Shapiro, Alexander M.

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SHAPIRO, ALEXANDER M. (1929–1992), U.S. Conservative rabbi. Shapiro was born in Brooklyn, n.y., and received a B.A. from Brooklyn College as well as a B.H.L. from the *Jewish Theological Seminary, in 1950. He was ordained at jts in 1955 and earned a Ph.D. from Dropsie University in 1970. From 1955 to 1957, he served as a chaplain in the United States Army. He was director of United Synagogue Youth activities in Philadelphia (1957–59) before becoming rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in the Philadelphia suburb of Erdenheim (1957–68). Under his leadership, the congregation won two Solomon Schechter Awards, for its school and library. In the summers, he served as director of *Camp Ramah in the Poconos and then director of Leaders' Training Fellowship at the Ramah camps in Wisconsin, California, and Canada.

Shapiro is credited with organizing and leading – over the objections of the United Synagogue – the first protest by a Jewish group in front of the Soviet embassy in Washington, d.c., on October 6, 1964. His activism ushered in a new era of Jewish picketing and vigils on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

In 1968, Shapiro turned to academia, joining the faculty of Temple University, where he taught in the Department of Religion (1969–70) – although he also served as co-rabbi of Philadelphia's Germantown Jewish Center (1968–69). In 1970, Shapiro moved to Israel, where he lectured at Beersheba's Ben-Gurion University and the David Yellin Teachers' Seminary in Jerusalem as well as for the Overseas Student Programs at Hebrew University. He returned to the United States in 1972 to assume the pulpit of Congregation Oheb Shalom in South Orange, n.j., a synagogue that had been headed previously by two leaders of Conservative Judaism and former presidents of the *Rabbinical Assembly, Charles *Hoffman and Louis *Levitzky. He served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan New Jersey (1972–76), the Solomon Schechter School (1973–81), and Jewish Family Services (1973–76), and was elected president of the New Jersey Region of the Rabbinical Assembly, where he initiated a study of the effects of congregational demands on rabbis and their families.

Shapiro emerged as a national leader of the Rabbinical Assembly when he was elected treasurer of the organization (1980–82), then vice president (1982–84) and ultimately president (1984–86). During his tenure in office, and following years of his lobbying for equal rights for women in the pulpit, the ra voted to amend its constitution and admitted its first women members, jts graduate Amy *Eilberg, and Beverly Magidson and Jan Kaufman, who had been ordained elsewhere. This step reopened concerns of the more traditional members of the Conservative movement, prompting Shapiro to join with jts chancellor Gerson *Cohen in establishing a committee to articulate Conservative ideology. As president, Shapiro also participated in a delegation of Jews and Catholics who met in the Vatican to discuss the implementation of Nostra aetate with Pope John Paul ii.

Shapiro also sought to engage in interdenominational dialogue, becoming the first Conservative rabbi to address the annual convention of the Orthodox *Rabbinical Council of America and taking that opportunity to revive the proposal that a national *bet din be established to deal with matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce and conversion. His rca counterpart, Rabbi Louis *Bernstein, returned the visit and appeared before the ra that year – the first and last time such an exchange took place. While president, he also had the distinction of being arrested during a 1985 demonstration in front of the Soviet consulate in New York City – an act of civil disobedience and courage reminiscent of his participation in a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963: the presence of Shapiro and 18 rabbinical colleagues in kippot electrified and inspired a large assembly of southern African-Americans; the hotel in which he stayed was bombed shortly after his departure.

A scholar in the area of medieval responsa, Shapiro contributed articles and essays to numerous academic journals and reference books. He was also the co-editor (with Burton Cohen) of Studies in Jewish Education and Judaica in Honor of Louis Newman (1984).


P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook, 1988.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]