Herman Schaalman was born in Munich, Germany in 1916 to an actively Jewish family. Though he experienced some antisemitism growing up neither he nor his family ever considered leaving their home. Herman attended the local public school and then moved on to the local liberal rabbinc seminary in 1935. That same year Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion reached out to the German seminary and offered a place at HUC-JIR for 5 of their students. Herman was not interested in leaving Germany for the United States but did after the encouragement of his father, his rabbi and the seminary president. The rest of his family emigrated to Brazil after the release of his father from Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
Rabbi Schaalman married his wife Lotte the day after he was ordained from HUC-JIR in May of 1941. His first position as an ordained rabbi was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa were he remained until 1949. In 1949 he became the Midwest Regional Director for the United American Hebrew Congregations, the UAHC, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). He became affiliated with the Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, Illinois in 1955. He officially retired in 1986 but has continued to be an active member in the congregation as their Rabbi Emeritus, including a weekly Torah study group which met in his office for many years.
During his career Rabbi Schaalman was instrumental in the founding of the first Reform Movement summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Rabbi Schaalman is well known throughout the Chicago community and has taught as an adjunct professor at a number of the seminaries in Chicago. During the 1980s he became good friends with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. When the Cardinal was on his deathbed in 1996 he asked the Rabbi to speak at his funeral - the first time a rabbi spoke at the funeral of a cardinal.
Rabbi Schaalman holds numerous honorary degrees, and has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout his career. He has also held a number of prestiges positions on a variety of boards.
Rabbi Schaalman will be celebrating his 99th birthday alongside his wife Lotte, who is celebrating her 100th birthday, in May of 2015.
A biography of Rabbi Herman Schaalman was published in 2013 by Professor Richard Damashek who conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with Rabbi Schaalman in preparation for the writing of the biography. The title of the biography is A Brand Plucked from the Fire: The Life of Herman E. Schaalman.