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Chaim Stern

STERN, CHAIM (1930–2001) U.S., Reform rabbi, liturgist. Stern, acknowledged as the foremost liturgist of Reform Judaism, was born in Brooklyn, New York. He studied in Orthodox yeshivot as a child, but the Holocaust caused him to become far more secular than his family. He received a B.A. from City College (1952) and attended Harvard Law School, but left Harvard after a year to enroll in *Hebrew Union College, where he was ordained in 1958. In 1983, HUC-JIR awarded him an honorary D.D. While serving as rabbi of Temple Sholom in River Edge, New Jersey (1958–62), he taught at the HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music. An outspoken political activist, he traveled to Mississippi to fight for civil rights as a Freedom Rider in 1961. In 1962, he became rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, England, returning in 1965 to assume the pulpit at Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He spent the year 1967–8 back in London, lecturing at Leo Baeck College and serving as rabbi of Westminster Synagogue. From 1968 to 2000, he was the senior rabbi at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua, New York, where he also served as president of the Northern Westchester and Putman Rabbinic Council and the Chappaqua Interfaith Council as well as on the regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. He was serving as senior rabbi of Temple Israel in Miami, Florida, at the time of his death.

In 1971, as a result of Stern's having co-edited two new prayer books for the Liberal Movement of England – On the Doorposts of Your House and Gates of Joy – he was appointed by the *Central Conference of American Rabbis to edit the new liturgy of the Reform movement. Over the course of three decades, he compiled the entire Gates series of prayer books: Gates of Prayer, published in 1975, became the official year-round *siddur of Reform Judaism's 800 congregations, while his *mahzor Gates of Repentance, which appeared three years later, played the same role for the High Holy Days. (U.S. President Bill Clinton publicly quoted a passage on contrition from Gates of Repentance when he discussed atoning for the Lewinsky sex scandal.) The series also comprises Gates of the House (1977), containing prayers related to ritual observances in the home; Gates of Heaven: Services for Children and Their Parents on the Days of Awe (1979); Gates of Forgiveness (1980), a companion volume to Gates of Repentance focusing on the *selihot service recited in the weeks preceding Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement; and Gates of Freedom, a popular *Passover *Haggadah.

Stern translated many of the prayers from the original Hebrew, wrote passages himself and incorporated words of wisdom ranging from ancient Jewish texts to such eclectic modern voices as Martin *Buber, e.e. cummings, and Norman *Mailer. The old-fashioned "thee" and "thou" were rendered as "you," while references to "our fathers" in traditional prayers, considered sexist, became "our ancestors." All references to God as King were changed to Sovereign.

Stern also wrote Pirke Avot: Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1992) and *Isaac: The Link in the Chain (1977). In addition, he co-authored (with Gunther *Plaut) The Book of Genesis, a translation and commentary of the first book of the Bible (1974), and The Haftarah Commentary (1996). He co-edited (with Lisa Pemstein) Day by Day: Reflections on the Themes of the Torah From Literature, Philosophy, and Religious Thought, a collection of meditations to accompany the cycle of the Jewish year, and (with Rossel and Chanover) When a Jew Seeks Wisdom: The Sayings of the Fathers (1975). He adapted several of his works for special occasions, including Gates of Prayer for Weekdays and a House of Mourning (1992). His final work, Paths of Faith: The New Jewish Prayer Book for Synagogue and Home – containing devotions for weekdays, *the Sabbath and festivals – appeared in 2003.


The Nearprint Files of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati.

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