Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg: "My most serious act as a
Jew is that I continue to study the literature that our
kind has been producing for 30 centuries."
"I'll tell a story," he says, recalling a
conversation with his good friend Haim
Cohen, in which the late Israeli Supreme
Court justice told him that he had dis-
tanced himself from Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Hertzberg told him that "the
only proof that you are taking God
seriously in our time is to be really
angry. We've chosen different paths.
You've broken diplomatic relations and
I've kept an embassy going."
He tells another story when asked if
there's a moment that's in some way
emblematic of his role in Jewish life.
On the book jacket is a photo of
Rabbi Hertzberg wearing a white aca-
demic robe and a tallit, blowing a
large shofar. That photograph was
taken in 1986 in Assisi, Italy.
He had been invited there by Prince
Philip, in celebration of the 25th
anniversary of the World Wildlife
Fund, along with representatives from
many major religions.
Rabbi Hertzberg, then the ranking
officer of the World Jewish Congress
who was a rabbi, was selected as the
The main event was to be a ceremo-
ny held at the Basilica of St. Francis of
Assisi in which each of the faiths
would contribute something of its tra-
dition. To accommodate the Jews and
the Muslims uncomfortable with the
many crosses in the church, they parti-
tioned off a seating area where no one
would be under a cross:
The organizers worked with Rabbi
Hertzberg to accommodate his desire to
participate along with the prohibitions
against saying formal Jewish
prayers in such a setting.
The solution met the
rabbi's Jewish obligations
and also allowed Judaism to
be prominently represented:
Rabbi Hertzberg marched
at the head of a procession
of all the religious leaders to
the church alongside Prince
When they arrived on
the steps, he sounded the
shofar, a call for assembly.
He then entered the basili-
ca, remaining silent
through the program.
After this event, he has
remained in contact with
other religious leaders,
working on matters of
joint concern, defending
the physical world and
defending the defenseless,
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Rabbi Hertzberg still lives in New
Jersey, although he no longer attends
services at his former congregation,
recognizing the need to give his suc-
Instead, he enjoys praying in a near-
by shtibel (storefront synagogue).
Again, he defines himself: "I'm a non-
fundamental Orthodox Jew."
He mentions that one of the most
important things he has done is that
he's always taught Talmud, whether in
the religious schools of the synagogues
he has served or at the universities
where he has taught, where he meets
with students in his office.
He believes vehemently in the impor-
tance of Jewish learning, asserting that
Torah and texts are what unites the
Jewish people, not anti-Semitism.
Recently, he learned that his book
is now accepting reservations
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The French Enlightenment and the Jews
will be published for the first time in
French translation, 34 years after its
American publication, and a confer-
ence surrounding it will be held at the
Sorbonne next fall.
He finds the news remarkable and
ironic. The controversial book chal-
lenges views of the enlightenment,
asserting that anti-Semitism was
deeply anchored in the roots of the
French intellectual tradition.
"If you tell a truth," he says, "it will
eventually be heard." ❑
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