About the Rabbi (updated for 2018)


As Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom of Chula Vista, California, a Conservative/egalitarian United Synagogue congregation, Rabbi Michael has concentrated on developing the youth and adult religious education, social action initiatives, and Israel programming. TBS draws from the entire San Diego area enjoys getting together as a “family” celebrating not only Shabbat services, religious holidays and life cycle events, but also summer Bar-B-Q’s, and Oneg Shabbat vegetarian potluck dinners. We teach our members how to cook for kosher; it’s really not that hard.

TBS’s services are unique; we continue drawing new people every week to our ever-expanding congregation. Our congregation offers about seven classes a week on a variety of different topics ranging from the Talmud, to male and female spirituality.  It’s really unlike anything you have ever experienced in a Shul before. We are also in the midst of putting together a new teen youth group and we have many new plans for this coming summer. Everyone is welcome to attend our weekly Cafe Shabbat that goes from 9:00 – 11:00 PM; come enjoy Jewish singing with a twang of Rock and Roll. If you find Modern Judaism is much too stiff, come and experience a Shabbat service. Our philosophy is simple: We need to preserve the embers of our wonderful tradition–not perpetuate its ashes!

Rabbimichaelsamuel.com continues to grow by leaps and bounds; the website averages somewhere between 300-400 hits a day–not bad!! Rabbi Michael also writes a weekly columnist at the San Diego Jewish World and for Jewish Values Online. Feel free to read some of the other articles he has written.

TBS proudly promotes interfaith dialogue and sponsors forums and symposiums that deal with issues affecting our communities today. All are welcome to come to our services; or any of our programs—We would love to have you join us.

A Brief Autobiographical Sketch

Rabbi Michael Leo was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area. He is the child of a Holocaust survivor; my father, Leo Samuel (z”l ) descended from a long line of rabbis who lived in a part of Europe that used to be part of Czechoslovakia.  He is also a descendant from some highly regarded rabbis of the 19th century, R. Yisrael Salanter, and R. Yitzchak Elchanan.

His rabbinical education benefited from studying at several Orthodox seminaries, graduating from the Lubavitcher Seminary with advanced rabbinical degrees in Yoreh Deah and an advanced rabbinical ordination  finally becoming a rabbinical judge(Yadin Yadin). In the early years of his career, he taught Talmud and Bible at various Torah u’Messorah Day schools in New York and New England. Teaching at any and all levels and ages is one of his great passions. He became a pulpit rabbi in 1988, first serving an Orthodox congregation for several years, but later established his rabbinate within the Conservative tradition, where he has served for more than two decades. In 1995, he completed his doctoral degree in pastoral counseling at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

He is an avid student of the Greek and Latin classics, and his approach to learning is informed by a similarly wide range of world-views. He is illuminated by Maimonides, Levinas, Buber, Abraham Isaac Kook, psychologist Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, and a legion of postmodern thinkers. It has long been his personal belief that  Judaism honors the great questions humankind has asked since the dawn of civilization. All traditions deserve to be questioned, if they are to be properly understood. His philosophy is simple:

As Jews, we need to become authentic and take personal ownership of our faith so that we might instill this enthusiasm to our children and those around us. Before we can become a light unto the nations, we first have to rekindle that light of faith within ourselves. Today’s Judaism must reclaim its sense of heart and soul. We possess a wonderful tradition that reflects diversity and creativity. God did not place us in this world simply to be pious automatons. The human mind is a wonderful gift. To properly worship God, we must engage in critical thought and self-reflective thinking. “My experience has taught me that a strong faith can be integrated with modernity, without having to give in to blind faith, dogma and narrow-mindedness.”

Since his time spent as a rabbinical student in Israel, Rabbi Michael has been involved with Zionist organizations and is active in Israel Advocacy.  A strong Israel is essential for Jewish identity in the Diaspora; he feel that all of us must do our part in maintaining Israel’s strength and security. He is also a strong supporter of religious pluralism and women’s rights in Israel. The humanistic element of Judaism that celebrates the gifts of the human spirit abounds everywhere. Rabbi Michael Leo is convinced that such an approach will do much to heal the wounds we have suffered as a community since the time of the Holocaust.

Since his days as a yeshiva student in Israel and in New York, Rabbi Michael Leo has been a prolific writer.

Books written include:

  • The Lord is My Shepherd: The Theology of a Caring God, (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996) 
  • Birth and Rebirth through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation—Vol. 1., Genesis 1-3 (Aeon Publishing, 2010).
  • Shepherd Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought (Kodesh Press, 2014)
  • Torah from Alexandria:  Philo as a Biblical Commentator Vol. 1 Genesis (Kodesh Press, 2014)
  • Torah from Alexandria:  Philo as a Biblical Commentator Vol. 2 Exodus  (Kodesh Press, 2015)
  • Torah from Alexandria:  Philo as a Biblical Commentator Vol. 3 Leviticus  (Kodesh Press, 2015)
  • Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria: A First Century Jewish Commentator Vol. 4 Numbers First Design Edition
  • Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria: A First Century Jewish Commentator Vol. 5 Deuteronomy, First Design Edition, 2016
  • Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria: A First Century Jewish Commentator 1 Genesis , First Design Edition, 2016.
  • Scheduled for 2017: Seeds of Wisdom Past Part I; Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria, Volumes 2-3; Maimonides’ Hidden Torah Commentary Vol. 1 on Genesis, Winter, 2017


3 thoughts on “About the Rabbi (updated for 2018)

  1. H.Applebaum says:

    Hello Rabbi Samuel,

    I am impressed with your writing which I first saw on SDJW where I have also posted my articles supporting Israel and the Jewish community. I am new to San Diego and would like to hear you speak in person. Please let me know when you will next be speaking at Beth Shalom. I rely on public transportation so can only travel by day and I live in Bankers Hill.
    Helen Applebaum

  2. Yaacov Deane says:

    Hello Rabbi Samuel.
    I am an Orthodox convert of over 40 years and have spent my life working to develop the skills to be able to read, learn and understand traditional Jewish teaching from all its many sources, Tanach, Talmud Bavli & Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Midrashim and the many collections of history. My primary background (including conversion) is via Chabad (the Beit Din of Rabbis Zalman Shimon Deworkin, z”l & Yehuda Zalman Marlowe, z”l).
    It is late in my life that I am coming to Philo (Philon, or Yedidyah HaKohen) of Alexandria. I stumbled onto this in a path similar to yours via the works of Rabbi Shmuel Belkin, which I have.
    I have acquired the complete works of Philo in the original Greek with English translation and the Mosad Bialik Hebrew translation. But I would like to develop the skills to be able to read Philo’s works in the original Koine Greek and the the few texts that only remain in Armenian.
    I live on the east coast near Philadelphia and would appreciate very much any advice you might offer on the best way to acquire these language skills.
    Happy Hanukkah to you and your family.

  3. Brian Schreiber says:

    Hello Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel,
    I found your writing regarding anti-Semites Neimuller, Barth, and, surprisingly, Banhoeffer interesting. After having read a book on him and now, re-reading the pages regarding Kristallnacht one reaches conclusions quite opposite yours. Please consider pp 315 – 317, Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas. I am hopeful you have time to consider that and offer any exposition possibly reconsidering his anti-semitism. I believe Banhoeffer was a very fine and brave man and feel it is honorable to offer his memory the benefit of the doubt, at least.

    High Regards,

    Brian S

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