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Abraham J. Karp

(1921 – 2003)

Abraham J. Karp was a U.S. Conservative rabbi and scholar. Karp, who was born in Amidur, Poland, was taken to the United States in 1930. He was educated at Yeshiva University (B.A. 1942) and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1945. For a time he served as assistant director of the Seminary College and director of the Metropolitan New York Region of the United Synagogue of America. He then held pulpits in Swampscott, Mass. (1948–1951), and Kansas City, Mo. (1951–1956) working with Gerson Hadas. From 1956 he was rabbi of Temple Beth El of Rochester, N.Y. He was also active in the Rabbinical Assembly serving as a member of the Cabinet, the Executive Council and on the editorial committee of the Joint Prayer Book Commission and of Conservative Judaism. While serving at Beth El, Karp became well known as an important scholar of American Judaism. He was a visiting professor at Dartmouth College (1967) and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; he taught American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary (1967–71, 1976). He left his rabbinic duties in 1972 and was the Philip Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester retiring in 1991.

Karp served as president of the American Jewish Historical Society from 1972 to 1975, receiving the society's Lee M. Friedman Medal for distinguished service, and was named fellow of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Science in 1984.

Karp was what one admirer called the "greatest grassroots collector of Judaica in modern history." Rarely spending more than five or ten dollars he combed flea markets and basements, dumpsters and library sales. In the end he amassed a collection of some 3,500 items of Americana Judaica which he gave to the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1990. Prof. Arthur Kiron, curator of Judaica Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Library, called Karp's Americana material "perhaps the finest private collection of its kind ever assembled." In addition to books and manuscripts, the collection included ritual and ceremonial objects, paintings, synagogue records, newspapers, and diaries.

Karp is the author of New York Chooses a Chief Rabbi (1955), Jewish Way of Life (1962), and History of the United Synagogue of America (1964), all of which appeared in issues of the Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society; Conservative JudaismThe Heritage of Solomon Schechter (1963); and edited Jewish Experience in America (5 vols., 1969). He assisted in the Library of Congress's major exhibition of its Judaic treasures and wrote From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress (1991). He also wrote, Jewish Perceptions of America: From Melting Pot to Mosaic (1976), Jewish Continuity in America: Creative Survival in a Free Society (1998) and To Give Life: UJA in the Shaping of the American Jewish Community (1981).

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