Hoffman, Lawrence A.

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HOFFMAN, LAWRENCE A. (1942– ), scholar. Born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Hoffman became a leading scholar, teacher, and spokesperson for the North American Reform Movement, with influence extending well beyond the movement. He received his B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1964. He was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1969. He completed his Ph.D. there in 1973, before he joined the faculty of Hebrew Union College in New York, eventually being named the first Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. From 1984 to 1987, he also directed the college's School of Sacred Music.

For 30 years, Hoffman combined research, classroom teaching, and a passion for the spiritual renewal of North American Judaism. He wrote or edited 26 books, including The Canonization of the Synagogue Service (1979), the classic account of how the siddur and maḥzor came into being. His pioneer work applying ritual studies to prayer (Beyond the Text (1987)) was hailed as a paradigm shift for Christians and for Jews. Rather than study liturgy as text, he directed attention to the ritualization of that text as acted out in "the sacred drama" of worship. Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism (1995) combines a history of circumcision and an account of its symbolic meaning through the ages. As an early leader in spiritual worship renewal, he wrote The Art of Public Prayer: Not for Clergy Only (revised ed. 1999). Hoffman's non-technical writings include The Journey Home (2003), a study in Jewish spirituality derived from Jewish texts; The Way into Jewish Prayer (2000), and a revised version of What Is a Jew? (1993), probably the most widely read introduction to Judaism. His ongoing series, My People's Prayer Book (nine volumes published since 1997) provides liturgical commentary by modern scholars across the gamut of Jewish thought and practice. His articles, both popular and scholarly, have appeared in eight languages and on four continents, and include contributions to such encyclopedias and journals as The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion, The Oxford Dictionary of Religion, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, The Encyclopedia of Judaism, Worship, Studio Liturgica, and The Fordham Law Review. He syndicates a regular column commenting on parashat ha-shavu'a.

He is the first Jewish member and past-president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the professional and academic organization for liturgists, and a recipient of their prestigious Berakhah Award for lifetime achievement in his field. Hoffman emerged as a leader in synagogue transformation by co-founding Synagogue 2000 (now 3000): a Transdenominational Institute for the Synagogue of the 21st Century. A beloved mentor and teacher, Hoffman is widely credited with influencing two generations of synagogue leadership to transform synagogues into "sacred communities" and "moral and spiritual centers for the new century."

[Ronald Wolfson (2nd ed.)]

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