Ben Zion Bokser, (1907-1984), Papers.

  • Dates: 1920s-1980s
  • Size: 11 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 27
  • Languages:
    • English
    • Hebrew
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.

JJB; revised, JM, 8/2/91; addition, JM, 3/98

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

 [see caption]
Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser (1907-1984) with members of the sisterhood board of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, Queens, New York, 1938.
Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, 1907-1984, was born in Poland, emigrated to the United States in 1920, and was educated at the City College of New York (BA, 1928) the Jewish Theological Seminary (ordained, 1931) and Columbia University (PhD, 1935). Bokser became the rabbi of Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, New York in 1935 and remained in that position for more than fifty years except for a period as a United States Army chaplain during World War Two when he was stationed at Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts.

At Forest Hills Rabbi Bokser came to be known as an advocate of social justice, taking a position in favor of the construction of a housing project for the poor in the middle class community of Forest Hills.

Rabbi Bokser was active in the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and he maintained relations with The Jewish Theological Seminary, serving as a program editor for the "Eternal Light," the Seminary's radio program; a lecturer on homiletics; and a participant in the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion and the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, both Seminary-run programs.

Rabbi Bokser was the author of many books, including: Pharisaic Judaism in Transition (1935), The Legacy of Maimonides (1950), The Wisdom of the Talmud (1951), Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel (1973), and others.

Collection Description

Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser's papers, 1920s-1980s, consist largely of writings - articles, books, sermons, and other writings - in both manuscript and final forms. Also included are clippings of reviews of his books, correspondence, printed material, tapes, photographs, and printed materials.

This material documents Rabbi Bokser's years at the Forest Hills Jewish Center; World War Two chaplaincy, including weekly and monthly chaplaincy reports and correspondence with families of soldiers from Forest Hills; involvement with the Jewish Theological Seminary, including courses taught, involvement with the Institute for Religious and Social Studies and "Eternal Light" radio program; and involvement with the Rabbinical Assembly.

Also included is material documenting Bokser's involvement in issues relating to the construction of a building by the Solomon Schechter School of Queens and the 1968 New York City public school strike.

These files have been left, for the most part, in the order in which they were found. The box list, below, lists the contents of each box.

Additional Papers

In 1997 and 1998 the Ratner Center received additional material from Kallia Bokser, Rabbi Bokser's widow. This material is in box 27 of the collection, and consists of: files, 1966-1972, documenting the conflict that ensued when a low-income housing project was proposed for the Forest Hills community in Queens, New York and Rabbi Bokser's role in the debate; letters to Rabbi Bokser, 1981, concerning the institution of Saturday Bat Mitzvahs at the Forest Hills Jewish Center; photographs; and printed material.

The Forest Hills Housing Controversy is documented here by Rabbi Bokser's correspondence; clippings; flyers, circulars, meeting announcements, press releases, and statements from organizations on both sides of the controversy; and some unsigned typescript drafts of writings, presumably Bokser's, on the issue.

Rabbi Bokser supported the construction of the project, and in doing so aroused both the anger and admiration of his congregants and other members of the community. Some Jewish opponents of the plan understood it as a threat to the area's Jewish community, while Rabbi Bokser and his supporters took a more traditionally liberal position, rejecting the racism inherent in the arguments of the plan's opponents.

The correspondence, 1966-1972, consists mainly of letters from opponents denouncing Bokser's position and a smaller group written by people who sought to support him. Many correspondents identify themselves as congregants of the Forest Hills Jewish Center. Letters received by Bokser as well as some drafts of his replies are included. Other correspondents include Simeon Golar, New York City Commissioner of Housing, and other city officials. One letter from Samuel J. Lefrak of the Lefrak Organization, 1966, is included.

The flyers, meeting notices, and other printed material comes from a range of organizations on both sides of the debate, including the Jewish Rights Council and the Queens Jewish Community Council (both opposed). Rabbi Bokser's correspondence with the New York Board of Rabbis, which opposed the project, is filed with the correspondence.

Photographs, ca. 1930s-1970s, show Rabbi Bokser at functions of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, ca. 1930s-1960s; at Camp Miles Standish, where he was stationed as a chaplain during World War Two; participating in the Rabbinical Assembly's Law Committee, 1959; with staff of the "Eternal Light" radio program, 1970s; with Arthur Szyk, 1949; and with Israeli president Ephraim Katzir, 1977.

The Forest Hills Bat Mitzvah Debate, 1981, is documented by letters Bokser received from congregants opposing the move to hold Saturday Bat Mitzvahs at the Forest Hills Jewish Center.

Printed Material included here consists of clippings of newspaper articles about Rabbi Bokser; programs from events at the Forest Hills Jewish Center honoring him; and a reprint of an essay Bokser wrote, "Codes of the American Rabbinate" that appeared in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (January 1955).

Box List

Box  Folder(s)  Description
  Personal, Israel-related and Miscellaneous Materials
1  Resume materials and photographs; awards and honors; photographs of Rabbi Bokser; picture of UJA Forest Hills Division Dinner, May 16, 1950;picture of David Ben-Gurion, City of New York dinner, 1951; material on Israel (see also Box 5); notes from trip to Israel; materials on 1978 European Travels; invitations; Krugilov (1961) and East Midwood Jewish Center (1976) court cases; marriage and divorce material; miscellaneous articles, bulletins, book reviews, 1963-1983; clippings, correspondence, and printed material concerning antisemitism in the school system, Fall, 1968.
  Writings, Miscellaneous
2  Including offprints of "Topics in Jewish Thought" and writings on Rabbi Kook, Maimonides, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, and other topics; draft and final copies of The Gift of Love.
  Writings on Judaism and Christianity
3-4  Material published about Judaism and Christianity, 1967-1969; "The Law in Judaism and Christianity"; articles, notes and drafts on Jewish/Christian issues; materials received on Judaism and Christianity 1968-1969; newspaper articles about the Vatican, 1968-1969; Brotherhood Day - National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1940.
  Writings on Israel, Jewish Thought, and the Bible
5-7  "America's Jews and the Mystique of Israel"; 1967 Arab-Israeli War; "Called to Service"; "Religion in Israel"; Israel; Hasidic Thought; The Legacy of Maimonides; Judaism: Profile of a Faith; Symbols in the Bible; Papers on Language and Symbolism; God and A Suffering World; the conscience; Seeds for a New World; "The Messianic Community"; Abraham Isaac Kook - His Message For Our Time; The Oral Torah; The Bible as Revelation and the Jewish People and Divine Providence; Prophets; The Passover Haggadah with commentary.
  Writings on Jewish History
8  "Pharisaic Judaism in Transition: Rabbi Eliezer the Great and Jewish Reconstruction after the War with Rome"; "The Medieval Galut"; notes on the "Assault of Conscience under Communism" - Judaism and Christianity.
9  Miscellaneous Articles, Sermons, and Notes
  Book Reviews and Related Correspondence
10  Miscellaneous clippings of reviews of Bokser's books: The World of the Cabbalah; Judaism: Profile of a Faith; Judaism and Modern Man; The Wisdom of the Talmud; Legacy of Maimonides; Judaism and the Christian Predicament and related correspondence, 1967; correspondence about Between Judaism and Christianity.
  Sermons, Reviews, Student Paper
11  High Holidays, Passover, Hanukah; Thanksgiving; Conflict in Life and in the Cain and Abel story; Heroism and Abraham; Review of Poets, Prophets, and Sages, by Robert Gordis; President Truman; Chaim Weizmann; Morality and the Law; The Biblical Dimension of Witnessing; Moral Leadership - presented at JTS conference on Moral Implications of the Rabbinate; The Jewish Doctrine of Man; Mental Health; Reinterpreting Judaism - a student paper; sermon from "Eternal Light", 1952.
  World War II Chaplaincy, 1944-1946
12-13  Chaplaincy correspondence, 1944-1946; Bokser's weekly and monthly reports as chaplain; other papers concerning chaplaincy duty, 1944-1945; Bible study pamphlet; responsa from the Jewish Welfare Board.
  Correspondence and Forest Hills Material, 1940s-1980s
14-17  Personal correspondence; Forest Hills material, 1940s: confirmation services; sermonic material; Bar and Bat Mitzvah; column material for The Message; issues of publications; adult education material.
  Education, Miscellaneous Programs and Materials
17-18  Adult education material; paper from student on hasidism and mysticism; Foundations of Jewish Ethics - Queens College Ace Program; study outline for Maimonides course; Materials for 1936 Talmud correspondence course taught by Louis Ginzberg.
19  Liturgical Materials
19  Institute for Religious and Social Studies
20  Solomon Schechter School of Queens
20  "The Eternal Light," Scripts
  Rabbinical Assembly/Jewish Theological Seminary
21-22  Rabbinical Assembly membership list, 1960s-1970s; Joint Commission on Social Action; records of JTS Board of Overseers, 1950s-1960s; minutes of JTS faculties, 1954-1969.
23  Mid-winter conference resolutions, 1953; plenary session, June, 1972-May, 1977; 1980 building campaign; Louis Marshall Dinner, 1981-1984; development committee meeting correspondence, 1982; new library dedication, 1980; publications concerning the JTS library; minutes of Joint Prayer Book Commission - November 25, 1958; comments on the translation of the siddur.
24  Eternal Light Programs; Jewish Hour; Jewish Books WEVD; unlabeled recordings; interfaith service.
25  The Gifts of Life and Love, revised edition, 1975; The Gifts of Life and Love, commemorative edition, 1977; The High Holiday Prayer Book, 1959; The Passover Haggadah, 1974; by Isaac B.Lefkowitz, 1950.
  Miscellaneous Printed Material
26  Miscellaneous issues of various Jewish periodicals, Hebrew and English, 1940s-1960s; miscellaneous pamphlets on Jewish subjects, Hebrew and English, 1960s and n.d.; A Set of Holiday Sermons, 1925-1942 (gaps), pub. The Tract Commission; miscellaneous newsletters, 1960s-1980s; flyers and brochures for Jewish educational and cultural programs, ca. 1930s-1950s.
  Additional Papers, 1940s-1981
      Forest Hills Housing Controversy, 1966-1972
27 1     Clippings, 1966-1972
      Flyers, Circulars, Meeting Announcements, Statements, Press Releases, etc.
 2         Various organizations
 3         Jewish Rights Council
 4         Queens Jewish Community Council
 5         1966; 1968
 6         1971
 7         1972
 8         n.d.
 9     Writings
 10     Photographs, 1940s-1970s
 11     Saturday Bat Mitzvah Controversy, 1981
      Printed Material, 1940s-1970
 12     Clippings, "Prejudices Seen by Gov. Pastore 'A-Bomb' Threat, Woonsocket Call, [1940s]; "Mayor Hails Role of a New Temple," [Forest Hills], New York Times, September 19, 1949.
 13     "Codes of the American Rabbinate," Ben Zion Bokser, reprint, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January 1955
 14     Invitations and Programs to Events Honoring Bokser, 1949-1970