Levi, Samuel Gershon

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LEVI, SAMUEL GERSHON (1908–1990), Canadian Conservative rabbi and leader; first Jewish chaplain in Canadian history; editor and translator. Levi was born in Toronto, Canada, where he studied in public schools and received a thorough talmudic and Hebraic education from private tutors. He earned a B.A. from the University of Toronto (1929), was ordained rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary (jts, 1933), received an M.A. in Jewish history from Columbia University (1932), and completed all the course work there toward his Ph.D.

After serving as educational director of Sha'ar Hasho mayim synagogue in Montreal (1936–41), Levi was selected to serve as the first Jewish chaplain in Canadian history (1941–46), later becoming senior Jewish chaplain and retiring with the rank of major. Initially, he traveled the length and breadth of Canada to personally meet the Jewish soldiers. In 1942, he sailed for Europe where he served in England, France, and Belgium, also working with She'erit ha-Peletah (Holocaust survivors). His memoir of that period, Breaking New Ground (1994), was published posthumously.

After World War ii, he served as a successful congregational rabbi in Queens, New York (1947–72). He became a leader of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, serving as treasurer (1957–65), president (1970–72), and chairman of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (1972–73). He also served as dean of the Cantorial School of jts in the 1960s. Levi also edited Conservative Judaism magazine (1965–69).

After making aliyah in 1972, Levi devoted his time to editing and translating. He edited Barnett Janner: A Personal Portrait, a memoir on the influential British mp and Zionist written by his widow, Lady Elsie Janner (1984). He translated one of the masterworks of Ḥayyim Hazaz, Gates of Brass (1973), and B.-Z. Segal's The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition (1990).

Levi's magnum opus, to which he devoted more than ten years, was an English translation of Gedaliah Alon's The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. It is, however, much more than a translation. Levi edited the two volumes from scratch, checked and rechecked the thousands of sources quoted in the book, corrected many errors found in the Hebrew original, prepared the indices, and even wrote an introduction assessing Alon's contributions to Jewish historiography. Praised by critics, the book has become one of the standard texts in Jewish historiography.


T. Friedman, Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 52 (1990), 238–239; P. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988), 173–74; New York Times (April 6, 1990), A20; D. Rome (ed.), Canadian Jews in World War ii, vol. i (1947), 18–20.

[David Golinkin (2nd ed.)]