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Maurice Liber

LIBER, MAURICE (1884–1956), chief rabbi of France and scholar. Born in Warsaw, Liber went to Paris with his parents at the age of four. He graduated from the Ecole Rabbinique de Paris in 1907 and began lecturing on Jewish history there. In 1911 he was appointed assistant to the chief rabbi of Paris, serving as an army chaplain and receiving the Croix de Guerre during World War I. In 1920 Liber became rabbi at the Rue de la Victoire synagogue, in 1921 lecturer in the history of rabbinic Judaism at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, and in 1927 succeeded his teacher Israël Lévi as professor. He was appointed director of religious education by the Paris Consistoire in 1930 and, two years later, head of the Ecole Rabbinique. In 1934 Liber was appointed chief rabbi of France par interim, to assist the aging Israël Lévi in his task. Under the German occupation of France during World War II, he strove hard to safeguard the Ecole Rabbinique – which had been evacuated to unoccupied southern France – and the religious character of the Consistoire. He also strove to maintain some sort of Jewish education, both legal and underground.

Liber's chief field of research was French-Jewish history. He is best known by his biography of Rashi (1905; Eng. tr. 1906). He wrote a series of articles, based on archival sources, under the title "Les Juifs et la convocation des Etats Généraux" (in REJ, vols. 63–66, 1912–13), and another series, "Napoléon et les Juifs" (ibid., vols. 71–72, 1920–21). On liturgy he wrote, among other works, La Récitation du Schema… (1909), "La Formation de la liturgie Synagogale" (in Annuaire de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes, 1933/34), and "Structure and History of the Tefilah" (in JQR, 40 (1949/50), 331–57). Liber also wrote an extensive introduction to the reprint of M. Schwab's French translation of the Palestinian Talmud (1932).

Absorbed into the French cultural climate, Liber opposed Zionism, calling it a national theory unacceptable to those who believe that emancipation resolved the national question for the Jews. Though deeply religious, he felt compelled to compromise with the facts of French synagogue life, such as the use of an organ.


R. Sommer, in: REJ, 118 (1959/60), 95–119; 125 (1966), 9–20; Z. Szajkowski, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer, 19391945 (1966), 44, 55, 57; G. Vajda, in: Annuaire de l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses (1957/58), 26; REJ, 15 (1956), 5–7.

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