A recognized authority on Judaism, Rabbi Cohen has written extensively on Jewish history, theology and education. His historical books include The Martyr, on the secret Jews and the Mexican Inquisition, Two Sister Faiths, on early Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, and his edition of Sephardim in the Americas. The San Diego Opera Company premiered an opera entitled The Conquistador, based on The Martyr, in March 1997.The Martyr has now been reprinted (2001) by the University of New Mexico Press. Dr. Cohen's translation into English of the classic work of the Portuguese Renaissance, Samuel Usque's Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, has undergone two editions and received wide acclaim. His theological works include the book Jewish Mission/Christian Mission, co-edited with Helga Croner. Dr. Cohen's work in the field of education is exemplified by his co-editorship of the series entitled Adventures in Living Judaism. Dr. Cohen has contributed studies to various encyclopedias, among them The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible and the Encyclopedia of Religion, and seventeen articles to the Encyclopedia Judaica, of which he served as an editor of three departments. Dr. Cohen's book, The Canonization of a Myth, dealing with the Inquisition and its political role in seventeenth century Portugal, was published in 2003. Dr. Cohen is presently working on a series of major projects in Sephardica and a book on the formation of Rabbinic Judaism.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1928, Rabbi Cohen attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his bachelor's degree (1946) and master's degree in Romance Languages (1949). He taught as an instructor in Romance Languages for four years at the University of Pennsylvania (1946-1950) and one year at Rutgers University (1950-1951) before entering the United States Air Force in 1951. He enrolled at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1953, was ordained in 1957 and received his Ph.D. in Jewish History in 1960. He began teaching at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1955, part time, and from 1960, as a full time member of its faculty, serving in Cincinnati until 1962. In 1962, he joined the faculty in New York, where he has served uninterruptedly, despite his many other activities, as Professor of Jewish History. In addition, Rabbi Cohen has served as visiting professor of history and theology in various colleges, among them Antioch College, Temple University and Hunter College of the City University of New York. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and is listed in the Dictionary of American Scholars.
Rabbi Cohen's devotion to the Jewish community is evidenced by his service as rabbi to communities in Cleveland, Ohio; Muncie, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Monroe, New York; Brooklyn, New York, and the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. For over forty years he has served as Chaplain of the Metropolitan [New York] Conference of the National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods, which conferred upon him its first annual Solon Miles Chadabee Award for outstanding achievement, twice designated him Man of the Year, and in 1998 bestowed upon him its Tikkun Olam award for distinguished service to Brotherhood, the Jewish people and the community at large.
In the broader community, Rabbi Cohen has served as president of the American Society of Sephardic Studies; Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Historical Society of New York; National Chaplain of the AMVETS, in this capacity the first Korean War veteran to achieve national office in a major veterans' organization; member of the Board or Directors of the Jewish Conciliation Board of America; Scholar and Consultant on International Affairs of the Foreign Relations Commission of the New York Board of Rabbis; Chairman of the International Scholars Committee of the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith; co-editor of Nuestro Encuentro, the Anti-Defamation League's first publication in Spanish; and, for the last nine years of his long service to that organization, Chairman of its Commission on Jewish-Catholic Affairs and co-Chairman of its National Interfaith Department. Since 20015, Dr. Cohen has also been serving as the spiritual leader of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece.
In August of 1998, Dr. Cohen presented the keynote address at Santangel 98, an international conference on Sephardic and related scholarship hosted by the Dominican University. Rabbi Cohen has been married for sixty-two years to Dr. Shelby Ruth Cohen, now Professor Emerita of Applied Psychology at Kean University.