A giant of the Hillel world and the global Jewish community, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, has died at the age of 84 due to complications of heart failure.
An author, activist, scholar, teacher and congregational rabbi, Hertzberg began his professional career as the Hillel director at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, during World War II. He represented a generation of Hillel directors who were steeped in classical Jewish texts and modern Jewish scholarship. In an age when Jewish studies departments were rare, these men served both as resident Judaica teachers and campus spiritual leaders. In a memorable speech to Hillel's Professional Staff Conference in 1998, Hertzberg challenged Hillel professionals to go beyond engagement and to offer Jewish students in-depth exposure to Jewish content.
Born in Poland in 1921, his life spanned both the Old World and the New. Although raised in the Orthodox tradition, he was ordained by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and was influenced by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement.
Hertzberg himself influenced generations of students through his activism, writing and teaching. After earning a doctorate in history at Columbia University, he taught at Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, Dartmouth and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After 1991, he was Bronfman Visiting Professor of the Humanities at New York University. Hertzberg wrote a dozen books and hundreds of articles. His book "The Zionist Idea" became a standard text on the subject.
Hertzberg was renowned for his outspoken opinions on civil rights, Israel and other causes, often taking positions that were at odds with the mainstream. He served as president of the American Jewish Congress from 1972 to 1978 and as vice president of the World Jewish Congress from 1975 to 1991.
Hertzberg was a close confidante and teacher of Hillel International Board of Governors Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman. Bronfman praised his friend, saying, "Teaching is a great Jewish value, and Arthur was a great teacher who left the world a better place because he taught so many. Everyone who knew him is a better person for having known him."
He is survived by his wife, two daughters, two brothers and a sister.
May the memory of the righteous be a blessing.