Szold, Benjamin

views updated


SZOLD, BENJAMIN (1829–1902), U.S. rabbi and scholar. Szold was born in Nemiskert, Hungary, where his family owned land. Although they were the only Jews in town, he received an excellent Jewish education from the rabbis in the area. At the age of 16, or 14 according to family tradition, he was granted the title morenu ("our teacher") by Rabbi Benjamin Wolf at the Pressburg Yeshivah. He went on to Vienna for further study but participated in the Revolution of 1848, and was expelled for his activities. He then returned to Pressburg and from 1849 to 1855 tutored privately. He began to study at the University of Breslau and at the newly founded rabbinical seminary in that city, where he came under the influence of Zacharias *Frankel, Heinrich *Graetz, and Jacob *Bernays, and decided to become a rabbi. In 1858, after applying unsuccessfully for a rabbinical post in Stockholm, he accepted an invitation from Congregation Oheb Shalom in Baltimore in the United States. Oheb Shalom was then on the verge of becoming Reform, but Szold led it to a Judaism which allowed for innovations in ritual practice, but not in basic tenets. He recognized and employed the educational potential of the regular Sabbath sermon. He introduced his own prayer book, Avodat Yisrael (1867), to replace the previously used Minhag Amerikah (1857) by I.M. Wise, and the traditional siddur. The Avodat Yisrael was widely adopted by congregations throughout the country. Under Szold's leadership Oheb Shalom became one of the foremost American congregations.

Szold's strong liberal and humanitarian convictions found expression in civic and Jewish communal affairs. He took part in founding charitable institutions and aiding the Russian refugees who streamed in during the 1880s. With his daughter Henrietta *Szold, he organized study groups and a library for immigrants. As early as 1893 he publicly advocated Zionism and was an active Hebraist. He published scholarly articles and commentaries on the Bible, especially on the Book of Job (1886).


A.L. Levin, Szolds of Lombard Steet: A Baltimore Family (1960); M. Davis, Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1965), 360–2, 525; National Cyclopaedia of American Biographies, 13 (1906), 65–66; dab, 18 (1936), 262.

[Gladys Rosen]