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Salo (Shalom) Wittmayer Baron


BARON, SALO (Shalom) WITTMAYER (1895–1989), historian. Baron was born in Tarnow (Galicia) and taken to Vienna early in World War I. He studied at the university there and received doctorates in philosophy (1917), political science (1922), and law (1923); he was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in Vienna in 1920. Baron taught history at the Jewish Teachers College (Juedisches Paedagogium) in Vienna during the years 1919–26. He went to the United States at the invitation of Stephen S. Wise to teach at the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and remained at the Institute from 1927 until 1930. From 1930 to 1963 he taught at Columbia University, and served as director of the Center of Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia from 1950 to 1968. From 1957 he also taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Baron was the first member of an American history faculty to teach Jewish studies. The many such chairs that now exist owe much to his example, and a substantial number of his former students are among their occupants.

Among Baron's many involvements in public and academic affairs were his presidency of the American Academy for Jewish Research (1940–43, 1958–66, and 1968 on); his presidency of the Conference on Jewish Social Studies (1941–54, 1963–67), and honorary presidency (1955–62 and 1967 on); his presidency of the American Jewish Historical Society (1953–55); his founding and presidency of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, which after World War II worked in identifying and reclaiming the libraries and other cultural treasures despoiled by the Nazis; and his trusteeship of Tel Aviv University from 1967. From 1952 he was a corresponding member of the International Commission for a Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind. Baron's first major work, Judenfrage auf dem Wiener Kongress (1920), dealt with the Jewish question at the Congress of Vienna. He began to write articles as a youth and subsequently wrote many hundreds. Using his exceptional range of talents in many languages and disciplines, Baron undertook the largest synthetic work of Jewish history in the contemporary period, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (3 vols., 1937; 2nd ed., vols. 1–17, 1952–80; index to vols. 1–8, 1960). His emphasis has been on the social history of the people, rather than on the achievements of individual figures; on elements and areas of cross-fertilization between Jews and their environment, rather than on pogroms and suffering; and on the Jewish Diaspora and Ereẓ Israel as the two centers of Jewish creativity, contrary to the views both of a Diaspora-oriented historian, such as Simon *Dubnow , and the new school of Israel-centered scholars, such as Ben Zion *Dinur . A bibliography that covers his works to 1955 appears in a Festschrift in his honor (Essays on Jewish Life and Thought, 1959). In addition to the works mentioned above, Baron's major publications are Bibliography of Jewish Social Studies 193839 (1941), The Jewish Community (3 vols., 1942), Modern Nationalism and Religion (1947), Jews of the United States, 1790–1840, A Documentary History (edited with J.L. Blau) 3 vols., 1963, Russian Jews Under Tsars and Soviets (1964), and History and Jewish Historians (1964). Baron edited Essays on Maimonides (1941), Judaism, Postbiblical and Talmudic Periods (1954); he coedited Freedom and Reason (1951), a Festschrift in memory of Morris Raphael Cohen, and wrote the introductory essay for Jerusalem: City Holy and Eternal (1954). Baron's Ancient and Medieval Jewish History (1973) is a volume of essays written over a long period of time which deal in particular with the status of Jews in Christian lands during the Middle Ages. He was also one of the editors of the quarterly Jewish Social Studies from its appearance in 1939, and a consulting editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

[Arthur Hertzberg]

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