Southern Methodist University

Collection on Levi A. Olan, 1910-2018:

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Bridwell Library
Title: Collection on Levi A. Olan
Dates: 1910-2018
Dates (Bulk): 1948-1981
Abstract: The collection on Levi A. Olan consists of publications by Rabbi Olan, typescripts and audio recordings of his radio sermons, photographs, and personal papers. Levi Arthur Olan (1903-1984) was a respected rabbi, author, educator, and community leader known as "the conscience of Dallas."
Accession No: 2012.03, 2015.07, 2018.12, BridArch 1.067
Quantity: 8 boxes (7 linear feet)
Language: Material is in English
Repository Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Levi Arthur Olan was born March 22, 1903, in Cherkassy, Ukraine. He and his parents, Max and Bessie Leshinsky Olan, immigrated to the United States seeking to escape anti-Jewish violence, settling in Rochester, New York. Levi Olan attended the University of Rochester, Hebrew Union College, and the University of Cincinnati (B.A., 1925).

After being ordained in 1929 at Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Olan served Temple Emanu-El in Worcester, Massachusetts for twenty years, guiding the congregation through the Great Depression and World War II. From 1949 until his retirement in 1970, Levi Olan led Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. His ministry in Dallas included a long-running series of radio broadcasts, The Temple Emanu-El Program.

For more than two decades, Rabbi Olan served as lecturer in Judaism at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, working out of an office at Bridwell Library. To honor Rabbi Olan’s great love of books, friends, family members, and colleagues established the Levi A. Olan Collection of Fine Books at Bridwell Library in 1963. That same year Texas Governor John Connally appointed Olan to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas, a position he held until 1969.

As a theologian, Rabbi Olan was respected and prolific. His publications included On the Nature of Man (1948); Rethinking the Liberal Faith (1949); Judaism and Modern Theology (1956); Reinhold Niebuhr and the Hebraic Spirit (1956); Judaism and Immortality (1971); and Prophetic Faith and the Secular Age (1982). Olan served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1967 to 1969.

An outspoken civil rights activist, Rabbi Olan has been called “The Conscience of the City [of Dallas].” In recognition of his many accomplishments, Olan received honorary degrees from Hebrew Union College, Southern Methodist University, and Austin College in Sherman, Texas. SMU’s 1968 citation reads:

Distinguished religious leader, educator, humanitarian, he has extended the honored role of rabbi (Teacher) beyond the bounds of his congregation to include the whole Southwest region. As an eloquent preacher and lecturer, he has communicated the best of the Jewish heritage to a wide audience with great integrity and compassion. As a university regent and dedicated public servant, he has upheld the human cause in many crises and has won for himself our admiration and true affection. It is this rare combination of talent and devotion that we delight to recognize this day with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Levi Olan married Sarita Messer on June 9, 1931, and the couple had three children (Elizabeth Hirsch, Frances Olan, and David Olan) and four grandchildren. Rabbi Olan died in Dallas October 17, 1984, at the age of 81.


"Rabbi Levi Olan Dies at 81" The Dallas Morning News. Thursday, October 18, 1984.

An Inventory to the Levi A. Olan Papers. American Jewish Archives [online resource]. Available at, accessed 12/2/2010.

Gerald Klein, "OLAN, LEVI ARTHUR," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 01, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Through print, manuscript, and audio materials, the collection on Levi A. Olan gives evidence of Rabbi Olan’s scholarly writings and public teachings. To a lesser degree, the collection also documents Olan’s ministry at Temple Emanu-El and his personal connections with SMU and Bridwell Library.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is arranged in four topical series:
Series 1: Publications, 1929-1984
Series 2: Speeches and Sermons, 1949-1983
Series 3: Sound Recordings, 1961-2013
Series 4: Personal Papers, 1910-2018


Access to Collection:

The collection is open for research use. Patrons must sign the Acknowledgement of Legal Responsibility and Privacy Rights form before using this collection.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Head of Special Collections of the Bridwell Library.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which Bridwell Library assumes no responsibility.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Olan, Levi A. (Levi Arthur), 1903-1984.
Rabbis -- Texas -- Dallas.
Jewish sermons, American.
Manuscripts for publication.
Sound recordings.
Prophetic faith and the secular age.
Temple Emanu-El (Dallas, Tex.)
Southern Methodist University.

Related Materials

Levi A. Olan Sermons and Images at Bridwell Library digital collection,

Sermons by Levi A. Olan, Bridwell Library call number 296.42 O42s

Audio recording of “The Prophetic Faith in a Secular City – The Kingdom of God,” Perkins School of Theology Jackson Lectures, February 4, 1971, Bridwell Library Digital Collections,

Additional collections and repositories of note:

Manuscript Collection 181, Levi A. Olan papers, Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio

Dorothy M. and Henry S. Jacobus Temple Emanu-El Archives,Dallas, Texas

Oral Memoirs of Levi A. Olan, Baylor University Institute for Oral History,

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Collection on Levi A. Olan, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Acquired. Bridwell Library staff members created this collection from multiple sources. The seven bound volumes of Rabbi Olan’s radio sermons were given by Rabbi Olan and Temple Emanu-El. The loose sermon copies were passed on to Perkins School of Theology Professor Roy L. Heller in 2003 by Betty E. Hamilton. In 2006 Dr. Heller forwarded these items to Bridwell Library. Additional materials came from the Special Collections stacks (accessions 30158-30160) and archives storage rooms in 2010 and 2012. Elizabeth Hirsch, daughter of Rabbi Olan, added two books to the collection in 2011 (accession 2011.02), three folders of papers in 2012 (accession 2012.03), six audio cassettes in 2015 (accession 2015.07), and eleven photographs in 2018 (accession 2018.12).

Processing Information

Bridwell Library’s Collection on Levi Olan was arranged and described in 2011 by Timothy S. G. Binkley with the assistance of Heather M. Oglevie. The finding aid was updated in updated in 2013, 2015, and 2018 by Timothy S. G. Binkley.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2011.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Publications, 1929-1984
15 folders

The first series comprises fifteen folders of articles, book reviews, monographs, and a pre-publication manuscript written by Levi A. Olan.
Box Folder
780 01 Hebrew Union College Monthly Graduation Number, 1929
02 Book Reviews, 1954-1980
03-04 Articles, 1948-1983
05 Judaism and Immortality, 1971
06 Chapter "Aspirations for Ethnic Minorities" 1971
07 A Rational Faith: Essays in honor of Rabbi Levi A. Olan, 1977
08-13 The Prophetic Faith in a Secular Age, chapters 1-6, 1975-1981
14 Prophetic Faith and the Secular Age, 1982
15 Maturity in an Immature World, 1984

Series 2: Speeches and Sermons, 1949-1983
26 folders

The second series contains two folders of lecture and sermon notes, seventeen folders of loose Temple Emanu-El Radio Program sermons, and seven bound volumes of radio sermons.To access digitized copies of 271 radio sermon texts in this series, visit website
Box Folder
780 16 Sermons and Lectures, 1953-1970
17 Lectures, undated, 1950-1983
18-29 Radio sermons – Loose copies, 1949-1965
Box Folder
781 01-05 Radio sermons – Loose copies, 1966-1970
06-12 Radio sermons – Bound copies, 1949-1970

Series 3: Sound Recordings, 1961-2013

The third series features audio recordings of 211 sermons preached by Rabbi Olan on the Temple Emanu-El Radio Program between 1961 and 1970. Recording formats include reel-to-reel magnetic tape, cassette tape, and DVD. The series concludes with six cassette tapes containing recordings of Rabbi Olan that were donated by Elizabeth Hirsch in 2015. To access digitized copies of the 211 sound recordings in this series, visit website
Box Folder
1278 01-16 Reel-to-reel tapes #01B - #33, 1961–1966
Box Folder
1279 01-16 Reel-to-reel tapes #34 - #69, 1962–1965
Box Folder
1280 01-16 Reel-to-reel tapes #70 - #103, 1963–1968
Box Folder
1281 01-15 Reel-to-reel tapes #104 - #131, 1966–1970
Box Folder
782A 01-07 Cassette copies of selected radio sermons, 1961-1965
08 Digital sermon recordings on DVD, 2012-2013
09 Cassette recordings donated in 2015, 1977-1981
Rabbi Klein’s 25th Anniversary luncheon, 1977
Levi Olan on maturity, 1978 October 15
Levi Olan on Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1979 March
Rabbi Levi Olan on The Origin by J. Stone, 1981 February 04
The Times of Their Lives: Satira and Levi Olan (2 tapes), 1981 August 24

Series 4: Personal Papers, 1910-2018
16 folders

The final series includes sixteen folders of correspondence, news articles, publications, tributes, photographs, and moving images. These materials focus on Rabbi Olan’s personal life and his relationships with Temple Emanu-El, SMU, and Bridwell Library.
Box Folder
782B 01 Newspaper clippings and magazine articles, 1958-1984
02 Temple Emanu-El, 1946-1981
03 Temple Emanu-El sanctuary re-dedication, 1990
04 Southern Methodist University, 1960-1971
05 Memorial service at Perkins School of Theology, 1984
06-07 Bridwell Library / Decherd Turner, 1969-1990
08 HRC Notes tribute by Decherd Turner, 1984
09 Digitization project and digital collection celebration, 2011-2013
10 Photographs, 1960-1980
11 Union Hymnal for Jewish Worship, Temple Emanu-El, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1914
12 Robert L. Wald letter to Elizabeth Hirsch with “A Reminiscence” memorial tribute to Rabbi Olan, 1984-1990
13 Card from Jim Watson to Elizabeth Hirsch recalling Rabbi Olan’s radio ministry, 2010 May 11
14 Photographs of Levi Olan and family donated in 2018, circa 1910-1970
15 “The Prophetic Faith in a Secular City” gathering honoring the memory of Rabbi Olan, Perkins School of Theology, 2018 October 17
16 DVD: Silent home movies of Levi and Sarita Messer Olan’s honeymoon travels in Europe, including footage of Paris (the 1931 Colonial Exposition), London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Venice, 1931