Zlotowitz, Bernard M.

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ZLOTOWITZ, BERNARD M. (1925– ), U.S. Reform rabbi. Raised in an Orthodox immigrant family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Zlotowitz served as a leading voice of the Reform movement of the United States, holding several positions in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (later the Union for Reform Judaism). His father, Rabbi Aron Zlotowitz, was spiritual leader of a congregation in Brooklyn for 60 years. Accepted into medical school while studying at Brooklyn College (B.A., History, 1948), Bernard Zlotowitz decided on a career in the Reform rabbinate. "I decided I didn't want to be a doctor. My real interest was in trying to serve God and the Jewish people," he says. In college, he re-examined his faith. "Reform answered my religious needs. Reform challenges the origins of the Bible … the nature of God."

After ordination in 1955 from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he earned a B.H.L, M.H.L. and subsequently a D.H.L. degree, Rabbi Zlotowitz served as a pulpit rabbi at temples in Elmont, n.y., Nyack, n.y., Freeport, n.y., and Charlotte, n.c. He returned to New York City in 1975 to serve as the uahc's New Jersey regional director. "I wanted to serve more Jews than I was serving in Charlotte," he said. In 1980 he was promoted to director of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues; he also lectured on Bible at huc and wrote a "Jewish Q & A" column for Reform Judaism magazine.

Zlotowitz worked at the federation until retirement in 1990. From his retirement, he taught at the interdenominational Academy for Jewish Religion in the Bronx, and continued to teach and lecture as the urj's senior scholar, serving as a resource for the Reform movement's rabbis and lay members on a variety of religious and historical topics, such as the construction of a mikveh, and the source of the tradition of sitting shivah for an intermarried child.

"My major interest is Bible," he said, "because it's a living book. It's a guide for life."

As a leader of summer trips to Israel sponsored by the National Federation of Temple Youth in 1968–72, he took part in archaeological digs in the Old City of Jerusalem. "I chose to do it. It gave me a tremendous insight into archaeology. It gave me an insight into the history of Jerusalem."

Rabbi Zlotowitz was a life member of nfty and a board member of the New York Board of Rabbis. He received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from huc in 1980.

With his wife Shirley he traveled around the world, including most of Europe, as well as parts of Africa, Asia, South America and Africa. During a visit to Germany in 1994, Rabbi Zlotowitz became fascinated by the story of Martin Riesenburger, a preacher and cantor who openly officiated at funerals and led worship services in the chapel of Berlin's major Jewish cemetery during the Nazi era and came to be known as "the last rabbi of Berlin."

Rabbi Zlotowitz researched Riesenburger's life and wrote his biography, still unpublished. "He was a hero. He gave the people hope," Rabbi Zlotowitz said. "He always told them the war would end."

Among his writings are Abraham's Great Discovery (1991) and How Tzipi the Bird Got Her Wings (1995), both as co-author with Dina Maiben; Folkways and Minhagim, Art in Judaism; The Septuagint Translation of Hebrew Terms in Relation to God in the Book of Jeremiah (1981), The Book of Psalms: A New Translation and Commentary (co-author with Mark Rozenberg, 1999); he was editor of One People (1982).

[Steven Lipman (2nd ed.)]