Brickner, Balfour

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BRICKNER, BALFOUR (1926–2005), U.S. Reform rabbi. Brickner, the son of Rabbi Barnett *Brickner and Rebecca Aaronson Brickner, was born in Cleveland and served in the United States Navy during World War ii (1943–46). His parents' strong Zionist leanings are evident in his given name. He received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati (1948) and his M.H.L. together with ordination from *Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1952. He was twice awarded Doctor of Humane Letters degrees – from Iowa's Simpson College (1969) and Mississippi's Tougaloo College (1980) – as well as a Doctor of Divinity degree from hucjir (1981).

Brickner began his career as the founding rabbi of Temple Sinai in Washington, d.c. (1951–61), where he also taught biblical and post-biblical history as the Resident Jewish Chautauqua Society lecturer at American University (1952–61). While living in the U.S. capital, Brickner gained a reputation as a leader of social and political activism in the Reform movement; the positions he espoused were influenced by his outspoken conviction that right-wing influences on American life were historically threatening to Jews. In 1961, Brickner was appointed co-director of the National Commission on Social Action of the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations (uahc), a position he held until 1978. Throughout the 1960s, Brickner was a prominent Jewish activist on behalf of civil rights, traveling widely through the South under a Merrill Foundation grant (1961–64) to rally Jewish support for equal rights – campaigning that frequently landed him in local jails. He was also a leader of religious opposition to the Vietnam War: he founded, and served on the executive board of, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam (1955–73), visiting that country in 1970 at the behest of the Fellowship for Reconciliation.

At the same time, Brickner moved to the forefront of national Jewish involvement in interfaith activities. In 1961, he became the founding director of the uahc Department of Interreligious Affairs, in which capacity he displayed diplomacy, creativity, and innovation. He hosted a popular weekly radio program, "Adventures in Judaism," which won the coveted Religious Heritage Foundation Award (1968) and several Ohio State Awards. In the realm of cross-faith understanding, he wrote An Interreligious Guide to Passover and Easter and a study guide to Jesus Christ Superstar (1978). He also initiated and co-directed an annual summer seminar program in Israel for Christian scholars on "The Jewish Sources of Christianity." As a founder of Religious Leaders for Free Choice (later, Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights) and an executive board member of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (naral), Brickner took a forthright pro-choice stand on this controversial issue.

In 1980, Brickner became rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, a position he held until 1992, when he was appointed senior rabbi emeritus. In addition to his congregational duties, he lectured at Fordham University (1983), the New York Theological Seminary (1987–88), and the New School for Social Research, while continuing to pursue an unrelenting activist agenda. In the Jewish world, he served, among other positions, as co-chairman of the National Religious Cabinet of State of Israel Bonds and vice president of the American-Israeli Civil Liberties Coalition. In addition, he was a leader of the Interreligious Coalition for Health Care; a member of the national board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; a board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and a member of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

In 1992, Brickner was appointed executive director of the Alfred and Gail Engelberg Foundation. He is the author of numerous articles, pamphlets, and filmstrips, as well as of Searching the Prophets for Values (with Alfred Vorspan, 1981) and Finding God in the Garden: Backyard Reflections on Life, Love and Compost (2002).


K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]