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Arthur Joseph Lelyveld

LELYVELD, ARTHUR JOSEPH (1913–1996), U.S. Reform rabbi. Lelyveld was born in New York City and received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1933 and his M.H.L. and ordination from *Hebrew Union College in 1939. He was awarded an honorary D.D. by HUC-JIR in 1955, and a Litt.D. by the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies, where he was on the faculty, in 1986. Lelyveld's first pulpit was with Bene Israel in Hamilton, Ohio, a congregation he served while also acting as director of youth activities for the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In this position, he was instrumental in initiating summer youth conclaves and in organizing the National Federation of Temple Youth. During this time, he was also founder and first president of the Jewish Peace Fellowship (1941–44).

A passionate Zionist, Lelyveld then served as executive director of the Committee on Unity for Palestine (1944–46). In this role, the eloquent Lelyveld played a little-known but instrumental role in obtaining critical American recognition of the newly formed State of Israel. He won the support of Eddie *Jacobson, the former business partner of President Harry S. Truman, for the cause of a Jewish homeland; and in 1946, with Jacobson's introduction, Lelyveld became one of the first Jewish spokesmen to speak with Truman on behalf of a Jewish state.

In 1946, Lelyveld was named assistant national director (1946–47) and then national director of the *B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation (1947–56). He subsequently continued to build bridges between the United States and Israel as executive vice chair of the *American-Israel Cultural Foundation (1956–58). In 1958, Lelyveld was named senior rabbi of Anshe Chesed Congregation (Fairmont Temple) of Cleveland, becoming senior rabbi emeritus in 1986. He also became an adjunct professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University and the Bernard Rich Hollander lecturer in Jewish thought at John Carroll University.

An outspoken advocate for social justice and civil rights, Lelyveld went to Mississippi to help register black voters during the turbulent "Freedom Summer" of 1964. There, he was beaten and seriously injured by segregationists. The next year, Lelyveld received an award for "distinguished service to the NAACP and the cause of Freedom." He was also appointed to the board of trustees of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change.

On the national stage of the Reform movement, Lelyveld served on the Commission on Social Action (1962–71) and the executive board of the *Central Conference of American Rabbis (1971–73), before being elected vice president (1973–74) and then president (1975–76) of the CCAR. He subsequently served as president of the *Synagogue Council of America (1979–81) and honorary president of the *American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish League for Israel. In 1988, the *Histadrut established a scholarship in his honor in Israel. The Cleveland Jewish community also dedicated the Arthur J. Lelyveld Forest in Israel in recognition of his devotion to Zionism and the *Jewish National Fund.

A prolific writer of numerous articles and monographs, Lelyveld was a contributor to the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and the author of two books: Atheism is Dead (1968) and The Steadfast Stream: An Introduction to Jewish Social Values (1995).

His son, Joseph *Lelyveld, former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote a moving and painful memoir of his childhood with his parents and in their absence titled it Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop (2005).


K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993).

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