Dr. Eugene Mihaly, professor to generations of the nation's Reform rabbis and tireless advocate for the liberal and universalist impulses in Reform Judaism, died on June 7 at his home in Tiburon, California at age 83.
After ordination and initial practice as an Orthodox rabbi, Dr. Mihaly joined the Reform Jewish movement, finding it more expressive of his philosophical and religious outlook. He spent his scholarly career at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, the theological seminary for Reform Judaism. There he devoted his life to an open and embracing vision of Judaism. An early advocate of women in the rabbinate and openness towards intermarriage, as well as acceptance of homosexuals in congregational life, he was no stranger to controversy; especially as the Reform movement itself became more traditional.
As a professor of Midrash and Homiletics, Dr. Mihaly grounded prospective Reform rabbis in the most traditional Jewish texts and at the same time exposed students to the practical art of preaching a sermon. He transmitted to students and rabbis a unique view of Judaism that combined a progressive and sometimes radical, modern theological position with a strong belief in the importance of tradition and symbols in worship.
While resisting alignment with any group on issues related to Israel, he was a firm supporter of the Oslo peace process. Dr. Mihaly argued for the importance of independent Jewish communities in all countries, and though a firm friend of Israel as one embodiment of Jewish ideals, he became skeptical of views that emphasized the primacy of the State of Israel as a center of the Jewish religion.
Dr. Mihaly received his early scholarly training at the New Israel Yeshivah in Baltimore, Maryland, and continued his studies at Yeshivah University in New York where he was ordained in 1942 by its theological seminary. He served as rabbi to two Orthodox Jewish congregations before moving to Hebrew Union College where he was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1949, received his Ph.D. in 1952, and became Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Deutsch Professor of Rabbinic Jurisprudence. As Executive Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, he devoted the last portion of his career to expanding an excellent faculty and defined the rabbinic curriculum of the College's schools in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem in a comprehensive document entitled "Innovators of Torah."
His areas of specialization included Midrash, Liturgy, Rabbinic Theology, Medieval and Modern Jewish Philosophy, Talmudic and Responsa Literature. He is author of numerous studies in these areas. Among his published works are: A Song to Creation (a Dialogue with a Text); "Religious Experience in Judaism-The Passover Haggadah as Pardes"; "The Breaking of the Tablets"; "The Theology of Isaac Abravanel"; Responsa on Jewish Marriage; "Jewish Prayer and Synagogue Architecture"; "An Early Defense of the Election of Israel"; and "Maimonides: Author and Teacher for the Ages."
Dr. Mihaly is survived by his wife of 57 years, Cecile, two sons, Eugene and Marc, sisters Susan Taragin and Irene Glassgold, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on July 14 at 2 P.M. at Temple Rodef Sholom, 170 North San Pedro Road in San Rafael, California. Dr. Mihaly will be remembered at a service on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR when classes resume in the fall.