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Bokser, ben Zion


BOKSER, BEN ZION (1907–1984), U.S. Conservative rabbi and scholar. Bokser, born in Luboml, Poland, was raised in the United States. From 1933 he served as rabbi of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, one of the largest Conservative congregations in New York City, a massive synagogue structure complete with a physical education complex, the veritable "shul with a pool" that was popular in the immediate post-World War ii years. Aside from a brief stint as an Army chaplain during World War ii, he remained at the Forest Hills Jewish Center for half a century. His influence extended far beyond his congregation. He was a passionate supporter of liberal causes and took the courageous and deeply unpopular stance of supporting a housing project for lower income residents amidst the solidly middle class Jewish neighborhood of Forest Hills.

He was also associate professor of homiletics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and for many years editor of its Eternal Light radio program. He served on the Rabbinic Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and dissented from the RA ruling that permitted Jews to ride to synagogue on the Sabbath. He also wrote the unanimous ruling prohibiting circumcision on days other than the eighth except on medically or halakhically acceptable grounds.

Bokser's books, both popular and scholarly, include Pharisaic Judaism in Transition (1935), a biography of R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus; The Legacy of Maimonides (1950); From the World of the Cabbalah (1954, a study of the life and thought of R. Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal) of Prague); Judaism: Profile of a Faith (1963); and Judaism and the Christian Predicament (1967), a study of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. His study and translation of some of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook's writings into English gave an American audience access to the revered mystic's thought. Published by Paulist Press, it gave a hearing to Kook's work among Christian scholars of mysticism. Bokser also wrote The Jewish Mystical Tradition (1981), a survey of Jewish mystical thought from the Bible to Rav Kook. He translated and edited two prayer books, the first for weekday, Sabbath, and festivals (1957) and the second for the High Holidays (1959), which were first used by his congregation and then elsewhere in the Conservative movement. His siddur was complete, unlike the Silberman prayer book that contained the Sabbath liturgy alone and was intended by the Hebrew Publishing Company to serve as the Conservative version of the Birnbaum Siddur used by Orthodox Jews in mid-century America. He also taught political science and religion at Queens College and was co-founder of its Center for Ethics and Public Policy. His son, Baruch *Bokser (1945–1990), was a scholar of rabbinics.

[Jack Reimer /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

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