People A-Z  /  Rabbi, Dr. Joseph L. Fink

Rabbi and Community Leader



Dr. Joseph L. Fink was a nationally respected rabbinic leader, skilled mediator and inspiring speaker who led Temple Beth Zion for forty years as Rabbi, Senior Rabbi and Rabbi Emeritus. For four decades, Dr. Fink served as a distinguished civic and inter-faith leader, and a much beloved pulpit Rabbi.

Early Years

Joseph Lionel Fink was born in Springfield, Ohio on May 12, 1895, the fifth child and only son of Rabbi Mendel and Tillie Kagen Finkelstein. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1916, and a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1917. He graduated Hebrew Union College in 1919 with a rabbinical degree, joining ten-generations of rabbis in his direct family line. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Niagara University in 1934 and an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College in 1949.

Rabbi Fink began his rabbinical career in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he served the United Hebrew Congregation from 1919 to 1924. He rapidly built a reputation as a community leader and mediator as well as a vocal opponent of antisemitism and racism.

Obituary and Remembrance



Cofeld Judaic Museum of Temple Beth Zion

Exhibition Panel: Senior Rabbis and Rabbi Emeriti, Dr. Joseph L. Fink (1895-1964)

Moving to Buffalo, NY.

On his way to graduate studies in Germany, Rabbi Fink traveled to Buffalo in 1924, and met with Rabbi Louis Kopald, then the Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion. In poor health Rabbi Kopald called on Rabbi Fink to stay. Rabbi Fink remained, serving Temple Beth Zion for forty years until his death in 1964. He married Janice Gutfreund in 1932 and they raised two children: R. Toby Fink (Laping) and Rabbi Arnold Fink.

In Buffalo, Rabbi Fink quickly established himself as a spokesman on behalf of the Jewish community and as a bridge between the Christian and Catholic communities. He forged strong interpersonal relationships with many leaders and community members Jewish and non-Jewish, through his civic roles and his pastoral care.

Dr. Fink became nationally known to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences through his weekly radio program, “The Humanitarian Hour,” that aired on WBEN from 1930 to 1956. His broadcasts addressed a wide-ranging array of topics including the rise of Nazism in the early 1930’s.

In addition to his work as part of the founding group for the Bureau of Jewish Education, he was heavily immersed in local Jewish organizations. He was chaplain to the police and fire departments, a trustee of Buffalo State College (now University), on the board of the Children’s Hospital, Community Chest and the Red Cross. He also served on a number of mayoral committees, including Youth, Fair Employment Practices, Care of the Aging, and Community Relations. In recognition of these activities and many more he received numerous awards including, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Buffalo Evening News, Outstanding Citizen, the Good Neighbor Award, and the University of Buffalo.

National Work for Reform Judaism

On the national stage Dr. Fink was elected president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in 1952, and served on the CCAR Committee on Church and State. He was one of the founders of the CCAR Journal and wrote articles for a range of Jewish and civic publications. For his many services to Reform Judaism, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College in 1949.


At Temple Beth Zion Rabbi Dr. Fink grew membership from 400 members to over 1600, while serving as Senior Rabbi until 1958. He supported the growth of numerous interest groups within the synagogue under his rabbinate, some of which continue into the 2020s. With Rabbi Goldberg, he oversaw the opening of the suburban religious school building where the library was named after him. Despite ill health he was present at the groundbreaking ceremonies for 805 Delaware Avenue as Rabbi Emeritus in 1964. After his death, the auditorium at the new synagogue site was named in his honor.


Discover More

University Archives, University at Buffalo

Cofeld Judaic Museum, Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, NY

  • Temple Beth Zion series, Personnel Files and General Records

American Jewish Archives

Rare Books, Special Collections, University of Rochester, NY