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Irving Greenberg

(1933- )

GREENBERG, IRVING (Yitz; 1933– ), U.S. rabbi, author, and educator. Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Greenberg attended Yeshiva High School in Brooklyn and from there he attended the Yeshiva Bais Yosef, from which he received ordination as an Orthodox rabbi in 1953. At the same time he attended Brooklyn College, where he received a B.A. in history. He went on to obtain his M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from Harvard University. In 1959 he began teaching American history at Yeshiva University where he was among the first to introduce the teaching of Holocaust studies into a university curriculum. From 1965 to 1972 he was the communal rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center while he also taught at CCNY (1965–72). Shortly thereafter, he founded the organization that would later come to be known as the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and served as its director from 1974 to 1997.

In 1975, along with Elie Wiesel, Greenberg founded the Holocaust memorial organization Zachor. In 1979 he was invited to serve as director of the President's Commission on the Holocaust and participated in the development of the initial recommendations for a center that later became the United States Holocaust Memorial Musuem. Twenty years later, from 2000 to 2002, he served as chairman of the museum's governing body, although his tenure was marred by controversy and internal dissension. From 1998 he also served as president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, whose aim is to create and enrich the cultural and institutional life of American Jewry.

Rabbi Greenberg's thoughts and ideas have been disseminated through four decades of teaching and writing often in pamphlets and other popular articles. He has lectured in every American city with a fair-sized Jewish community and published his work in almost all major Jewish publications. He is the co-editor of a pioneering work, Confronting the Holocaust. Greenberg is also the author of The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (1988) and Living the Image of God: Jewish Teachings to Perfect the World (1998), which presents his teachings on a wide range of subjects, including those central to his redemptive covenant theology.

Greenberg writes of the shattering of the covenant in the Holocaust. Following Elie Wiesel and Jacob Gladstein, he suggests a deep theological humility: "No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children." He states that the authority of the covenant was broken in the Holocaust, but the Jewish people, released from its obligations, chose voluntarily to renew it again. Greenberg writes, "We are in the age of the renewal of the covenant. God is no longer in a position to command, but the Jewish people are so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry out the mission."

Greenberg is known for his thoughts on the issue of pluralism in Jewish life. His widely publicized essay "Will There Be One Jewish People in the Year 2000?" catapulted the issue of Jewish unity to the forefront of American Jewish concerns. He has often been accused of being the Conservative and Reform's Orthodox rabbi. A strong proponent of "centrist Orthodoxy" Greenberg has labored against its weakening from radical shifts, left and right. He has been a strong advocate of Orthodox Jews' full participation in American national life, seeking a synthesis between traditional Judaism and modernity. And as a strong champion of interfaith dialogue he has for four decades campaigned for Jewish and Christian reconciliation.


Sources:[Shalom Freedman and Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.