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Cyrus Adler

(1863 - 1940)

ADLER, CYRUS (1863–1940), U.S. Jewish scholar and public worker. Adler was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, son of a cotton planter. In 1867, upon his father's death, Adler and his family moved to Philadelphia, where they lived with Mrs. Adler's brother, David Sulzberger. They were members of the Sephardi Congregation Mikveh Israel, and its atmosphere, together with the influence of Adler's uncle and his cousin, Mayer *Sulzberger , did much to shape Cyrus Adler's religious traditionalism and devotion to scholarship. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1883, Adler thereafter studied Assyriology under Paul *Haupt at Johns Hopkins University. He taught Semitics at the university, becoming assistant professor in 1890. Meanwhile, he had joined the Smithsonian Institution, and became librarian there in 1892. Two years before, he had been sent to the Orient as special commissioner of the Columbian Exposition.

Adler took part in the founding of the *Jewish Publication Society of America (1888), serving as chairman of its various committees throughout his life. He was responsible for the establishment of the Society's Hebrew press. Adler was also a founder of the *American Jewish Historical Society (1892), and its president for more than 20 years. He edited the first seven volumes of the American Jewish Yearbook (1899–1905; the last two vols. with H. Szold) and was a departmental editor of The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–06).

Adler played an active role in reorganizing the *Jewish Theological Seminary of America under the presidency of Solomon *Schechter . He was president of the Board of Trustees from 1902 to 1905, dividing his time between the Seminary and the Smithsonian. When Schechter died, he became acting president (1915), taking office permanently in 1924. Adler maintained the academic standards set by Schechter, and was responsible for erecting the Seminary's new buildings. He was one of the founders of the *United Synagogue of America (1913) and served as its president. In 1908 Adler was elected president of *Dropsie College , conducting its affairs and those of the Seminary simultaneously. Together with Schechter he had taken over the editorship of the *Jewish Quarterly Review (1910) on behalf of Dropsie College, and after Schechter's death served as sole editor (1916–40).

Adler was one of the founders of the *American Jewish Committee (1906). He became chairman of its executive board in 1915 and in 1919 represented the Committee at the Paris Peace Conference. Appointed president of the Committee in 1929, Adler, by then aging, had to face the bitterness of the economic depression, followed by the rise of Nazism. Adler frequently found himself in opposition to the leaders of American Zionism, but he took part in the *Jewish Agency for Palestine.

Adler's success lay in his ability to bridge worlds which early in the 20th century had little common ground. An observant Jew, knowledgeable in the field of Jewish scholarship, he was also familiar and respected in the world of American government and scholarship. Adler was a tireless worker and a scrupulous and constructive administrator. He was able to interpret the needs of traditional-minded Jews to the men of wealth in American Jewry. His style allowed little scope for public display of emotion, and this, combined with his aloofness from Zionism, limited his relations to those with whom he was closest in his observance of Judaism.

He wrote a Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Objects of Jewish Ceremonial Deposited in the U.S. National Museum by Hadji Ephraim Benguiat (1901), with index, I Have Considered the Days (1941), and Lectures, Selected Papers, Addresses (1933), which contains a bibliography of his writings and addresses.


A.A. Neuman, in: AJYB, 42 (1940–41), 23–144; H. Stern, The Spiritual Values of Life (1953), 88–105; L. Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles (1956), 208–13; H. Parzen, Architect of Conservative Judaism (1964), 79–127; Ben-Horin, in: AJHSQ, 46 (1966), 208–31.

[Sefton D. Temkin]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.