Rabbi Herman Abramovitz Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish History and Chancellor Emeritus
Department: Jewish History, William Davidson Graduate School, Project Judaica
Phone: (212) 678-8951
Building Room: Brush 611
Office Hours: By Appointment
BA, Ursinus College; MA and PhD, Columbia University; MHL and Rabbinical Ordination, The Jewish Theological Seminary; LittD (hon.), Wittenberg University; LHD (hon.), Ursinus College; Honorary Doctorate, Russian State University for the Humanities; Honorary Doctorate, Tufts University
Ismar Schorsch is chancellor emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Rabbi Herman Abramovitz Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish History. Since retiring as chancellor in 2006, Dr. Schorsch has returned to his first love: the life of the mind and serious scholarship. His most recent book Leopold Zunz: Creativity in Adversity was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2017.
Previously he had authored Canon Without Closure (March 2007, Aviv Press), a wide-ranging collection of Torah commentaries written during his tenure as chancellor. In 2004, he published a two-volume collection of the articles and essays written while chancellor titled Polarities in Balance; and in 1995, he published The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism, a highly acclaimed monograph outlining the seven fundamental tenets of the Movement. In Feburary 2018, Professor Schorsch was awarded the Moses Mendelsohn Prize by the city of Dessau, Germany.
Throughout his 20 years as chancellor, Dr. Schorsch worked to convey his vision of Conservative Judaism as the most authentic contemporary expression of Rabbinic Judaism. Under Dr. Schorsch’s leadership, JTS continued to inform and elevate the religious lives of Jews far beyond its Manhattan campus. As an engine for outreach, JTS was committed to introducing new leadership along with religious alternatives in Israel through its Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem; training a new Jewish intelligentsia for Russian Jewry through Project Judaica, its Jewish studies program in Moscow; raising a generation of literate and observant Jews in North America through the Ramah camps and Schechter schools; providing Jewish knowledge and experience to adults through a panoply of innovative programs; and creating a responsible Jewish voice on public issues, from religious pluralism in Israel to bioethics.
Dr. Schorsch’s belief that the survival of the Jewish people depends on serious education resulted in the creation of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education in September 1996, established with a generous gift of $18 million from William Davidson of Detroit. Through this premier graduate school, JTS began a revolution in the field of Jewish education in North America. Dr. Schorsch also was a guiding force behind the Solomon Schechter High School of New York, established on the JTS campus in 1992, and relocated to Bergen County, New Jersey. In the wake of JTS’s leadership, communities across the United States have founded new community and Schechter high schools.
Throughout his tenure, Dr. Schorsch pursued a deep commitment to advancing Conservative Judaism and religious equality for all Jews in Israel. His public statements and published writings attracted wide attention in the secular and Jewish press, including front- and editorial-page coverage in the New York Times. His longtime support of the peace process was capped by an invitation from President Clinton to serve with the official presidential delegation and to witness the peace treaty signing between Jordan and Israel in October 1994.
Dr. Schorsch worked hard to enhance JTS’s standards of academic excellence. A top scholar in the field of modern Jewish history, he addressed the important issue of modern Jewish scholarship as a central factor in the reconstruction of Jewish identity and self-presentation. In the spring of 2000, Dr. Schorsch received an honorary degree from Tufts University. In 1998, the Russian State University awarded him an honorary degree in recognition of the extraordinary success of Project Judaica—the first time in that country’s history that such an honor was given to a Jewish scholar. He also received a Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Historical Studies from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
During his tenure as chancellor, Dr. Schorsch became recognized as one of the foremost spokespersons on a range of critical issues. He brought a unique Jewish dimension to such national issues as the environment, separation of church and state, health care, and welfare reform. Dr. Schorsch achieved national recognition on the environmental crisis through his participation in a Middlebury College symposium, televised nationally by Bill Moyers, titled “Spirit and Nature: Religion, Ethics, and Environmental Crisis,” during which he shared the podium with the Dalai Lama. Working closely with Vice President Al Gore, Dr. Schorsch helped create the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a coalition of religious and scientific leaders that succeeded in using the moral influence wielded by religious leaders to effect change.
Dr. Schorsch also spearheaded the creation of a coalition to bring that moral influence to the debate over the delivery of health care in this country. He launched this partnership effort with a national conference in 1996 titled “Health Care: Right or Privilege?” The conference was jointly sponsored by JTS and its neighbors the Union Theological Seminary and the Columbia University School of Public Health.
Dr. Schorsch was ordained by JTS in 1962, holds master’s degrees from JTS and Columbia University, and was awarded a PhD in Jewish History by Columbia in 1969.
He and his wife, Sally, have three children and 11 grandchildren.
- “Schechter’s Seminary: Polarities in Balance,” Conservative Judaism, vol. 55 (Winter 2003), 3–23.
- “Coming to Terms with Biblical Criticism,” Conservative Judaism, vol. 57 (Spring 2005), 3–22.
- “Schechter’s Indebtedness to Zunz,” Jewish Historical Studies, vol. 48 (2016), 9–16.
- “Missing in Translation: The Fate of the Talmud in the Struggle for Equality and Integration in Germany.” Forthcoming.
- “In the Shadow of Wellhaussen: Heinrich Graetz as a Biblical Critic.” Forthcoming.
- Drei Vortrage zur Wissenschaft des Judentums (Leopold Zunz – Abraham Geiger – Moritz Steinschneider). Wolfenhuttel 2018.
- “Moritz Steinschneider: The Vision Beyond the Books.” In Studies on Steinschneider, edited by Reimund Leicht and Gad Freudenthal, 3–36. Brill: Leiden & Boston, 2012.
- “Steinschneider’s View on the Future of Judaism After Emancipation (Hebrew).” Peamim 129 (5772): 61–71.
- “Katalogue und kritische Forschung: Die Muenchner Judaica-Schaetze im Kontext juedischer Sammlungen im Deutschland des 19. Jahrhunderts.” Muenchner Beitraege zur juedischen Geschichte und Kultur, Jg. 5/Heft 1/2011.
- “Wives and Wissenschaft: The Domestic Seedbed of Critical Scholarship” In Gender and Jewish History, edited by Marion H. Kaplan and Deborah Dash Moore. Indiana University Press, 2011.
- “Converging Cognates: The Intersection of Jewish and Islamic Studies in Nineteenth Century Germany.” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 55 (September 2010).
- “You Can’t Be Holy Alone.” Judaism 55, nos. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2006).
- From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1994.
- Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries. New York: Aviv Press, 2007.
- Polarities in Balance. New York: JTS Press, 2004.
- The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism. New York: JTS Dept. of Communications, 1995.
- “Beyond the Classroom: The Enduring Relationship between Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer and Ignaz Goldziher,” in Leipziger Beiträge zur Orientforschung, vol. 30 (2013), 75–114.