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Kushner, Harold S. 1935–

Kushner, Harold S. 1935–

(Harold Samuel Kushner)

PERSONAL:

Born April 3, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Julius (in business) and Sarah (a teacher) Kushner; married Suzette Estrada, March 27, 1960; children: Aaron (deceased), Ariel Ann. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1955, M.A., 1960; Jewish Theological Seminary, M.H.L., 1960, D.H.L., 1972. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Natick, MA. Office—Temple Israel, 145 Hartford St., Natick, MA 01760.

CAREER:

Rabbi, writer, and educator. Temple Israel, Great Neck, NY, assistant rabbi, 1962-66; Temple Israel, Natick, MA, rabbi, 1966-90. Visiting lecturer in Jewish literature at Clark University, 1972-75; visiting professor at Jewish Theological Seminary. Military service: U.S. Army, 1960-62; became first lieutenant in chaplain corps.

MEMBER:

New England Region Rabbinical Assembly (president, 1972-74), Rotary Club of Natick.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Christopher Award, 1987, for When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters; Clergyman of the Year, Religion in American Life, 1999; holder of four honorary degrees.

WRITINGS:

When Children Ask about God, Reconstructionist Press (New York, NY), 1972, with a new preface by the author, Schocken (New York, NY), 1989.

Commanded To Live (collected sermons), Hartmore (Bridgeport, CT), 1974.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Schocken (New York, NY), 1981, with a new preface by the author, 1989.

When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Who Needs God, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1989.

To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.

How Good Do We Have to Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Living a Life That Matters, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.

The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Overcoming Life's Disappointments, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

Editor of Conservative Judaism, 1980-82.

ADAPTATIONS:

When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters was adapted for audio, 1987.

SIDELIGHTS:

For more than a decade, rabbi Harold S. Kushner has been addressing some of the most important dilemmas facing Americans of all creeds. Kushner's best-selling volumes, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People and When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters, pose difficult questions about the nature of God and the importance of religion in everyday life. No stranger to tragedy himself, Kushner offers paths to spiritual solace for those who suffer everything from grief to plain boredom. As Carol J. Lichtenberg noted in the Library Journal, the author "attempts to transcend [theological] differences while conveying basic spiritual truths."

Kushner was a rabbi in the community of Natick, Massachusetts, when he and his wife discovered that their oldest child, Aaron, was stricken with a fatal illness. The disease—progeria—causes rapid aging and certain death by the early teens in all of its victims. Indeed, Aaron died just two days after his fourteenth birthday. The depression and grief Kushner suffered during the tragedy forced him to take a sharp look at certain fundamental theological issues. He wondered how a fair and loving God could allow good people to suffer the injustice of inexplicable misfortune.

Kushner searched his own beliefs and the Bible for answers, and he published his thoughts in When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York Times contributor Clifford D. May commented: "The conclusion [Kushner] reached is that it is wrong to assume that God is the source of tragedy in the first place; tragedy, he argues, is an act of ‘fate,’ not of God. And when it strikes, God is on our side, prepared to offer His comfort and support." May went on to write: "In Mr. Kushner's view God sees the sparrow fall, but he does not cause that fall, is powerless to prevent it and may even weep when it happens."

When Bad Things Happen to Good People remained on the best seller lists for a year and made its author a celebrity far outside his small Massachusetts congregation. At the time Kushner told CA: "I am astonished by the success of the book, and even more gratified by the response from my fellow clergy, Jewish and non-Jewish. I thought I was writing a radical book, but priests and ministers from all over the country have given sermons about it and given copies to congregants in times of sorrow."

In 1986 Kushner addressed another important topic: disillusionment in an age of plenty. The author told CA that his work When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough "is an examination of the question of why successful people don't feel more satisfied with their lives." Kushner added: "Drawing on the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, it suggests that people need to feel that their lives make a difference to the world. We are not afraid of dying so much as of not having lived. The American habit of defining success as winning helps make us feel that something is missing in our lives as it teaches us to be competitive with everyone else." When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough suggests that true happiness derives not from the shallow joys of wealth, power, or indulgence, but rather from becoming a good human being and paying attention to what matters most. Like its predecessor, the book was a best seller that transcended narrow sectarian audiences. Washington Post Book World contributor Vic Sussman called it "a thoughtful, well-reasoned meditation and a useful spiritual survival manual."

In Who Needs God, Kushner explains how religion and belief in God meet many of the basic human needs. "Harold Kushner cares deeply about those who are terrified by the dark," wrote National Review contributor Richard Neuhaus. "‘Don't be afraid,’ he says in a thousand soothing ways. ‘Everything is in order, everything is all right.’"

To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking explores what it means to be of the Jewish faith. Kushner's "exuberant approach and organic bonds to a living faith pervade this book," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor of To Life! In Living a Life That Matters, Kushner examines the balance between getting what we want out of life and maintaining our moral and ethical integrity and beliefs. Each chapter is based on one of the ways we can be "worthy" and live a purposeful life. Ray Olson, writing in Booklist, called Living a Life that Matters "top-notch pastoral counsel."

Kushner wrote The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm as an examination of how to find succor in this most famous of all Biblical Psalms. "Through a series of meditations on each line, Kushner brings new insights to familiar words," wrote Kathline Nitsch in Catholic Insight. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "Kushner writes well and engagingly, and his tone will make readers feel personally welcomed into the rabbi's study for a comforting one-on-one chat."

In his 2006 book, Overcoming Life's Disappointments, Kushner presents strategies for dealing with the disappointments and tragedies of life. He uses various examples from the Bible, including the figure of Moses, who led the Jewish people to the promised land but was vastly disappointed by their complaints and lack of gratitude. "Kushner makes many good points about how to deal with disappointment whether they arrive through divorce, infertility, illness, losing a job, or feeling that the dreams of our youth have not come to fruition," wrote Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on the Spirituality and Practice Web site. Booklist contributor Barbara Jacobs noted: "In all, the universal lessons for overcoming disappointment remain simple yet profound."

Kushner sees himself as a writer trying to fill a spiritual vacuum. He makes a case for God's role in modern lives using arguments from a variety of faiths. News-week correspondent Mark Starr wrote: "Kushner doesn't always parrot orthodox views. Unlike most Jewish religious thinkers, he is preoccupied with what God is rather than what God demands. Moreover, his concept of a nonomnipotent deity—one not directly responsible for all the world's woes—diverges from both the Jewish and Christian mainstreams." Starr added: "Kushner's endeavor is more emotional than intellectual."

Kushner told Time that the public response he has reaped for his writings is a great consolation to him. "I feel gratified," he said. "I have personally gone beyond an act of theology by taking an abstract idea and making it so real and helpful that people's lives are changed by it."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bestsellers 90, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

PERIODICALS

Book, September, 2001, Eric Wargo, review of Living a Life That Matters, p. 79.

Booklist, March 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, p. 1118; July, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of How Good Do We Have to Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness, p. 1778; July, 2001, Ray Olson, review of Living a Life That Matters, p. 1947; June 1, 2003, Ray Olson, review of The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm, p. 1708; May 1, 2006, Barbara Jacobs, review of Overcoming Life's Disappointments, p. 4.

Catholic Insight, September, 2004, Kathline Nitsch, review of The Lord Is My Shepherd, p. 43.

Library Journal, September 15, 1989, Carol J. Lichtenberg, review of Who Needs God, p. 114; July, 1996, Henry Carrigan, Jr., review of How Good Do We Have to Be?, p. 123; August, 2001, Leroy Hommerding, review of Living a Life That Matters, p. 116; October 1, 2003, Graham Christian, review of The Lord Is My Shepherd, p. 84; July 1, 2006, Graham Christian, review of Overcoming Life's Disappointments, p. 81.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 29, 1986, review of When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters, p. 4.

National Review, November 10, 1989, Richard Neuhaus, review of Who Needs God, p. 52.

Newsweek, October 23, 1989, Mark Starr, "God and Modern Man; A Best-Selling Rabbi Tries to Unite Them," p. 74.

New York Times, January 3, 1982, Clifford D. May, review of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, p. 10.

New York Times Book Review, June 22, 1986, Allen Boyer, review of When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, p. 27.

People, October 19, 1981, Davis Bushnell, "In Grief, Rabbi Harold Kushner Discovers a Reason Why Bad Things Happen to Good People," p. 97.

Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1989, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Who Needs God, p. 450; February 8, 1993, review of To Life!, p. 66; July 9, 2001, review of Living a Life that Matters, p. 54; October 1, 2001, Daisy Maryles, "We Need Him Now," p. 16; July 14, 2003, review of The Lord Is My Shepherd, p. 74; May 29, 2006, review of Overcoming Life's Disappointments, p. 55.

Time, July 19, 1982, Guy D. Garcia, "Dear Rabbi—Why Me?," p. 80.

U.S. News & World Report, October 8, 2001, Marc Silver, "Why Bad Things Can Inspire a Good Life," p. 10.

Washington Post Book World, May 11, 1986, Vic Sussman, review of When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, p. 10; May 13, 1990, review of When Children Ask about God, p. 23.

ONLINE

Jewish Journal.com,http://www.jewishjournal.com/ (October 27, 2006), Sarah Price Brown, "Q&A with Rabbi Harold S. Kushner."

Spirituality and Practice,http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ (August 4, 2007), Frederic Brussat and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Overcoming Life's Disappointments.

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