The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion community worldwide mourns the death of Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, our beloved rabbi, scholar, faculty member, and “dean” of American Jewish philosophers, who passed away peacefully Friday morning. Dr. Borowitz served as Distinguished University Professor and Sigmund Falk Distinguished Professor of Education and Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York, where he served the College-Institute, the Reform Movement, and the greater Jewish community with distinction for more than half a century.
Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR, stated, "Dr. Borowitz’s passionate commitment and love for God and the Jewish people has inspired generations of students within the Jewish community and those of all faiths. His scholarship and groundbreaking theology have been a hallmark of Reform and contemporary Judaism."
An esteemed member of the HUC-JIR faculty since 1962, Dr. Borowitz was honored in 1996 by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture with its medal for Jewish Cultural Achievement in the realm of scholarship, the first time it had been awarded for work in the field of Jewish thought. He was appointed Distinguished University Professor at HUC-JIR in 2004.
He was a prolific author, having written numerous articles and seventeen books. The book that stands as the central statement of his theology is Renewing the Covenant: A Theology for the Postmodern Jew. Renewing the Covenant, in which he identified the dialectical themes of Covenant and self, God and community that he emphasized throughout his theoretical writings. This volume was the first systematic Jewish theology since Abraham Joshua Heschel's seminal publications in the 1950s. His books were directed at a broad range of readers, from Explaining Reform Judaism, written with Naomi Patz, (a book for confirmation class students on religious belief) to Jewish Moral Virtues, co-authored with Frances Weinman Schwartz, addressed to lay learners. His other works include A New Jewish Theology in the Making, How Can a Jew Speak of Faith Today?, Choosing a Sex Ethic, The Masks Jews Wear, Contemporary Christologies: A Jewish Response, Choices in Modern Jewish Thought, Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism Today, Studies in the Meaning of Judaism, Judaism After Modernity, and Exploring Jewish Ethics: Papers on Covenant Responsibility.
An academic of the highest caliber, Dr. Borowitz was the only Jewish individual to serve as President of the American Theological Society. In 1982 Harvard University Divinity School invited him to inaugurate its newly established List Professorship of Jewish Studies. He wrote the featured, comprehensive article on Judaism in the 16-volume Encyclopedia of Religion. His 1974 work, The Mask Jews Wear, received the National Jewish Book Award in the field of Jewish thought.
Rabbi Borowitz was widely known in the Jewish community as the Founder and former Editor of Sh'ma, a journal of Jewish responsibility, a magazine of Jewish social responsibility he founded in 1970 and edited for 23 years. He was active in Jewish publishing as Vice-President of the Jewish Publication Society. He served as visiting professor of religion at Columbia University, Princeton University, State University of New York at Stony Brook, City College of the City University of New York, Drew University, Temple University, Teachers College of Columbia University, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Woodstock College (the Jesuit graduate school of theology).
Dr. Borowitz received his bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in 1943. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati in 1948 and earned his Doctor of Hebrew Letters degree in Rabbinic Literature at HUC in 1952. He also earned the Ed.D. at Columbia University's Teachers College. He received honorary doctorates from Colgate University, Lafayette College, and Gratz College. He served congregations in St. Louis, MO, and Port Washington, NY, and was a Navy Chaplain during the Korean War. Prior to his academic position at HUC-JIR, he was National Director of Education for Reform Judaism at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, editing its books, curricula, and educational publications.
He will be remembered as a superb, dedicated, and ethical teacher who was never afraid to speak honestly and directly to shape the minds and hearts of his generations of students. His constant presence, in the chapel or the classroom, and as sage advisor, cherished colleague, and treasured friend will be sorely missed. We, his students, will carry his message and continue to teach his Torah for years to come.
With his late wife, the respected Dr. Estelle Borowitz, he raised a wonderful family of three daughters, Lisa, Drucy, and Nan. We wish his children, their spouses, grandchildren, and all the members of his loving family solace at this time of great loss. They stood by him with steadfast love even in his final days, and lived the ethical values he taught them with strength and grace.
For a profile of Dr. Borowitz in the HUC-JIR Chronicle magazine, please click here.
For recordings of lectures given by Professor Borowitz and HUC-JIR scholars as part of "Challenges of Faith in Our Time," please click here.
To read Professor Borowitz's "My Inner World," from Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility (September 1984), please click here.
To read the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D., please click here.
To read the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D., please click here.
To read Rabbi David Ellenson's remembrance of Professor Borowitz in JTA, please click here.
To read Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin's remembrance of Professor Borowitz in the Jewish Week, please click here.
To read Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi's remembrance of Professor Borowitz in The Times of Israel, please click here.
To read Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove's remembrance of Professor Borowitz in The Times of Israel, please click here.
To read Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk's remembrance of Professor Borowitz in Cleveland Jewish News, please click here.
To read more in The New York Times, please click here.