Meyer, Marshall T.

views updated


MEYER, MARSHALL T. (1930–1993), rabbi, educator, social activist. Meyer was born in New York City, grew up in Norwich, Connecticut, and attended Dartmouth College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1958 and served as secretary of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. With his wife, Naomi, Meyer left for Argentina in 1959 to become the assistant rabbi at Buenos Aires's Congregación Israelita de la República Argentina. Meyer's sharp intellect, his outreach to youth, and his social activism quickly earned him distinction. In 1963 he founded Comunidad Bet-El, which within a few years became the leading Conservative synagogue in Argentina and the model upon which future Conservative synagogues would be built throughout Latin America.

Anticipating the Conservative movement's emergence and expansion throughout Latin America, Meyer founded the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in 1962, the first non-Orthodox Latin American institution of higher Jewish studies. Meyer also supervised the translation into Spanish of a siddur for weekdays and Shabbat, and of the maḥzor for the High Holy Days. In addition, he undertook the translation into Spanish of dozens of important volumes on theology and works by important Jewish authors. Meyer published the journal Maj'shavot which contained original articles by Latin American authors. He was committed to interfaith dialogue and was a member of a group that included several leading liberation theologians.

During the years 1976–83, when Argentina was ruled by a military junta, Meyer became one of the foremost critics of the junta's violation of human rights. Meyer visited detainees in jails and made himself available to relatives of the desaparecidos, those who had been kidnapped by the security forces and held in clandestine jails throughout the country. Shabbat services at Bet El were overflowing with worshippers who came to hear Meyer's reality-revealing sermons at a time when the junta severely controlled the media, with families of desaparecidos who came in search of comfort. Meyer was member of the Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos and part of a small network of human rights defenders and foreign ambassadors who worked to save the lives of hundreds by arranging hiding places for them and ensuring their safe passage out of the country. Meyer's own home was, on more than one occasion, such a place of refuge.

Meyer was awarded the Medal of San Martin, the highest Argentine honor upon the nation's return to democracy in 1983. During 1984, Meyer participated in the Comisión Nacional Sobre la Desaparición de Personas – conadep, the national commission which documented thousands of human rights abuse cases to be utilized at the courts and to be disseminated through the book Nunca más ("Never Again").

In 1985, Meyer was invited to instill new life into Congregation Bnai Jeshurun (bj), an Ashkenazi synagogue in New York City. Through a combination of lively religious services and a dynamic social action program bj grew dramatically in numbers and in prominence. At the time of his death in 1993, bj had become a model for many other synagogues throughout the U.S. Meyer's disciples and graduates of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, renamed in his memory in 1994, occupy pulpits and Jewish communal positions throughout Latin America, in Israel, and in the U.S. He received honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Kalamazoo College, Dartmouth College, the University of Buenos Aires, and huc-jir.


J. Isay, You Are My Witness: The Living Words of Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer (2004); J. Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (1981); E. Zadoff (ed.), Comisión Israelí por los Desaparecidos Judíos en Argentina – website:

[J. Rolando Matalon (2nd ed.)]