Schwarzschild, Steven Samuel

views updated


SCHWARZSCHILD, STEVEN SAMUEL (1924–1989), U.S. rabbi, editor, scholar, and professor of Judaic Studies. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a family long established there, Schwarzschild was raised in Berlin and escaped with his family to the U.S. in 1939. He was ordained at the (Reform) Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. His most important teacher there was the talmudist Samuel Atlas. Schwarzschild's huc doctoral dissertation was on the philosophy of history in Nachman Krochmal and Hermann Cohen. In 1948 he returned to Berlin to serve as rabbi of the reconstituted Jewish community. This was followed by rabbinical posts in North Dakota and near Boston (where he became close to the late Rabbi Joseph B. *Soloveitchik), and then an academic career at Washington University in St. Louis. A highly influential rabbi, Schwarzschild was editor of JudaismA Quarterly Journal (1961–69); under his stewardship it was one of the few serious journals of scholarship and opinion in the North American Jewish world of that time. Ever-hard to classify, Steven Schwarzschild for a long time was the only rabbi to hold simultaneous membership in Reform and Conservative rabbinical associations, but saw as his rabbinic teacher the Orthodox Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik and later found much to learn from the Ultra-Orthodox rabbis Isaac Hutner and Joel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe).

A democratic socialist, Schwarzschild was also a leading Jewish exponent of pacifism and vegetarianism. He followed Hermann Cohen in the latter's resistance to Zionism, although, out of Jewish solidarity, he was very circumspect in his public criticisms of Israel.

Schwarzschild placed halakhah at the center of his vision of Judaism, seeing it as an expression of a system of moral ideals making demands upon reality. Schwarzschild adopted Maimonides as an intellectual and Jewish standard, citing him over and over again in his writings, and using him as a hook on which to hang his interpretations of Judaism. For Schwarzschild, Maimonides anticipated the critical idealism of Immanuel Kant as explicated by Hermann Cohen. In Schwarzschild's eyes, both Maimonides and Kant (correctly) understood that much that other thinkers see in reified terms should be seen as regulative concepts.

The author of scores of philosophical, historical, and theological essays, Schwarzschild also edited some of the works of Hermann Cohen and introduced the English speaking world to the thought of Franz Rosenzweig in his Franz Rosenzweig: A Guide to Reversioners (London, 1960).


M. Kellner (ed.), The Pursuit of the Ideal: Jewish Writings of Steven Schwarzschild (1990); K. Seeskin, "The Rational Theology of Steven S.Schwarzschild," in: Modern Judaism, 12 (1992), 277–86.

[Menachem Kellner (2nd ed.)]

About this article

Schwarzschild, Steven Samuel

Updated About content Print Article