Solomon Schechter

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Solomon Schechter (Hebrew: שניאור זלמן שכטר; December 7, 1847-November, 19 1915) was a Moldavian-born Romanian and English rabbi, academic scholar, and educator, most famous for his roles as founder and President of the United Synagogue of America, President of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and architect of the American Conservative Jewish movement.


Early life

Born in Focşani to a Jewish Romanian family adhering to the Chabad Hasidic branch, he attended yeshivas in Eastern Europe. Schechter received his early education from his father who was a shochet ("ritual slaughterer"). Reportedly, he learned to read Hebrew by age three, and by five mastered Chumash. He went to a yeshiva in Piatra Neamţ at age ten and at age thirteen studied with one of the major Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathanson of Lemberg.[1] In his twenties he went to the Rabbinical College in Vienna, where he studied under the more modern Talmudic scholar Meir Friedmann, before in 1879 moving on to undertake further studies at the Berlin Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums and at the University of Berlin. Three years later he was invited to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to be tutor of rabbinics to Claude Montefiore in London.

Academic career

In 1890, after the death of Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, he was appointed to the faculty at Cambridge University, serving as a lecturer in Talmudics and reader in Rabbinics. To this day, the students of the Cambridge University Jewish Society hold an annual Solomon Schechter Memorial Lecture.

His greatest academic fame came from his excavation in 1896 of the papers of the Cairo Geniza, an extraordinary collection of over 100,000 pages of rare Hebrew religious manuscripts and medieval Jewish texts that were preserved at an Egyptian synagogue. The find revolutionized the study of Medieval Judaism. Jacob Saphir was the first Jewish researcher to recognize the significance of the Cairo geniza, as well as the first to publicize the existence of the Midrash ha-Gadol, both later studied with great panache by Schechter.

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