Bamberger, Bernard J. (Bernard Jacob), 1904-1980

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1904-05-30
Death 1980

Biographical notes:

Bernard Bamberger's rabbinate was a rare one, in that he excelled simultaneously as a pastor for his own congregation, and as a respected academic. After growing up in Baltimore, Maryland (under the watchful eye of Rabbi William Rosenau) Bamberger graduated with an A.B. from Johns Hopkins University in 1923. Rosenau vouched for Bamberger's skills, and so Bamberger was able to spend his time at the Hebrew Union College concentrating on advanced studies. He received ordination there in 1926, and his Doctorate of Divinity (at the time, equivalent to a Ph. D.) in 1929. Concurrent to his D.D. courses, he served as rabbi to Temple Israel of Lafayette, Indiana. From 1929-1944, he served as rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth in Albany, New York.

In 1944, Bamberger accepted a call to serve as rabbi of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in New York City. During his tenure there (1944-1970), he oversaw the congregation's historic move from the West Side of Manhattan to the East Side.

Bamberger's chief interest lay in work outside of the congregation, serving and leading the Central Conference of American Rabbis ( CCAR ) and translating the Bible (formalized through his work with the Jewish Publication Society).

From the early 1940's, Bamberger showed an interest in participating in the activities of the CCAR, the nation's organization of Reform rabbis (which publishes material and suggests guidelines for Reform Jews in America). During his early years, he sat as a member of the CCAR 's Liturgy Committee, eventually chairing it. Following his term as chair, he was nominated to serve as vice president of the entire Conference for the two year term running from 1957 to 1959. CCAR tradition dictates that the vice president becomes president at the end of his/her time as VP. Thus, Bamberger served as CCAR president from 1959-1961. He oversaw landmark CCAR decisions, such as the implementation of the rabbinic placement system. Additionally, he used the president's ‘bully pulpit' to preach on the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. After his term as president ended, Bamberger remained active in the politics of the Reform movement. He continued to serve as an advisor to the Liturgy Committee, and was a part of the Conference's activities (c. 1967-1973) in improving the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

And yet, all this was not enough to keep Bamberger intellectually satisfied. His pursuits in academia concentrated on the Bible, and its translation into English. Bamberger was also a part of the Jewish Publication Society's inter-denominational Committee to Translate the Bible from the committee's inception in 1949 through the late 1970's. His contributions to the new JPS translation, a text that has become an integral part of the religious and academic life of English speakers in the contemporary Jewish world, will continue to have an impact on future generations.

In addition to Bamberger's roles in the CCAR and the JPS, he served as president of the Synagogue Council of America (1950-1951) and of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (1970-1972). Additionally, he was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Rabbinical Alumni Association of the Hebrew Union College.

His books include Proselytism in the Talmudic Period (1939, 1968), Fallen Angels (1952), The Bible: A Modern Jewish Approach (1956) and Search for Jewish Theology (1978). He is also the author of the commentary to the Book of Leviticus which appears in the UAHC's The Torah: A Modern Commentary . Bamberger's most popular work was Story of Judaism (1964).

Bamberger passed away in 1980. He was survived by his wife Pat (Edith Kraus), and his two sons Henry (also a Reform rabbi) and David.

From the guide to the Bernard J. Bamberger Papers., 1909-1979., (The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Rabbis--New York (N.Y.)
  • Jewish scholars

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