Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Was Professor Saul Lieberman “Orthodox” or “Conservative”? [1]

Was Professor Saul Lieberman “Orthodox” or “Conservative”? [1]
by David Golinkin

Saul Lieberman (1898–1983) is universally regarded by Talmud scholars as the foremost talmudist of his generation, and some regard him as one of the foremost talmudists of all times.
Immanuel Low wrote to him in Hebrew in 1938: “In the depth of your articles there are many sparks of the spirit of the Gaon of Vilna.” E. S. Rosenthal wrote in Hebrew in 1963: “... until we can almost say about him: there was no king like him before him, according to his custom and his method.” Jacob Neusner, who later attacked Lieberman after Lieberman had panned Neusner’s Yerushalmi translation, wrote to Lieberman on December 10, 1981: “I am enjoying Hayerushalmi Kifshuto so much, that I wanted to tell you so.... It reminds me of why I have long ago concluded you are the greatest exegete of rabbinic texts of the twentieth century and among the true greats among the ones I have studied and used—of all times.” Yitzhak Rafael wrote in Hebrew in 1983: “I am not authorized nor do I dare assert that Professor Rabbi Saul Lieberman z”l was the greatest Talmud scholar in recent generations, but it seems that no one would attempt to dispute this assertion.” David Weiss Halivni wrote in 1986: “Professor Lieberman was not only a yahid b’doro, unique in his generation, but a yahid b’dorotav, unique in all generations.” Elijah Schochet wrote in 1988: “Rabbeinu Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, was born on the first day of Pesah, 1720. Rabbeinu Shaul, our own Gaon, was laid to rest on the eve of Pesah, 1983. Between them, there was no other like Saul Lieberman.”[2]
Finally, in 2002, Israel Ta-Shema recounted an amazing story that took place in 1981, in which he asked Professor Lieberman a riddle about the Yerushalmi. Ta-Shema had heard the riddle from Rabbi Shlomo Goren in 1961 and since then had been unable to find the answer. Professor Lieberman spent about three minutes in silence, during which he opened one volume of the Yerushalmi and closed it. Finally he returned to the bookshelf, pulled out Yerushalmi Sotah 2:1, and showed Ta-Shema the correct answer. Lieberman later explained to Ta-Shema that “in my youth, I would have answered immediately that the answer is not in the Yerushalmi at all. But now that I am old, I do not rely on my memory, which is already weakened; and therefore I decided to flip through all the pages of the Yerushalmi in my mind, in order to make certain that it is not found in any place. And when I arrived at chapter 2 of Sotah, I found the place and showed you.” Ta-Shema concluded the story: “I had the merit over the course of the years to be a frequent visitor to the houses of quite a few of the greatest talmidei hakhamim [scholars] of the generation and among the beki’im [those who possess encyclopedic knowledge] in their generation ... but [bekiut] of such magnitude I have never seen, not before and not after, and the memory of that Shabbat has not departed from me until today.”[3]
In addition to his amazing memory and breadth of knowledge, Lieberman was one of the most prolific Talmud scholars of all times. He published 225 books and articles, for a total of approximately 11,500 pages—devoted, for the most part, to the explication of rabbinic texts.[4] Finally, he published books and articles related to almost every area of Jewish studies, including Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishnah, Tosefta, Yerushalmi, Bavli, ancient piyyut, Hellenism, Greek, Latin, and medieval rabbinic literature.[5] Therefore, it is not surprising that over eighty books and articles have been devoted to Lieberman and his œuvre between 1948 and 2008.[6] Indeed, three entire books have been published about Lieberman since 2002.[7]
This essay will respond to the most recent monograph, Marc Shapiro’s Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox.[8] Professor Shapiro has shown in his writings that he is adept at archival research.[9] This monograph is no exception; it quotes and/or publishes at least twenty-five letters related to Lieberman. Indeed, it should be entitled “What the Orthodox Thought of Saul Lieberman,” since it quotes the opinions of Rabbis Yaakov Halevi Herzog, Yitzhak Nissim, Shlomo Goren, Isser Yehuda Unterman, Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Meir Ben-Zion Hai Uziel, ayim Ozer Grodzinsky, Isaiah Karelitz, Pinchas Hirshprung, Meshulam Rathe, Mordechai Gifter, Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, Yehudah Leib Maimon, Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, David Zvi Hillman, Yaakov Kamenetski, Aaron Kotler, Menahem Mendel Kasher, Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Menahem Mendel Shneerson, Ze’ev Wolf Leiter, Samuel Belkin, Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, and She’ar Yashuv Cohen. We are in debt to Marc Shapiro for this very useful anthology based on archival sources.
However, it would appear that Shapiro has missed the mark regarding three critical points: (1) the character of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 and following, (2) Lieberman’s motives for accepting a position at JTS and remaining there, and (3) whether Lieberman consider himself “Orthodox” or “Conservative.” This essay will address these three critical issues in Lieberman’s biography.
The Character of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 and Following

Shapiro’s basic assumption is that Lieberman was “Orthodox” and JTS was “Conservative.” Thus, he writes: “It can be imagined what a shock it was for the Orthodox when in 1940 the internationally renowned Jerusalem illui Saul Lieberman accepted an invitation to join the Seminary faculty.”[10] This assumption about JTS, which repeats itself throughout the monograph, is basically incorrect, for the following nine reasons:
1.   During most of the years that Lieberman taught at JTS (1940–1983), almost all of the Talmud faculty at JTS were “Orthodox” or strictly observant Jews, including Rabbis Alexander Marx, Louis Ginzberg, Louis Finkelstein, Moses Hyamson, Abraham Sofer, Moshe Zucker, H. Z. Dimitrovsky, A. S. Rosenthal, Yehezkel Kutscher, Mordechai Margaliot, Jose Faur, David Weiss Halivni, Dov Zlotnick, Israel Francus, and Shamma Friedman.
2.   During the 1940s and 1950s, most of the students at JTS were observant Jews; a large percentage of them came from Orthodox homes and/or were graduates of Yeshiva College. This point is stressed by Schochet and Spiro in their recent biography of Lieberman, and more importantly, it is stressed by Shapiro himself: Between 1946 and 1957, 60% of JTS rabbinical students came from Orthodox homes and 30% were graduates of Yeshiva College.[11] Similarly, both Rabbi Isaac Klein and my father, Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l, began their studies at Yeshiva University in the 1930s and then transferred to JTS. Rabbi Klein said that he did so in order to learn the critical methodologies of Professor Louis Ginzberg. Indeed, he received s’mikhah yoreh yoreh yadin yadin from Ginzberg. He certainly was not looking for a more lax halakhic approach.[12]
3.   From 1940 to the late 1950s, the division between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism was not at all clear. Indeed, this was pointed out by Shapiro himself as well as by other scholars, such as Jonathan Sarna.[13]
4.   Beginning in the 1950s, the mehitzah become the main dividing line between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism,[14] but the Seminary synagogue maintained separate seating for men and women from the days of Solomon Schechter until Professor Lieberman passed away in 1983.[15]
5.   During all of the years that Lieberman taught at JTS, the Seminary synagogue did not use any of the siddurim produced by the Rabbinical Assembly and edited by Rabbis Silverman, Hadas, or Harlow. It used, instead, a rather obscure Orthodox prayer book edited by Rabbi A. Th. Philips. Indeed, I was informed by someone who prayed in the Seminary synagogue with Professor Lieberman for nine years that at one point, two of the students told Professor Lieberman that the Philips siddurim were falling apart. They, of course, wanted to replace Philips with a more modern siddur. Professor Lieberman said that he would take care of the problem. He then proceeded to purchase two boxes of brand new Philips siddurim! [16]
6.   From 1940 until 1959, Higher Criticism of the Bible was not taught at JTS.[17] This opposition began way back in the days of Sabato Morais, who headed JTS from 1887 until 1897.[18] Solomon Schechter, who served as president of JTS from 1902 until 1915, called Higher Criticism “Higher Anti-Semitism.”[19] Cyrus Adler, who was president of JTS from 1915 until 1940, was also opposed to Biblical Criticism; in his day, Bible was taught at JTS with medieval Bible commentators.[20] Finally, Louis Finkelstein, who headed JTS from 1940 until 1972, was also opposed to Higher Criticism.[21] In 1944, he asked Lieberman to “gently” tell H. L. Ginsberg to write his article on biblical history in a proposed volume entitled Judaism and the Jews “from an extremely conservative point of view,” so as to “avoid various pitfalls of higher criticism.”[22]
7.   Furthermore, in the 1940s when Lieberman started teaching at JTS, the rabbinical students dressed just like rabbinical students at Yeshiva University.[23]
8.   More importantly, Louis Finkelstein, who together with Louis Ginzberg invited Lieberman to teach at JTS in 1940, saw JTS—as had Solomon Schechter and Cyrus Adler before him[24] —as an institution for k’lal yisrael, the collective Jewish people, and not just of the Conservative Movement. Finkelstein stated in 1941: “If someone calls us traditional, orthodox or conservative, it is he who makes a division in Judaism, not us ... I think that the members of the faculty generally prefer the term ‘traditional Judaism’....”[25] After quoting this passage, Schochet and Spiro add: “Finkelstein preferred viewing JTS as an umbrella institution for all traditional Jews, which he hoped would attract to it Orthodox Jews, rather than one reflecting a specific denominational ideology. Finkelstein made no secret of the fact that he hoped that Orthodoxy would eventually find a home at the Seminary. He would therefore counsel his associates, ‘Let’s not be too Conservative; let’s not prevent [Orthodox Jews] from coming.’”[26]
Indeed, Shapiro himself stresses[27] that when Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky came to study with Lieberman at JTS in 1951, he did not even know that JTS had a connection with the Conservative Movement!
9.   Finally, Shapiro himself[28] quotes a letter written by Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg in 1948, when he was informed by someone supposedly “in the know” that Finkelstein was interested in him joining the faculty, alongside Ginzberg and Lieberman. Weinberg wrote to his friend Samuel Atlas (in Hebrew): “How could it be possible that they are asking me, when they have two great teachers like L. Ginzberg and Sh. Lieberman?” Weinberg did not say that he could not teach at JTS because it was Conservative or heretical; he simply said that they did not need him, because they already had Ginzberg and Lieberman.
Thus, from 1940 when Lieberman began to teach at JTS, until 1959—and, to a large extent, until 1972, when Louis Finkelstein retired—it was difficult to call JTS a Conservative institution. The faculty and students were mostly Orthodox or traditional; the lines between the movements were not clearly drawn; the Seminary synagogue maintained separate seating and used an Orthodox prayerbook; Higher Criticism was not taught; and the students at JTS even dressed like the students at YU. Louis Finkelstein viewed JTS as an institution for k’lal yisrael and even Rabbi Weinberg had no ideological objections to teaching at JTS.
Thus, there is no basis for Shapiro’s surprise that an “Orthodox” Jew like Lieberman accepted a position teaching at a “Conservative” institution.
Lieberman’s Motives for Leaving Israel, Accepting a Position at JTS, and Remaining There Until the End of His Life

Shapiro says[29] that Lieberman’s main motives were economic security, which he did not have in Jerusalem, and a desire to draw the students at JTS nearer to Torah and Judaism. These points are undoubtedly true, but I believe that there are at least six reasons why Lieberman left Israel, came to JTS, and stayed there for forty-three years:
1.   Saul Lieberman could not earn a living in Jerusalem. This is what Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, Lieberman’s father-in-law, told Rabbi Aaron Pechenik and others,[30] and this was the reason that Lieberman later gave Pechenik for remaining there.[31] Indeed, while in Israel (1927–1940), Lieberman worked as a clerk at the Tel-Aviv Chamber of Commerce, as a teacher in Herzlia, as a part-time lecturer at the Mizrahi Teachers Institute.[32] as a secretary at Yeshivat Shaar Hashamayim, as a Talmud teacher at Hebrew University (from 1932–1937, a position from which he was fired and only received severance pay a year later),[33] and as Dean of the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research.[34]
2.   Shapiro also says that Lieberman wanted to draw the students at JTS closer to Torah and Judaism,[35] as indicated by his brother Meir, by Pnina Herzog, and in a letter to Gershom Scholem from 1941. Furthermore, Lieberman himself said this in a Hebrew letter to Hapardes in 1945, which Shapiro published in 2003. There he says: “Young Jewish men are innocent (t’mimim) and there is nothing that will influence them more than the light of Torah planted by a teacher who believes in the holiness of the Torah.”36] 
3.   At Hebrew University, Lieberman’s Talmud course in the 1930s shrank from six to two students, he was fired, and Hebrew University refused to award him a Ph.D. for Talmuda Shel Kisrin or Tosefet Rishonim.[37] The Harry Fischel Institute, which Lieberman headed for five years, was not an academic institution. Indeed, Lieberman himself spelled out in 1937 the requirements for Talmud scholarship; the students at Harry Fischel did not possess many of those qualifications.[38] In other words, at Hebrew University he had scholars to talk to but no job, while at Harry Fischel he had a job but no one to talk to. Thus, in 1940, JTS was the only serious academic center of Jewish studies in the world, as Lieberman himself wrote to Louis Ginzberg in Hebrew on April 30, 1940: “And I also hope that I could bring benefit to your Bet Midrash, which is now the only scientific institution [i.e., of Jewish studies] in our world.”[39]
4.   In 1940, and for most of the years that Lieberman taught there, JTS had the best Jewish library in the world, with a large collection of manuscripts and Genizah fragments.[40] Schochet and Spiro relate that Seminary librarian, Nahum Sarna, advised Menahem Schmelzer, his successor, to open the Rare Book Room at any time so that Lieberman could consult the thirteenth-century manuscript of the Mishneh Torah, which was placed on a table there especially for his use.[41] 
5.   Lieberman had a very warm relationship with Louis Ginzberg of JTS.[42] They met in 1929 when Ginzberg served as visiting lecturer at Hebrew University and Ginzberg asked Lieberman to prepare for publication Ginzberg’s lecture, “The Significance of Halakhah for Jewish History.” They then corresponded from 1930 to 1940. Louis Finkelstein explicitly praised Ginzberg for his indefatigable efforts to persuade Lieberman to come to JTS. This special relationship is evident from a Hebrew letter from Lieberman to Ginzberg from 1940.[43]
6.   Finally, Lieberman had an incredibly close relationship with Louis Finkelstein, who gave Lieberman whatever he needed and treated him like a king. Their relationship has been dealt with at length by Schochet and Spiro.[44] A few examples will suffice: Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum, long-time Vice President of JTS, said: “Finkelstein gave Lieberman whatever he needed.”[45] Lieberman said as much in his Hebrew introduction to Hilkhot Hayerushalmi in 1947: “And last but not least is my friend, Rabbi E. A. Finkelstein, the President of our Bet Midrash, who provides me with special conditions for Talmud Torah and work with all possible convenience.”[46]
But their relationship went way beyond one of providing scholarly needs. Finkelstein viewed Lieberman as the most important Talmud scholar in the world and he told him so, both privately and publicly, on a regular basis. He referred to Lieberman’s arrival in the United States as “a historic one in the development of American Judaism ... Even if the Seminary across the years had done nothing else than lay the foundation for such a work [=Tosefta Kifshutah on Zera’im], the institution would have justified itself.”[47] Finkelstein further stated that “Professor Lieberman does not exist for the Seminary; the Seminary exists for Professor Lieberman.” Faculty member Professor Judah Goldin once said, “Finkelstein believed in God and worshipped Lieberman.”[48] 
On December 1, 1959, Finkelstein informed Lieberman that he would become Rector of JTS, with all the powers and no administrative responsibilities: “It seems obvious to me that with your increasing preoccupation with the Tosefta Kifshutah (which ...will turn out to be probably the most significant single accomplishment of the Seminary) ...”[49] In a letter to Edward B. Lawson, American Ambassador to Israel, in 1955, Finkelstein introduced Lieberman as “Professor of Talmud in the Seminary and one of the most learned men in the world.”[50] Finally, when Finkelstein got Lieberman involved in the agunah dilemma in 1953, he introduced the Lieberman ketubah at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention in hyperbolic terms and compared it to the accomplishments of the tannaim.[51]
Thus, it appears that Lieberman came to JTS and stayed there for six reasons: because he could not earn a living in Jerusalem; in order to draw the students closer to Torah and Judaism; because JTS was the only scientific institution of Jewish studies in the world; because JTS had the best Jewish studies library in the world, to which he had open access at all times; because of his warm relationship with Louis Ginzberg between 1929 and 1953; and because of his unique relationship with Louis Finkelstein from the 1930s until 1983.
Did Lieberman Consider Himself “Orthodox” or “Conservative”?

Shapiro claims that Lieberman “regarded himself as an Orthodox Jew”[52] and he faults me[53] for categorizing Lieberman as a Conservative rabbi,[54] but he himself writes: 
In 1959, Lieberman became rector of the Seminary, and one of his responsibilities was “guarding the general religious policy of the institution.” Thus, there is certainly justice in the assertion that whatever his personal religious commitments, Lieberman had become part and parcel of the Conservative Movement and was assisting it at the time that the Orthodox were attempting to expose what they regarded as the Conservatives’ distortion of halakhah.[55]
Shapiro’s confusion is well-justified; I myself have debated whether Lieberman considered himself Orthodox or Conservative.[56]
On the one hand, he taught at the only Conservative rabbinical seminary from 1940 until 1983, and he served as its rector from 1959 until 1983. When he proposed his takkanah regarding the ketubah to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in 1953, he attacked “the Orthodox rabbis”:
I saw that some of you were accused of being frightened by the Orthodox rabbis. I want to tell you that I am not frightened by them at all. I want, therefore, to give you a point of information. In truth, they were frightened, and I want you to know why they were frightened. They weren’t afraid that the Bet Din would issue some takkanot. No, not at all. They were afraid that the Bet Din will issue takkanot in accordance with the law.
As a matter of fact, one of the very important members of the Orthodox rabbis said so in many words: If this Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly will issue atakkanah, that will be takkanato kalkalato. It will be a great misfortune because they will get authority and that is the reason why they oppose this. Many of them think that [if] that Bet Din will begin to move in this line, the movement can become strong and it will affect them.[57] 
When, during the negotiations about a Joint Bet Din, the Orthodox insisted that the RA sanction rabbis who perform a wedding even without aget, “Lieberman’s spontaneous response was that the Conservative Jews do not like inquisitions ...”[58] He also wrote a letter that enabled Rabbi Theodore Friedman, a leading Conservative rabbi, to receive permission to perform weddings in Jerusalem, and another letter to Chief Rabbi Unterman in 1964, which defended the gittin performed by Rabbi Israel Silverman and other Conservative rabbis.[59]
On the other hand, Schochet and Spiro cite an undated interview in the Jerusalem Post in which “Lieberman explicitly stated that he himself was not a Conservative Jew; however, he praised Conservative Jews for their sincerity and their success in appealing to young people.”[60] Furthermore, in 1974, the Israeli daily Maariv published an article claiming that Golda Meir had asked Lieberman to influence the Conservative Movement to accept a compromise on the “Who Is a Jew” issue. Lieberman was described there as “one of the leaders of the Conservative Movement and as the Vice-President of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.” Lieberman wrote an indignant letter to the editor in Hebrew in which he denied the whole story and in which he said:
I am not one of the heads of the Conservative Movement and I am not, nor have I ever been, the Vice President of the [Jewish] Theological Seminary. I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don’t understand much about politics.[61]
Finally, when a group of Seminary professors, graduates, and students held a “Conference on Halakhic Process” in 1979 in order to urge JTS not to ordain women, Lieberman wrote a letter to the Conference praising them for deciding to discuss “how to guard the last spark of the halakhah, that it should not be extinguished.”[62]
There are three possible ways to interpret this contradictory data. The first approach is followed by Hillel Goldberg, who, in a nasty review of Schochet and Spiro’s biography, would have us believe that Lieberman was Orthodox and taught and stayed at JTS simply because it was a cushy job which allowed him to do his research.[63] This approach contradicts everything we know about Lieberman’s piety and integrity, and barely merits a response. The second approach is put forth by Marc Shapiro, who maintains throughout his monograph that Lieberman was “Orthodox.” When he defended Conservative rabbis during the attempts to set up a joint Bet Din, “Lieberman was only reflecting on the mindset of the Conservative rabbinate, not describing his own feelings.”[64]
There is, however, a third way to interpret the data. I agree with Shapiro that Lieberman did not consider himself “Conservative.” However, neither did he consider himself “Orthodox.” An “Orthodox” Jew would not have spoken about Orthodox rabbis in the third person and in such a critical tone as Lieberman used in the 1950s. Furthermore, neither Shapiro nor Schochet and Spiro adduce even one text in which Lieberman himself calls himself “Orthodox.” Shapiro[65] simply refers to Schochet and Spiro.[66] but the latter offer no such proof. They quote Rabbi Berel Wein, who said that Lieberman “was personally an observant Jew.” They quote Rabbi Emanuel Rackman who said that Lieberman was “a Jew whose Orthodoxy was beyond question.” They themselves say: “These citations from prominent Orthodox rabbis reflect the common perception that Saul Lieberman was indeed ‘Orthodox’ in his religious practices” (emphasis added). They then cite numerous instances of “his firm adherence to halakhic practice and accepted custom.” They later quote someone who said that Lieberman “stressed that he wanted to be known as ‘Orthodox’ (note 266), but Lieberman himself never wrote such a thing.”
Furthermore, Shapiro mistranslates a key passage in Lieberman’s important Hebrew letter to Hapardes from 1945, which Shapiro himself published in 2003. Shapiro writes:
In his letter, Lieberman states that at the Seminary he is permitted to teach what he wishes. He also mentions that if another two or three Orthodox teachers joined the faculty (italics added), they could turn it into a wonderful place.[67]
However, that is not what Lieberman wrote. He wrote:
זהו מוסד חשוב שלו היו נכנסים לשם עוד שנים שלשה מורים משלומי אמוני ישראל היו מהפכים אותו לבית ספר למופת
This is an important institution. If two or three teachers “who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel” [cf. II Samuel 20:19] would enter it, they would turn it into an exemplary school.[68]
Similarly, in his 1964 letter to Rabbi Unterman defending the gittin of Rabbi Israel Silverman.[69] he states that “Rabbi Silverman, when he was my student, observed Torah and mitzvot as is fitting.”
היה שומר תורה ומצוות כראוי וכיאות
He goes on to say
that it is essential to arrange matters related to gittin in America, and if there is good will on all sides, it is possible to arrive at a mutual agreement. Otherwise, I am afraid that chaos will take over this profession too and we will come to a similar situation to giving a hekhsher to a treif kitchen in an Israeli boat. And behold this hekhsher was not given by the Conservatives (who rejected the offer with disgust), but by an irresponsible group which calls itself Orthodox, and this group also performs gittin!
The picture that emerges from Lieberman’s letter to Hapardes in 1945, from his attempt to set up a joint Bet Din in 1953, and from his letter about gittin in 1964, is that Lieberman meant exactly what he said in his letter to Maariv in 1974: “I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don’t care much about politics—that is: I am neither ‘Orthodox’ nor ‘Conservative.’ There are “Conservative” rabbis who are halakhic and there are ‘Orthodox’ rabbis who are not. I care that the teachers at JTS should be sh’lomei emunei yisrael and that the students and graduates should beshomrei torah u-mitzvot ka-rauy v’khayaut.” Lieberman did not care about labels but rather about substance, and in this he was a true disciple of Rabbi Judah the Prince who said: Al tistakkeil ba-kankan, ella b’mah she-yeish bo—do not look at the vessel, but rather at its substance.[70] 

This article is based on a lecture given in Hebrew in Jerusalem on Professor Lieberman’s 30th Yahrzeit, 9 Nisan 5773 (2013). It originally appeared in Conservative Judaism 65 (Summer 2014), pp. 13-29, published here with the permission of The Rabbinical Assembly.
[2] The first quotation is from Elijah J. Schochet and Solomon Spiro, Saul Lieberman: The Man and His Work (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2005), p. 303 (and cf. pp. 53, 139). The other quotations are from David Golinkin, “The Influence of Seminary Professors on Halakhah in the Conservative Movement, 1902–1968,” in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary, vol. 2 (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1997), p. 473, n. 36. For Lieberman’s attack on Neusner’s translation of the Yerushalmi, see Journal of the American Oriental Society 104:2 (April–June 1984), pp. 315–319. For Neusner’s counterattacks against Lieberman, see History and Theory 27:3 (1988), pp. 241–260 = Jacob Neusner, Wrong Ways and Right Ways in the Study of Formative Judaism (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), pp. 3–27; and idem, Why There Never Was a Talmud of Caesarea: Saul Lieberman’s Mistakes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994).
[3] Ta-Shema in Meir Lubetski, ed., Saul Lieberman (1898–1983): Talmudic Scholar and Classicist (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), pp. 88-90 = Israel Ta-Shema, Knesset Mehkarim, vol. 4 (Jerusalem: 2010), pp. 337–339 (Hebrew). See Shamma Friedman in Lubetski, pp. 91–95, for an explanation of the riddle.
[4] A. S. Rosenthal wrote in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 31 (1963), Hebrew section, p. 1, that Lieberman wrote 10,000 pages. A careful count of Tuvia Preschel’s 1993 bibliography of Lieberman in Shamma Friedman, ed., Sefer Hazikaron L’rabbi Shaul Lieberman (New York and Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1993), pp. 1–28, adds up to approximately 11,500 pages.
[5] See Preschel’s bibliography (above, n. 4) as well as the essays in the Lubetski volume.
[6] See Golinkin, pp. 472–473, n. 35, for a listing of thirty items and Elinor Grinet, “A Bibliography About Saul Lieberman: The Man and His Work,” in Lubetski, pp. 91–96, for seventy-seven items (some of them overlap). More recent works include: Aviad Hacohen, Madda’ei Ha-yahadut 42 (5763–64), pp. 289–301; a letter from Lieberman to the editor of Hapardes from 1945, published by Marc Shapiro in Kitvei Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), pp. 449–450; review of new edition of Hayerushalmi Kif-shuto edited by Menahem Katz (New York and Jerusalem, 2008), by Yehoshua Schwartz in Makor Rishon Hatzofeh,April 11, 2008, pp. 10, 13; Naomi G. Cohen, “In Memoriam: Chana Safrai (1946–2008), Friend and Colleague,” in Nashim 15 (Spring 5768/2008), pp. 198, 201. For reactions to Schochet and Spiro’s book, see: Hillel Goldberg, Tradition 40:3 (Fall 2007), pp. 69–75; Aaron Rakefet, Tradition 40:4 (Winter 2007), pp. 68–74; and Bernard Septimus and David Horwitz, Tradition 41:1 (Spring 2008), pp. 114–115.
[7] The books are Lubetski (n. 3 above), Schochet and Spiro (n. 1 above), and Shapiro (n. 8 below).
[8] Marc B. Shapiro, Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2006).
[9] See, for example, his book Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884–1966 (London and Portland: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1999); Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, 2 vols (Scranton: University of Scranton Press 1998 and 2003); and “Scholars and Friends: Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg and Professor Samuel Atlas,” in The Torah Umadda Journal 7 (1997), pp. 105–121.
[10] Shapiro, p. 16.
[11] Schochet and Spiro, p. 22, and Shapiro, p. 16. Both base themselves on Jeffrey S. Gurock, “Yeshiva Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary,” in Wertheimer (n. 2 above), vol. 1, p. 473.
[12] Regarding Rabbi Isaac Klein, see what I wrote in my introduction to his Responsa and Halakhic Studies, second revised and expanded edition (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2005), p. xii.
[13] Shapiro, pp. 14–15; Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven and London:Yale University Press, 2004), pp. 237ff. Shapiro, pp.14–15.
[14] See my book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2012), pp. 14–15, and n. 27; p. 31, n.3; pp. 308–340.
[15] See JTS Semi-Centennial Volume (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1939), p. 59; Jonathan Sarna, “The Debate Over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” in Jack Wertheimer, ed. The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 379–380; David Golinkin, ed., The Responsa of Prof. Louis Ginzberg (New York and Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1996), pp. 85–100; Wertheimer, vol. 1, p. 395, Harvey E. Goldberg, “Becoming History: Perspectives on the Seminary Faculty at Mid-Century”, Schochet and Spiro, p. 22.
[16] Personal communication from Dr. Baruch Schwartz, April 13, 2008. The siddur was entitled Daily Prayers with a Revised English Translation (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1914), and reprints.
[17] David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, “A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical Curriculum in Historical Perspective,” Wertheimer, vol. 2, p. 559.
[18] Ibid., pp. 536, 656.
[19] Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1959), pp. 35–39 and cf. pp. 1–7.
[20] David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, “A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical Curriculum in Historical Perspective,” Wertheimer, vol. 2, p. 546.
[21] JTS Semi-Centennial Volume, p. 25.
[22] Schochet and Spiro, p. 29.
[23] Compare the pictures in Jeffrey Gurock, The Men and Women of Yeshiva (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), after p. 120; to the pictures in Baila R. Shargel, “The Texture of Seminary Life During the Finkelstein Era,” Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 527, 535.
[24] Regarding Schechter, see Mel Scult, “Schechter’s Seminary,” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 58–59; Michael Panitz in Robert Fierstien and Jonathan Waxman, eds., Solomon Schechter in America: A Centennial Tribute (New York: The Joint Convention Committee, 2002), p. 14; and Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers, pp. 48–49. Regarding Adler, see Schochet and Spiro, p. 17, which is based on Mel Scult (in Wertheimer, vol. 1), pp. 85–88.
[25] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 21–22.
[26] Ibid., p. 22. Regarding Finkelstein’s desire for JTS to serve all denominations, see Michael B. Greenbaum, “The Finkelstein Era,” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 163ff.; Jack Wertheimer, “JTS and the Conservative Movement,” in Wertheimer, vol. 2, pp. 419–420; and Michael B. Greenbaum, Louis Finkelstein and the Conservative Movement: Conflict and Growth (Binghamton: Global Publications, 2001), pp. 48, 60–67. Ibid., p.22.
[27] Shapiro, p. 48.
[28] Ibid., p. 9, n. 30.
[29] Shapiro, pp. 17–18.
[30] Ibid., p. 17.
[31] Ibid.
[32] See Saul Lieberman, Mehkarim B’torat Eretz Yisrael, ed. David Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991), pp. 601–602, for a beautiful vignette from that period of time.
[33] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 8–10.
[34] Ibid., pp. 10–11.
[35] Shapiro, p. 18.
[36] Shapiro, Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), p. 449.
[37] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 9–10.
[38] Ibid., pp. 10–11; and cf. Lieberman’s English introduction to Harry Fischel Institute Publications, Section III, Rishonim, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Harry Fischel Institute Press, 1937), pp. vi-viii, where he spells out the qualities necessary to do scientific talmudic research. My thanks to Professor Shamma Friedman, who called my attention to this passage a number of years ago. Cf. Preschel (n. 4 above), who lists this article in item 36 even though the Hebrew and English introductions to that volume are totally different. Ibid., pp.10–11.
[39] Shapiro, Hebrew side, p. 17, also quoted in the English side, n. 64.
[40] Regarding the Seminary library, see Alexander Marx in The JTS Semi-Centennial Volume, pp. 87–120; Menahem Schmelzer, ed., Alexander Marx, Bibliographical Studies and Notes, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary and Ktav, 1977); Herman Dicker, Of Learning and Libraries: The Seminary Library at One Hundred (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1988); and Menahem Schmelzer, “Building a Great Judaica Library—At What Price?” in Wertheimer, vol. 1, pp. 678–715.
[41] Schochet and Spiro, p. 16.
[42] Ibid., pp. 9, 18–20.
[43] Shapiro, Hebrew section, pp. 17–18.
[44] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 23–39.
[45] Ibid., p. 16.
[46] Saul Lieberman, Hilkhot Hayerushalmi L’harambam (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1947), p. 3
[47] Schochet and Spiro, p. 24.
[48] Both quotations are from Schochet and Spiro, p. 26.
[49] Ibid., p. 37.
[50] Ibid., p. 40.
[51] David Golinkin, ed., Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927–1970 (New York and Jerusalem: The Rabbinical Assembly and the Institute of Applied Halakhah [of the Schechter Institute], 1997), vol. 2, pp. 825–829.
[52] Shapiro, p. 26.
[53] Ibid., p.20, n. 72
[54] Golinkin, Proceedings, vol. 1, p. v.
[55] Ibid., p. 24.
[56] Golinkin, “Influence,” pp. 451–452. Golinkin, “Influence,”pp.451–452.
[57] Shapiro, pp. 26–27 = Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 17 (1953), pp. 75–76 = Golinkin, Proceedings, vol. 2, pp. 810–811.
[58] Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, unpublished letter to Sheldon Engelmayer, May 14, 1987. I received a copy from Professor Jack Wertheimer and I gave a copy to Marc Shapiro, who quotes from the letter in his monograph, p. 20.
[59] Golinkin, “Influence,” p. 452, n. 55. Shapiro published the second letter on the Hebrew side of his book, pp. 33–34.
[60] Schochet and Spiro, p. 99, end of n. 163.
[61] I quoted this letter in Golinkin, “Influence,” p. 452. Shapiro published the entire letter in Shapiro, Hebrew side, pp. 35–36 and discusses it on the English side, p. 20, n. 72.
[62] Shapiro, Hebrew side, p. 40.
[63] See above, n. 5.
[64] Shapiro, p. 20, n. 72.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Schochet and Spiro, pp. 66 ff., 99 n. 163.
[67] Shapiro, p. 22.
[68] Shapiro, Kitvei Ha-gaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2 (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2003), pp. 449.
[69] Shapiro, Hebrew section, pp. 33-34
[70] Pirkei Avot 4:20.


ד"ר נתן אופיר said...

Prof. Golinkin offers “three possible ways to interpret this contradictory data”. I suggest considering a fourth direction. It is to examine the influence of Rav Avraham Yitzhak haCohen Kook on Shaul Lieberman, especially in Rav Kook’s last five years (until his death Sept. 1, 1935). I think that this can help explain how and why Lieberman decided to develop his academic career first at Hebrew U., then at the Fischel Institute, and finally at JTS. I would contend that Lieberman was following the direction, precedent and vision of his most important mentor, Rav Kook. Perhaps indeed, he "naively believed" that JTS would be "Orthodox", but in essence he was striving to realize a goal that he had shared with Rav Kook from 1930-1935. I wrote about this in my article published in both English and Hebrew: "Rav Kook and Dr. Revel: A Shared Vision for a Central Universal Yeshiva?", The Torah u-Madda Journal, vol. 15, 2008-2009, pp. 188-208. הרב ד"ר נתן אופיר, "הצעת
שיתוף הפעולה בין ישיבות מרכז הרב ור' יצחק אלחנן: פתיחותו החינוכית של
הראי"ה קוק בתכנון הישיבה המרכזית העולמית," טללי אורות,
ט"ו, תשס"ט, עמ' 204-185.

Shaul Lieberman was in close contact with Rav Kook during their years together in Jerusalem. He even studied in a daily havruta from 6:00PM to 7:00 PM during Rav Kook’s last year of life, and they completed Orach Hayyim together - see Ari Shvat, “The Relationship Between Rav
Kook and Prof. Saul Lieberman: An Expression of Rav Kook’s View of
Critical Torah Study,” Tzohar 35 (December 2009): 59-66.

In 1929, Harry Fischel offered $100,000 to Hebrew University President, Judah Leib Magnes if he would agree to build R. Kook’s Yeshiva on Mount Scopus. Fischel explained to Magnes that the purpose was “to broaden the horizon of the Yeshiva student, and spiritually enrich the Hebrew University student”. Magnes corresponded with Fischel on Nov. 24, 1931 and reported that Saul Lieberman would head the preparatory Talmud division at Hebrew University. An official letter from Feb. 18, 1932 details Lieberman's contract to teach the Talmud preparatory course February-October 1932 for four hours a week at ten lirot a month. However, in 1934 there were only six students in his class. On May 23, 1935, Harry Fischel arrived in Palestine, and with R. Kook’s blessings, convinced R. Saul Lieberman to serve as Dean of the Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research. It was on March 17, 1937, that Lieberman was informed by Hebrew University that his position was to be terminated.

Y. Rosenes said...

Another interesting anecdote.

In the 1980's a friend of mine was the Otzar-Nik at Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapira's Yeshiva in Beer Yaakov. (For the unfamiliar this Yeshiva and its Rosh Yeshiva were one of the undisputed bulwarks of the right wing of the Haredi Yeshiva world.)

While organizing the Seforim my friend discovered to his dismay a copy of Tosefta KePshuta on the shelves. He immediately approached the RY with his discovery requesting permission to remove this Apikorsis from the Otzar.

Rav Shapira took the Sefer שמג perused it for a few minutes and handed it back to him with the comment: "A Gutte Sefer, it certainly belongs in the Otzar.

Alex Schindler said...

This piece corroborates a sense that has caused me a certain amount of annoyance every time I delve into this literature. in short, much of the orthodox discourse concerning the purported "orthodoxy" of the gaon is due to the inability of most orthodox Jews to see the word "orthodox" as anything but a synonym of shomer halakha. It's just inconceivable that anyone could be the latter and not the former...

Yoseph Citron said...

Could you clarify something - your critique of Shapiro appears to be based on semantics or how to define Orthodoxy. You seem to define it as a sort of socio-religious group as opposed to belief/observance, but Shapiro is talking more in terms of observance of Halakhah? Do you not both agree that Lieberman did not personally subscribe to the religious direction of the Conservative movement, regardless of whether most of JTS' students were formally observant or not? I read Shapiro's book a few years ago and would appreciate some clarification.

sk said...

Golinkins translation of מורים משלומי אמוני ישראלn is incorrect - The phrase should be translated "Jews with complete faith in the tenets of Israel " a expression reflecting true believers,as opposed to much of the JTS faculty. The correct translation completely undercuts his thesis .

He also fails to discuss Lieberman's views of Mordechai Kaplan - fellow faculty member.

Chaim Twerski said...

The statement in this article that "3. From 1940 to the late 1950s, the division between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism was not at all clear. Indeed, this was pointed out by Shapiro himself as well as by other scholars, such as Jonathan Sarna.[13]" is inconsistent with the history of the movement. The ruling of the RA that permitted driving an automobile to synagogue on shabbat for one is so distant from Halacha, that the two (Orthodox and Conservative) cannot be grouped in the same category. Rabbi David Novicks criticism of this ruling would be the immediate reaction of the least educated yeshiva student, and all the more so any major talmid chacham of any Yeshiva. The distinction between Orthodox and Conservative was clear and distinct from long before the 1960's.

The statement that almost all of the JTS faculty practiced Orthodox halacha could not be said of any Orthodox Yeshiva, such as Yeshivat Mir, Chevron, or Ponevez, or even Chaim Berlin or Yitzchok Elchanan. An Orthodox Yeshiva would not have such a minority. A Talmud instructor who deliberately violated shabbat, even if by a rabbinic prohibition, would be dismissed immediately upon discovery.

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