Orthodox Theologian Eliezer Berkovits Is Born
Photo: Public Domain

September 8, 1908

Orthodox theologian and ardent Zionist Eliezer Berkovits is born in Nagyvarad, Transylvania. Berkovits studies the Talmud at yeshivot, and in 1934 he is ordained as a rabbi at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, where he is influenced by Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg. He earns his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Berlin and serves as a rabbi in that city until 1939, when he is forced by the Nazi regime to leave after trying to counter Nazi propaganda with his first book, 1938’s “What Is the Talmud?” His mother, brother and two sisters are killed in the Holocaust.

He travels to England, where his scholarship and mastery of English bring him to the forefront of the Jewish scene. He stays in London until 1946, when he moves to Australia for four years to serve as the rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney. He serves as a rabbi in Boston from 1950 to 1958, then heads the philosophy department head at the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, where he teaches and lectures until his retirement to Israel in 1975.

Berkovits establishes himself as a leader of liberal Orthodoxy, marked by his criticism of the lack of rights accorded women in Jewish tradition — his last book is “Jewish Women in Time and Torah” in 1990 — as well as his belief that Halachah (Jewish law) can be reformed over time. He also theorizes about the Holocaust, explaining that God gave humans free will, which can be used for evil, and thus cast responsibility on humans. He considers Christian teaching the main cause of anti-Semitism and believes that Christian-Jewish dialogue is useless unless Christians abandon their charge of deicide in the death of Jesus and their sense of uniqueness.

Berkovits theorizes about the religious obligation for Zionism within Judaism. He develops the argument that Judaism and Zionism are inseparable.

He dies in Jerusalem in 1992.