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Bernstein, Louis

BERNSTEIN, LOUIS

BERNSTEIN, LOUIS (1927–1995), U.S. Orthodox rabbi and Zionist leader. Bernstein was born in New York City, received his B.A. from Yeshiva University in 1947, and was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1950. In 1977, he earned his Ph.D. from Yeshiva University, which also awarded him an honorary D.D. degree in 1994. Bernstein began his rabbinic career at the Glenwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn (1947–50) and then served as a chaplain in the United States Army during the Korean War (1951–53). In 1953, he became rabbi of Young Israel of Windsor Park in Bayside, Queens, New York, where he was to remain until his death. Under his guidance, the congregation grew from a small minyan meeting in a house to the most prominent Orthodox synagogue in eastern Queens. Concurrently, he was professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University's College of Hebraic Studies, specializing in American Jewish history. After teaching at the high school and college levels for 40 years, he was granted the title professor emeritus in 1994.

Bernstein made his mark writing with a passion that carried him to the highest levels of leadership in the world of modern Orthodox Judaism. As a graduate student, he was editor of the Yeshiva University newspaper The Commentator, on whose pages he exhorted the Orthodox community to support the burgeoning movement for a Jewish state. From that point on, Bernstein made it a point to be the editor of the house organ of each and every organization he was to head, including The Rabbinical Council Record (published by the *Rabbinical Council of America), Jewish Horizons (the publication of the Religious Zionists of America), and even the newsletter of the Yeshiva College Alumni Association. He reached a larger, general audience as a columnist for The Jewish Press, the mass-circulation Brooklyn-based weekly.

A man of action as well as words, Bernstein was an effective lobbyist for Jewish causes. In the 1960s, when Congress was debating a humane treatment of animals bill whose provisions threatened the practice of *sheḥitah (Jewish ritual slaughter), he met personally with influential politicians and galvanized opposition that succeeded in derailing the legislation. This kind of initiative and savvy led to his election as president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the foremost association of Orthodox rabbis in the United States. While his provocative editorials in the rca's in-house publication occasionally sparked controversy, his popularity remained so high that he was re-elected to two additional terms as president, and ultimately died in office.

Bernstein was also president of the combined rabbiniclaity organization Religious Zionists of America, the U.S. affiliate of the worldwide *Mizrachi-Hapoel Mizrachi movement. Subsequently, he moved up to the position of chairman and represented the rza as a member of the Board of Governors of the *World Zionist Organization and of the executive of the *Jewish Agency. His diplomatic skills were sorely tested during those stormy years, when he was called on to defend the traditional ideologies of religious Zionism even as many of its followers in Israel spearheaded the ultra-nationalist settlement movement in Israel

Combining his devotion to Zionism with his dedication to the education of young people, Bernstein served as chairman of the board of the Rabbinical Council's yeshivot in Israel (1958–93), helping transform two small schools into burgeoning campuses. As director and spiritual leader of Camp Massad Bet in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, he promoted Zionist values and a love for modern spoken Hebrew in a unique atmosphere of tolerance embracing campers from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox backgrounds alike. During the rest of the year, back in his home community, he served as chairman of the Board of Education of Yeshiva of Central Queens, one of the largest day schools in North America.

In 1973 he received Yeshiva University's Samuel Belkin Award for Community Service Leadership. In 1993, the World Zionist Organization awarded him the Jerusalem Prize; he was one of only two recipients worldwide – and the only North American – to win the biennial prize that year. Also in 1993, he was honored by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America with the organization's National Rabbinic Leadership Award.

A prolific writer, Bernstein wrote Challenge and Mission: The Emergence of the English-Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate (1982), a history of the first 25 years of the Rabbinical Council of America that also chronicles the story of the formative years of modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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