Cohen, Boaz

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COHEN, BOAZ (1899–1968), U.S. rabbinic scholar. Cohen was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and in 1924 was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he began teaching the following year and remained for the rest of his career. He was awarded a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He was secretary of the Committee on Jewish Law of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, 1933–45, and chairman, 1945–48. He wrote thousands of opinions responding to every facet of Jewish life in America as he considered the request of rabbis and the needs of their congregants, including adoption and conversion. His judgment was restrained. Halakhah could not solve every problem and its processes must be respected and its authority protected. He led a committee to study the issue of the *agunah, but out of respect for the unity of the Jewish people would not permit unilateral action by the Conservative Rabbinate. He was a leading expert on Jewish divorce law, and at a time when denominational lines were less rigid than they are in the early 21st century, the divorce documents that he supervised were recognized and respected by Rabbi Joseph *Soloveitchik and the Rabbinical Council of America despite the fact that Cohen was on the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

A man of gentle disposition and immense erudition, his knowledge was far-ranging, including Greek and Roman, Canon, Islamic, and American law and Assyrian and Babylonian literature. Cohen was one of the first American-born and American-educated scholars to make significant contributions to the scientific study of rabbinic literature. His Kunteres ha-Teshuvot (1930), an annotated bibliography of the rabbinic responsa of the Middle Ages, was one of the first attempts to classify and describe the responsa literature and has remained a standard reference work. He published bibliographies of his father-in-law Israel Friedlaender (1936), Louis Ginzberg (1945), and Alexander Marx (19502). In addition, he prepared the voluminous index to Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews (1938). Cohen's main scholarly activity was in the field of comparative law, his principal works being Law and Tradition in Judaism (1959) and Jewish and Roman Law (2 vols., 1960). His work reveals a mastery of the relevant literature and ancient languages.

add. bibliography:

P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America (1988) pp. 53–55; S. Greenberg, Foundations of a Faith (1967) 90–112; Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly (1969), 173–75.

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]