Stern, Jack

views updated


STERN, JACK (1926– ), U.S. Reform rabbi. Stern was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and received a B.A. at the University of Cincinnati in 1948. In 1952, he was ordained at *Hebrew Union College, which awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1977. After ordination, he became assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El in Great Neck, n.y. (1952–55), where his then soon-to-be father in law, Jacob *Rudin, was senior rabbi. Next he served as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, n.j. (1955–62), until he was appointed rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, n.y. (1962–91, when he became emeritus). He also lectured in Modern Jewish Thought at the College of New Rochelle, New York, as part of the Jewish Chatauqua Society Lecture-ship program.

Stern was a social activist in both the Jewish and general communities, as a trustee of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of Greater New York, president of the Westchester Board of Rabbis, co-chairman of the Scarsdale Committee for Senior Housing, and a member of the Human Relations Advisory Council in Scarsdale. As a member of the board of the Scarsdale Family Counseling Service, he had a special interest in mental health and participated in a National Institute of Mental Health pilot project on "Religion and Mental Health." He extended his charitable efforts beyond Scarsdale by establishing an ongoing relationship with the poor Jewish elderly in the Bronx, finding clothing and jobs for refugee Vietnamese families, and participating in countrywide interfaith efforts to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. He ventured forth from the suburbs in the service of his own congregants as well, as one of the pioneering rabbis to bring religious study to them at their places of business (on Wall Street, for example).

In the Reform movement, Stern was chairman of the Task Force on Jewish Ethics of the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations and chaired the *Central Conference of American Rabbis' Committee on Ethics. He also chaired the ccar Committee on Youth and served on both the Joint ccaruahc Commission on Social Action and the ccar's executive board. In 1982, he was elected vice president of the ccar; in 1984, he succeeded Gunther *Plaut as ccar president. During his tenure in office, Stern worked at what he called "setting up dialogues" – with the goal of bringing together Christians and Jews in order to share Jewish values in interfaith settings, but primarily with his Conservative and Orthodox counterparts at the *Rabbinical Assembly and *Rabbinical Council of America, respectively. While defending Reform Judaism's position on patrilineal descent against vehement opposition from both the Conservative and Orthodox camps, Stern managed to hammer out with his colleagues a historic "Statement of Unity" that was read aloud in congregations affiliated with all three denominations on *Shabbat ha-Gadol. This step forward for the benefit of Kelal Yisrael was made possible by drawing a distinction between the "Covenant of Fate" – that all Jews share – and the "Covenant of Faith," about which the movements agreed to disagree.

Also during his presidency, Stern tackled the issue of intermarriage from two new perspectives: he called on the institutions of Reform Judaism to create an environment in which young Jews would consider dating outside the faith unacceptable a priori, thus adopting a proactive rather than reactive stance against serious interfaith relationships. Secondly, he prevailed on the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations to issue a statement asking its synagogues not to discriminate against rabbinic candidates who refused to officiate at inter-faith weddings as a matter of principle.

Following his term of office, Stern served on the board of governors of huc-jir and was alumnus-in-residence at huc-jir in Cincinnati. In 1996, he was asked by the ccar to chair the Committee on Sexual Abuse by Clergy, which recommended procedures and sanctions that were adopted by all the institutions of the Reform movement. He also served as a trustee of Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.


The Nearprint Files of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]