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.