Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox-Conservative Divide

December 4, 2014 | David Golinkin
About the author:

The rabbinic scholar Saul Lieberman, who died in 1983, was famed for his comprehensive knowledge of talmudic literature, his meticulous scholarship, and his synthesis of traditional learning with modern academic methodology. Spending most of his adult life as a professor at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, he also maintained warm relations with leading Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Recent attempts to classify him in today’s denominational terms, argues David Golinkin, are both misguided and groundless:

Lieberman did not consider himself “Conservative.” However, neither did he consider himself “Orthodox.”. . . Lieberman meant exactly what he said in his letter to [the Israeli newspaper] Maariv in 1974: “I teach Torah to the Jewish people and I don’t care much about politics—that is: I am neither ‘Orthodox’ nor ‘Conservative.’ There are ‘Conservative’ rabbis who are halakhic and there are ‘Orthodox’ rabbis who are not.” Lieberman did not care about labels but rather about substance, and in this he was a true disciple of Rabbi Judah the Prince who said . . . “do not look at the vessel, but rather at its substance.”

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