When the London-educated lawyer Mordechai Beham was tasked in 1948 with drafting a declaration of independence for the nascent Jewish state, he decided to consult with Harry Zvi Davidowitz, an American rabbi who lived nearby. It was most likely Davidowitz who thought of putting the biblical epithet Tsur Yisra’el (Rock of Israel) into the text, a formula that mollified both secularist and religious signatories. Yizhar Hess provides some biographical details:
Davidowitz was ordained to the rabbinate in 1913 at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Rabbi Solomon Schechter, the influential chancellor, ordained him. During World War I, Davidowitz served as a military chaplain and at the war’s conclusion, held the rank of lieutenant in the United States Army (later he would also receive two decorations: the Purple Heart and the Victory Medal) and became a congregational rabbi.
Then, in the summer of 1934, he arrived in Israel for the first time and that was it. He and his wife Ida fell in love with the golden sands of Tel Aviv and built a life. He would only return to the U.S. in 1946 for a Rabbinical Assembly conference in New York. There, he delivered a speech at the conference’s opening session that left a strong impression on his colleagues. He spoke about Tel Aviv and Zionism with great love, talent, and depth.
Davidowitz led a modest life. A Renaissance man who knew how to recite the Bible by heart but also most of Shakespeare’s plays, . . . he was the first to translate into Hebrew Shakespeare’s plays. His translation of Hamlet (which came out in three editions) was used by high-school students in Israel until the 1970s, as were his translations of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, and Othello.