Dr. Jacob Neusner, the renowned historian and theologian, was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, by Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), in a ceremony at HUC-JIR’s New York campus on December 1, 2009.
In presenting the honorary degree, Rabbi Ellenson lauded Dr. Neusner for being “widely acclaimed for his penetrating mind, extraordinary research in rabbinic Judaism of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras, a pioneer in the application of form criticism as an approach to rabbinic texts and the most published humanities scholar in the world, and a conscientious teacher, whose gifts as university professor has enriched and inspired generations of students and disciples world-wide, and whose direction, guidance and wise counsel have contributed to the establishment and growth of Jewish and religious studies in American universities.” Rabbi Ellenson cited Dr. Neusner’s “dedication to the study of religion as a system, which has made him a singular voice in the investigation of the problem of difference in religion, religion and society, religion and material culture, religion and economics, religion and altruism, and religion and tolerance.”
The ceremony followed Dr. Neusner’s presentation of the 2009 Dr. Fritz Bamberger Memorial Lecture on “Reform Judaism for Our Day: Why It Is Necessary.” This lecture was sponsored by the Bamberger Family in memory of their father, Dr. Fritz Bamberger, who served as Assistant to the President and Professor of Jewish Intellectual History at HUC-JIR/New York.
Dr. Neusner is Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism and Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology, at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He also is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, and Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England. He has published more than 1000 books and unnumbered articles, both scholarly and academic and popular and journalistic, and is the most published humanities scholar in the world.
He has been awarded nine honorary degrees, including seven U.S. and European honorary doctorates, from the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester, Bologna University in Italy (in celebration of the University’s 900th anniversary), Cologne University in Germany, Tulane University, St. Louis University, and Dowling College. In addition he holds fourteen academic medals and prizes, including The University Medal of Excellence, Columbia University, the Medal of Collège de France, the University of Tübingen Medal commemorating that University’s 500th anniversary, the Queen Christina of Sweden Medal of Åbo Akademi (Finland), and the Abraham Berliner Prize in Jewish History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, as well as numerous other academic awards.
He grew up in West Hartford, CT, and is a graduate of William H. Hall High School (1950). He received his A. B. from Harvard College in 1953, his Ph.D. from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in 1961, and Rabbinical Ordination and the degree of Master of Hebrew Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1960. During his graduate studies he also was Henry Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University, 1953-1954, and Fulbright Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1957-1958. In his professional career he was founding chairman of the Department of Hebrew Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1961-2), held a post-doctoral fellowship at Brandeis University (1962-4), and taught at Dartmouth College and at Brown University (1964-1989); he spent a research year at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, (1989-1990), and served as Distinguished Research Professor of Religious Studies at University of South Florida (1990 to 2000). He began teach at Bard College on a part-time basis in 1994 and moved to New York to assume full-time duties in 2000.
He has held two fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and two fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation as well as an NEH Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, and many other research awards. He also has held visiting professorships at the University of Minnesota and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In 1991 he was awarded the Buber Chair at the University of Frankfurt, in 1992 was Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, in 1993 was Visiting Research Professor at Åbo Akademi in Finland, in 1994 was Canterbury Fellow at University of Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1995 was Von Humboldt Research Professor at University of Göttingen, and in 1996 was Visiting Professor in Theology at Uppsala University.
He was President of the American Academy of Religion (1968-1969), the only scholar of Judaism to hold that position, and a member of the founding committee of the Association for Jewish Studies (1967-1970). He single-handedly founded the European Association of Jewish Studies (1980-1981). He also served, by appointment of President Carter, as Member of the National Council on the Humanities and, by appointment of President Reagan, as Member of the National Council on the Arts (1978-1984, 1984-1990, respectively). He is editor of the Encyclopaedia of Judaism (Brill, 1999. I-III) and its Supplements; chairman of the Editorial Board of The Review of Rabbinic Judaism and Editor in Chief of the Brill Reference Library of Judaism, both published by E. J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands. He is editor of Studies in Judaism, University Press of America. He was editor for Judaism of the Dictionary of Religion (Harper/AAR), and of the Encyclopaedia of Religion (Britannica/Merriam Webster).
He resides with his wife in Rhinebeck, New York. They have a daughter, three sons and three daughters-in-law, seven granddaughters, and two grandsons.