earlier.