Richard J. Scheuer, z”l, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Governors, HUC-JIR Eulogy presented by Rabbi David Ellenson on November 10, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So many have spoken today, so lovingly and fully about Richard Scheuer --  his friend, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, Rabbi Sirkman, Rabbi Kelman, his childhood friend.  His love for culture, his concern for human beings in need, his devotion to the Jewish People b’chol mekomot moshvoteinu – in all our habitations -- and to the State of Israel, his passion for archaeology and the cause of Progressive Judaism have been described and captured in the descriptions and narratives, the anecdotes and the insights that have been provided today.  Even if our mouths were as full of song as the seas, we could not do justice to all his accomplishments, nor to the greatness of his person.  

I would thank Joan and the Scheuer family for asking me to speak and will only say how very sorry I am that the affliction of my own rabbi and teacher, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, precludes his being here with us today.  The relationship Richard and he enjoyed was marked by mutual respect and concern, and I know the devotion each of these men had for one another was unique.  In speaking briefly for Rabbi Gottschalk as well as for myself, I would state, as a climax to all that has been said, that the love of Richard Scheuer for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion was unsurpassed among all the philanthropic and cultural concerns that were his.  His counsel and wisdom guided and inspired the College-Institute from the time of Nelson Glueck in the 1960s and Alfred Gottschalk in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, to Sheldon Zimmerman and myself in more recent decades.  The College-Institute would not be what it is today without him, neither in Jerusalem nor here in the United States.  There are many privileges attached to being President of HUC-JIR, but none has been greater than the proximity and closeness that this office has afforded every one of us who have been its incumbents to bask in the insight and intelligence – the extraordinary goodness -- of Mr. Scheuer. 

I knew Richard Scheuer long before I was appointed President of HUC-JIR.  He would often attend academic lectures I would deliver at the meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, and he would carry on animated correspondence and rigorous discussion with me on what I considered the most esoteric of scholarly topics.

I would therefore offer one last shiur, one last lesson, in honor of this man whom I so loved, and who would excitedly begin lunchtime conversations on more than one occasion with me with words like, “You know, David, our knowledge of the economy in 6th century BCE Northwest Assyria has been transformed by recent discoveries,” and who would, at other times, ask me if I thought there was a parallel between the notion of the “categorical imperative” in Kant, and the notion of “mitzvah – commandment” in Judaism.

A lesson seems to me to be a fitting tribute to his memory as we bid his physical presence farewell, a sign of the honor and respect I have for him and his being.  I hope he would enjoy it, even as I suspect he would modestly deny that the lesson I am about to teach would apply to him.

According to Jewish Law, the general rule is that it is forbidden to conduct a funeral and bring a casket into a synagogue.  Yet, there are exceptions to this rule.  This is when the deceased, as Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) of Berlin wrote, is “yachid b’doro - unique in his generation.”  Rabbi Hoffmann said that such a man is akin to an “Eshkol – ish she-hakol bo,” a grape-cluster “in whom all is holy and pure, and who is possessed of both great knowledge (beki’ut) and great analytical ability(harifut).”  Such men “work day and night in promoting Torah, commandments, and good deeds.”  Each one is as “swift as a stag and as strong and courageous as a lion.”  They labor tirelessly on behalf of the Land of Israel and are unceasing in their efforts to promote institutions of education and Torah.  They care continuously for the poor and the orphaned and protect our people everywhere from those who would do us harm.  And all this they do out of the goodness that animates their souls.  They do not seek reward and they do not pursue honor (rodeph aharei kavod).  Rather, they are humble and modest, honoring every creature as if he or she was their most outstanding rabbi and teacher.  On account of the honor that is due these men, there is no question, Rabbi Hoffmann ruled, that it is fitting to enter their casket into the synagogue and to eulogize them there.

Our generations and our people have been blessed to have such a leader.  Few generations are blessed with a Richard Scheuer.  It is an honor bestowed upon us that we have the privilege to eulogize him and to say farewell to his physical presence today in Larchmont Temple.

In II Samuel, Chapter 1, we read that when David learned of the death of Saul and Jonathan, he said, “Your glory, O Israel, lies dead on your heights.  How the mighty have fallen.  They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.”  And when, two chapters later, David learned of the death of Abner, he proclaimed to his soldiers and all of Israel, “You well know that a prince, a great man in Israel, has died this day.” 

All of us know that Richard Scheuer was “swifter than an eagle, stronger than a lion” in life.  He was a prince in Israel.  We will not see his like again anytime soon.  

Tzaddikim b’mitatam hayyim heim – the righteous even in death live on in their words and deeds.  Y’hi zichro baruch – may the memory of Richard Scheuer continue to shine out beyond the grave and bless us all. 


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu