nternationally recognized as the dean
of contemporary Jewish religious thinkers,
Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz has been associated
with the College-Institute for over sixty
years. As scholar, teacher, and mentor, he
has guided generations of students into
positions of leadership for the
Reform Movement and
klal yisrael
.
In an interview with
The
Chronicle
,
he recounted his life-
long Jewish spiritual journey as
a pillar of the HUC-JIR aca-
demic community.
The first thing you have
to know about me is
that I am the result of
an intermarriage between
a Litvak and a
hassid
,
and that may explain
something of my intellectu-
al stamp,” Borowitz explains.
Tracing his ancestry to
a paternal great-grandfa-
ther, a Lithuanian
rabbi who
granted
smichah
(
ordination) and was
renowned as a
maggid
who lectured and
taught, and to a maternal grandfather who
was a Hungarian
hassid,
Borowitz’s approach
to Jewish religious thought can be under-
stood as an amalgam of the rational and
intellectual with the emotive and experiential.
Nurtured by Eastern European, Yiddish-
speaking immigrant parents who settled
in Columbus, Ohio, he grew up
during the 1930s in a predomi-
nantly gentile world. “In those
days, the Reform temple was
very much like the Methodist
church down the street,” he
describes. “We belonged to
the Conservative synagogue
and, from early childhood,
I liked it there. I kept pestering
the rabbi and others with ques-
tions, and everyone thought
I should become a rabbi.”
Borowitz was a commuter student
at Ohio State University, where he
joined a Jewish fraternity but lacked for
meaningful Jewish intellectual mentors.
On a campus with 15,000 students there
was but one Jewish professor, who taught
commerce and retailing. Observing Borowitz’s
struggle to define a career direction, his father
warned him, “If I leave you alone, you’ll go to
classes all the rest of your life!” Borowitz initially
concluded that he wanted to be with people and to
work with ideas, and settled on teaching philosophy.
But as an undergraduate philosophy major, it became
perfectly clear to me that they no longer had any signifi-
cant answers and that they were in trouble,” Borowitz
recalls. “How I managed to figure that out at age
18,
I don’t know, because it turned out, as
I have only learned in the past decade or
so, the collapse of secular ethics took
place in the last 50 years of the
20
th century.”
During his high school
and early Ohio State
years, Borowitz
had inquired
several
times about
admission
to Hebrew
Union
College in
8
THE CHRONICLE
Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz
at 80:
A Jewish Spiritual
Journey at HUC-JIR
By Jean Bloch Rosensaft
I
Photo by George Kalinsky from his book
Rabbis: The Many Faces of Judaism, 100 Unexpected Photographs of Rabbis With Essays in Their Own Words
(
Universal, 2002)