Belkin, Samuel

views updated


BELKIN, SAMUEL (1911–1976), U.S. rabbi, educator, and scholar. Born in Swislocz, Poland, Belkin studied at the yeshivot of Slonim and Mir, and was ordained in Radun (1928). He immigrated to the U.S. in 1929 and received his Ph.D. at Brown University in 1935. He joined the Yeshiva College faculty as instructor in Greek and Talmud (1935–37), becoming secretary of its graduate school (1937) and member of the College Executive Committee (1939). Appointed professor and dean of Yeshiva's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1940, Belkin became president of the riets and Yeshiva College in 1943. He launched a far-reaching program of academic and physical expansion which enlarged Yeshiva University from 850 students and a faculty of 94 to 8,000 students and a faculty of some 2,200 with teaching centers throughout New York City. Fourteen constituent schools were founded, and in 1945 the college became *Yeshiva University.

Belkin, an authority on Jewish law and Hellenistic literature, especially Philo and early Midrashic sources, published many scholarly studies. In his major work, Philo and the Oral Law (1940), he stressed that "the oral law which originated in Palestine was also known and practiced among the Jews who lived outside of Palestine, and that Philo's halakhah is based upon the Palestinian oral law as it was known in Alexandria." He further showed that "there prevailed a great interdependence of thought between the Alexandrian and Palestinian Jewish communities and that we cannot regard them as two entirely separate forms of Judaism." His later works also demonstrate Philo's dependence upon ancient rabbinic traditions. Belkin wrote Essays in Traditional Jewish Thought (1956) and In His Image (1960), in which he formulated a religious philosophy of Judaism as reflected in the halakhah. Numerous articles of his were published in learned periodicals, both in Hebrew and in English.

As an educator, Belkin stressed that "Torah is the source from which all human obligations spring." He especially enunciated the religious philosophy of Judaism as reflected in the halakhah. To him its basic principles are the sovereignty of God and the sacredness of the individual. Hence, many legal and spiritual institutions in Judaism can be understood only by these fundamental teachings based on belief in divine king-ship and the finite worth of the human personality. Though recognized as a modernist Orthodox spokesman, Belkin generally maintained rapport with all groups in Judaism, promoting the unity of peoplehood.


G. Klaperman, History of Yeshiva University (1969); Hadoar (Kislev 6, 5728); Hapardes (Tammuz 5728); Yeshiva University, The Inauguration of Rabbi Samuel Belkin (1945). add. bibliography: V.B. Geller, Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University (2003).

[Sidney B. Hoenig]