Saperstein, David N.

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SAPERSTEIN, DAVID N. (1947– ), U.S. rabbi. The long-time director of the Reform Jewish Movement's Religious Action Center (rac) in Washington, d.c., Saperstein was an influential leader in the so-called "Jewish lobby" in Washington for more than three decades. As J.J. Goldberg in his book Jewish Power observed: "[led] since 1974 by the savvy, charismatic Rabbi David Saperstein, the rac has become one of the most powerful Jewish bodies in Washington [second only to aipac]." The son of Long Island Reform Rabbi Harold I. Saperstein, Saperstein was ordained in 1973 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He then served as assistant rabbi at New York City's Temple Rodeph Sholom until Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism), and Albert Vorspan, the director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, invited him to Washington, d.c., to direct the center.

As coordinator of the Reform Movement's social action advocacy to Congress and the Executive branch, Saperstein became a leading spokesperson in Congressional hearings, the media, and Jewish community organizations, for the mostly liberal views of Reform Jewry. Under Saperstein's tutelage, the center built a wide-reaching social action education program that trains nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year and which provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials used by Reform synagogues and other Jewish organizations.

Well-known as a skilled coalition builder, he headed several national religious coalitions, including Interfaith Impact, the Interfaith Coalition on Energy, and the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty. He served on the boards and executive committees of numerous national public interest organizations, including the naacp, Common Cause, People for the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Saperstein was also credited with helping to forge groundbreaking coalitions with religious right groups, leading to successful passage of legislation on issues including religious freedom, prison rape, human trafficking, and genocide in Sudan. Among the legislation passed through this coalition's efforts was the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, passed unanimously by Congress. This led, in 1999, to Saperstein being elected as the first chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

For many years, Saperstein traveled widely, speaking in synagogues, federations, and universities, appearing on television news and talk shows as one of the leading exponents of Reform Judaism's strong views on social justice issues. His books, which have been used widely as sources for Jewish social action studies and activities, include Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time; Tough Choices: Jewish Perspectives on Social Justice; Preventing the Nuclear Holocaust: A Jewish Response; and Critical Issues Facing Reform Judaism 1972.

An attorney with a specialty in church-state relations, Saperstein has taught seminars on both First Amendment Church-State Law and Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law School for more than 25 years, with articles published in legal periodicals, including the Harvard Law Review.

[Mark Pelavin (2nd ed.)]