Drachman, Bernard

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DRACHMAN, BERNARD (1861–1945), U.S. Orthodox rabbi, first of the modern English-speaking Orthodox American rabbinate. Drachman was born in New York and reared in Jersey City. His early Jewish education was at a Reform institution, the Hebrew Preparatory School, sponsored by Temple Emanu-El Theological Seminary. He graduated from Columbia College, and was sent to study at Breslau and Heidelberg by New York's Temple Emanu-El (Reform). In Europe, much to the chagrin of his patrons, for the first time he came into personal contact with the deep piety of East European Jewry, and was so influenced by it that he became entirely committed to Orthodoxy, of which he later became one of the leading spokesmen in the United States. Drachman served as rabbi of Oheb Shalom in Newark until it introduced mixed seating, and in several New York City pulpits, including Zichron Ephraim (1889–1909) and Oheb Zedek (1909–22). His background was unusual. American-born, he shared none of the East European experiences of his Orthodox colleagues; Reform-trained, he shared none of the enthusiasm for Reform of those who first taught him. He was the first ordained Orthodox rabbi to preach in the vernacular in the U.S. and was one of the founders of the *Jewish Theological Seminary, where he taught Bible, Hebrew, and Jewish philosophy from 1887 to 1902. After Solomon Schechter's arrival, he continued as assistant reader in Codes from 1902 to 1908. There are two versions of his decision to sever his service at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Some believe that Drachman was not sufficiently scholarly for the institution that Schechter was rebuilding and others believe that he left the Seminary when it gradually started to diverge from Orthodoxy; he later taught at Yeshiva College. He served as president of the *Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations during 1908–20. He was a candidate for the Chief Rabbinate of England in 1912 but withdrew when one of his first pupils, J.H. *Hertz, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, put forward his candidacy. Drachman was a founder of the Jewish Endeavor Society and Jewish Sabbath Alliance, which sought to repeal the Blue Laws that prohibited businesses from being open on Sunday and thus imposed a great economic hardship on Sabbath-observing Jews. In the 1920s, together with the labor movement they advocated a five-day work week. He translated Samson Raphael Hirsch's Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel into English (1899). His autobiography, Unfailing Light (1948), is a vivid portrait of American Jewry during his lifetime.


M. Davis, Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1963), 335–6. add. bibliography: J. Gurrock, "Bernard Drachman and the Evolution of Jewish Religious Life in America," in: American Jewish History, 76:4 (June 1967).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]