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Cohen, Seymour J.


COHEN, SEYMOUR J. (1922–2001), U.S. Conservative rabbi. Cohen was born in New York City, ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1946, and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1953. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in pre-Israel Palestine and worked with Holocaust survivors in Italy and France (1946–47). Cohen served as rabbi of the Patchogue Jewish Community Center in Patchogue, New York (1947–51) and B'nai Israel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1951–61), before taking the pulpit at the formerly Reconstructionist Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago in 1961, a post he held for 29 years before being appointed rabbi emeritus. Cohen joined with other neighborhood clergy and resisted the temptation to flee the city and was instrumental in the congregation's remaining in Chicago and thus in stabilizing the renewal of the neighborhood. Although considered a scholar-rabbi and compelling orator, Cohen was also a gifted pastor who devoted much time and considerable energy to serving the needs of his congregants and others.

Cohen rose to the highest positions of leadership in several major American Jewish organizations. While serving as chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, he led the first Eternal Light Vigil for Soviet Jews in Washington D.C. (1965). As president of the Synagogue Council of America (1965–67), he worked to further Jewish-Christian relations and was founding co-chairman of the Interreligious Committee Against Poverty. As president of the Rabbinical Assembly (1980–82), he introduced a number of services benefiting working rabbis.

Also known as a scholar, Cohen edited and translated the Hebrew classics Orchot Tzadikkim: The Ways of the Righteous (1969, 19822); Sefer Hayashar: The Book of the Righteous (1973), and Iggeret Ha-Kodesh: The Holy Letter (1976). He published two collections of sermons, A Time to Speak (1968) and Form, Fire and Ashes (1978), and wrote the book Affirming Life (1986). He was also the co-author (with Byron L. Sherwin) of How to Be a Jew: Ethical Teachings of Judaism (1982). In 1991, Abraham J. Karp, Louis Jacobs, and Chaim Zalman Dimitrovsky edited a Festschrift in his honor: Threescore and Ten: Essays in Honor of Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday.


P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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