Louis Finkelstein

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Rabbi Louis Finkelstein (June 14, 1895, Cincinnati, Ohio – 29 November 1991) was a Talmud scholar, an expert in Jewish law, and a leader of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) and Conservative Judaism.


Brief Biography

Finkelstein was born into a rabbinic family in Cincinnati on June 14, 1895. He moved with his parents to Brooklyn, New York as a youngster and graduated from the City College of New York in 1915. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1918 and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) the following year. He joined the JTS faculty in 1920 as an instructor in Talmud and went on to serve as an associate professor and professor of theology. He later became provost, president, chancellor and chancellor emeritus.

Chancellorship at JTS

Finkelstein was appointed chancellor of JTS in 1940 and remained chancellor until 1972. He positioned JTS as the central institution of Conservative Judaism, which experienced extraordinary growth during those years. Thousands of Jews living in America's cities moved to the suburbs and joined and built Conservative synagogues, and the movement emerged as the branch of Judaism with the largest number of synagogues and members. Finkelstein's leadership led Ari L. Goldman, in his obituary for Finkelstein in the New York Times, to describe Finkelstein as "the dominant leader of Conservative Judaism in the 20th century."[1]

During the years of Finkelstein's leadership, the seminary flourished, growing from a small rabbinical school and teacher training program to a major university of Judaism. Finkelstein also established the seminary's Cantor's Institute, the Seminary College of Jewish Music, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (predecessor of the Graduate School), and a West Coast branch of the seminary that later became the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University).

Public outreach was among Finkelstein's top priorities. One of his signature programs was a radio and television show called The Eternal Light, which explored Judaism and Jewish holidays in a manner that was accessible to persons of any faith.

Interfaith dialogue was a particular priority. Finkelstein established the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, which brought together Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish scholars for theological discussions. In 1986, the name of the institute was changed to the Finkelstein Institute in his honor.

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