Rackman, Emanuel

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RACKMAN, EMANUEL (1910– ), U.S. Orthodox rabbi, educator, and author. Rackman was born in Albany, New York. His father, Rabbi David Rackman, was an early rosh yeshivah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (riets). Rackman studied at Columbia University where he received his B.A. Phi Beta Kappa, his law degree, and a Ph.D. in political science, and at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (see *Yeshiva University) where he was ordained in 1934. He served congregations in Glen Cove (1930–36) and Lynbrook (1936–43), New York, and was a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force (1943–46), later attaining the rank of colonel in the reserves. He was in Europe at the time of the liberation of the concentration camps, an experience that shaped his desire to make use of his rabbinical ordination to rebuild the Jewish people. In 1946 he became the rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Tefila of Far Rockaway, New York, and in 1967 succeeded to the rabbinate of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Synagogue, replacing Rabbi Immanuel Jacobwitz, who had been named chief rabbi of the United Kingdom. Rackman was prominently identified with the modern Orthodox group within American Orthodoxy, and was particularly concerned with understanding the meaning of the halakhah in order to find contemporary applications. He took issue with those who he claimed have frozen Jewish law and refused to solve current problems within its framework. Rackman also held that Orthodox rabbis and institutions should cooperate with the non-Orthodox and could participate in organizations which contained all the divisions of American Jewry. Rackman was also a leading figure in the Far Rockaway Jewish community and was instrumental in making it an important center for Orthodoxy. He also taught political science and served as assistant to the president of Yeshiva University (1962–70), a professor of political science and jurisprudence, and later a University Professor at Yeshiva where he served as provost, and professor of Jewish studies at the City University of New York (1971–77). Rackman was president of the New York Board of Rabbis (1955–57) and the Rabbinical Council of America (1958–60), and a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency. In 1977 Rackman was appointed president of Bar-Ilan University and became chancellor of the institution in 1986. Under his leadership Bar-Ilan expanded dramatically and became the focal point of contact between Orthodox Jews and secular education. It took shape as a critical institution in what remained of Modern Orthodoxy. Well into his 90s, he was not afraid to tackle difficult issues and, despite great controversy, he worked with Agunot International to free women trapped in dead marriages by recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant a get, serving on a bet din that invokes the halakhic concepts of kiddushei ta'ut and umdenah to annul the marriage. He was the author of Israel's Emerging Constitution (1955) and One Man's Judaism (1970), which included some of his previously published essays. Among his many acts of service, he was a member of the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York. Rackman received the Jerusalem Prize for Community Spiritual Leadership. The prestigious honor was awarded to him by Israel President Moshe Katzav, on Rackman's 90th birthday. The Jerusalem Prize is awarded annually to leading international figures dedicated to the education and preservation of the Jewish people. The prize is awarded by the Center of Jewish Relations in the Diaspora of the World Zionist Organization.


M.R. Konvitz, in: Midstream (June–July 1995), 33–36; D. Rackman, Kiryat Ḥannah David (1967), 29–33; C. Liebman, in: ajyb, 66 (1965), 48–49; 69 (1968), 70, 74.

[Aaron Rothkoff /

Stanley Wagner (2nd ed.)]