Hertzberg, Arthur 1921-2006

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HERTZBERG, Arthur 1921-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born June 21, 1921, in Lubaczow, Poland; died of complications from heart failure, April 17, 2006, in Westwood, NJ. Rabbi, activist, and author. A highly influential leader in the Jewish community, Hertzberg was an active voice not only regarding religious matters, but also in political and civil rights issues. The son of an Orthodox rabbinic scholar, he was brought to the United States with his family when he was five years old. Attending Johns Hopkins University, he studied history and Oriental languages, completing a B.A. in 1940. Next, he earned an M.H.L. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1943. Ordained that year, Hertzberg served as a rabbi in several posts. When the United States entered the Korean War, he joined the U.S. Air Force as a chaplain. In 1956, Hertzberg was made rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Englewood, New Jersey. He would lead this temple until 1985, when he retired as rabbi emeritus. Though Temple Emanu-El was a Conservative synagogue, the rabbi had many liberal and sometimes controversial ideas he was never afraid to share. An admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr., he advocated rights for African Americans and was a participant in the 1963 March at the Lincoln Memorial. As president of the American Jewish Congress from 1972 to 1978 and vice president of the World Jewish Congress from 1975 to 1991, Hertzberg continued to work for civil rights issues throughout his life, especially defending the rights of Jews. Closer to home, he urged his Temple members, and, indeed, all Jews, to be more active in their synagogues, and chastised them for often treating temple as something of secondary importance in their lives. While deeply affected by the Holocaust, and holding Zionist views, he surprised many by coming out in the late 1960s in support of the formation of a Palestinian state. Working to improve Christian-Jewish relations, he often met with representatives of the Catholic Church to foster more interreligious understanding. At the same time, he was part of a 1971 delegation to the Vatican that urged the Pope to formally admit that Pope Pius XII did little to speak out against the Holocaust. More recently, he made news in 2003 when, despite his pro-Israeli views, he suggested President Bush penalize Israel for any money the United States had to pay for maintaining Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. A scholar as well as an activist, Hertzberg earned the Amram Award from the Jewish Publication Society for his The French Enlightenment and the Jews (1967), and was author of such other texts as The Zionist Idea (1959), Anti-Semitism and Jewish Uniqueness: Ancient and Contemporary (1975), and Jewish Polemics (1992). In later life, he lectured widely at universities and was a visiting professor of humanities at New York University. Hertzberg recorded the story of his life in A Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity (2002).



Hertzberg, Arthur, A Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.


New York Times, April 19, 2006, p. A18.

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