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Solomon Schechter

Solomon Schechter

Solomon Schechter (1849-1915), Romanian-American scholar and religious leader, laid the foundation for the development of Conservative Judaism in the United States in his capacity as president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Solomon Schechter was born into a family of Hasidic background in Focsani, Romania, in December 1849. After a traditional education in Jewish schools in Romania and Poland, Schechter studied at the rabbinical seminary of Vienna and at the universities of Vienna and Berlin. In 1882 he settled in London as a tutor. In 1887 he married Matilda Roth. In 1890 he was appointed reader in rabbinics at Cambridge University. During the next twelve years he held several academic posts, including curator of Hebrew manuscripts in the Cambridge Library and professor of Hebrew at University College in London.

During this period, in addition to numerous journal articles on Jewish history and theology—later published in book form as Studies in Judaism (1896, 1908, 1924) and Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909—Schechter published critical editions of rabbinic texts: the Talmudic tractate Aboth de Rabbi Nathan (1887) and two Midrashic texts, one on the "Song of Songs" (1896) and one on Genesis (1902).

Schechter's most notable achievement, however, was bringing to England much of the archive of an ancient Cairo synagogue, including thousands of fragments of manuscripts and documents shedding light on a millennium of Jewish history. Schechter's scholarly work henceforth centered on this material. His chief works were The Wisdom of Ben Sira (with C. Taylor, 1899), portions of the Hebrew original of the Apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus; Saadyana (1903), new material on the 9th-century Jewish scholar Saadia Gaon; and Documents of Jewish Sectaries (1910), dealing with the 1st-century Zadokites and the Karaites, a medieval sect.

In 1902 Schechter assumed the presidency of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and devoted the rest of his life to developing this institution and its constituency. In England, Schechter had been mainly a scholar; he now became the spiritual leader of Conservative Judaism and, to a certain extent, a leader of American Judaism. He advocated the concept of the unity and solidarity of Jews throughout the world. He viewed "the collective conscience of Catholic Israel as embodied in the Universal Synagogue … as the sole true guide for the present and future" development of Judaism.

In 1913, attempting to unify American Jewry, he established, and served as first president of, the United Synagogue of America, an organization of Conservative Jewish congregations in America. Viewing the rebirth of Jewish nationalism as embodied in the Zionist movement as integral to the revival of Judaism, he was active in American Zionism. His other contributions included service as chairman of the committee that prepared the new English translation of the Bible later published by the Jewish Publication Society of America; editor of the department of Talmud for several volumes of the Jewish Encyclopedia; and coeditor of the new series of the Jewish Quarterly Review. He died on Nov. 20, 1915.

Further Reading

A collection of papers from Schechter's American period is in his Seminary Addresses and Other Papers (1915; repr. 1969). The best study of Schechter is Norman Bentwich, Solomon Schechter (1938). □

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Schechter, Solomon

Solomon Schechter (shĕkh´tər), 1847–1915, Jewish scholar. Born in Romania, he was educated in Vienna and at the Univ. of Berlin. He went to England in 1882 and in 1890 he was made lecturer in Talmud at Cambridge; he became professor of Hebrew at University College, London, in 1899. In 1887 he published his critical edition of Avot According to Rabbi Nathan. In 1897 he traveled to Cairo and brought back to Cambridge some 100,000 manuscript fragments from the famous Cairo geniza. Among these, Schechter identified the hitherto missing Hebrew version of Ecclesiasticus. In 1902 he became president of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, which he developed into a center of learning and a spiritual home of the Conservative movement. He was also the founder of the United Synagogue of America, the association of Conservative congregations. Among his books are Studies in Judaism (1896; 2d series 1908; 3d series 1924) and Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909).

See biography by N. de M. Bentwick (1938); M. Davis, The Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1963).

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"Schechter, Solomon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Schechter, Solomon

Schechter, Solomon (1847–1915). Jewish scholar. Schechter came from an ḥasidic background. Through his efforts, the manuscripts and fragments of the Cairo Geniza were recovered and brought to England. From 1902, he was President of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and his Studies in Judaism (1896–1924) and Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909) are classics of Conservative Judaism. He defended traditional ways and values against what he took to be assimilationist tendencies in Reform Judaism.

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"Schechter, Solomon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Cairo Genizah

Cairo Genizah (Heb., ‘storing’). A storeroom attached to the Ezra synagogue in Cairo which contained valuable Hebrew historical documents. It was rediscovered and explored by Solomon Schechter in 1896.

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United Synagogue of America

United Synagogue of America. Association of Conservative Jewish synagogues in the USA and Canada. The organization was founded by Solomon Schechter in 1913.

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