Dr. Alyssa Gray Inaugurates the Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics was inaugurated at the New York campus of HUC-JIR on October 10, 2013.  Alyssa Gray, J.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature, is the first recipient of this Chair, which was established in honor of Emily Shain Mehlman, z”l, and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman, Lecturer in Midrash and Homiletics at HUC-JIR/New York and Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel in Boston.

“Alyssa Gray’s distinguished scholarship, gifted teaching, and dedicated mentorship of our students reflect the core values of our institution,” said Rabbi Ellenson, President.  “Her research and publications in Talmud and Rabbinics have added important contributions to the field and she has rendered significant service through her participation on HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors.”

Dr. Alyssa Gray stated, “Rabbi Mehlman has been my valued colleague for over ten years. The establishment of this Chair reflects his and the College-Institute’s commitment to the study and teaching of the riches of classical and medieval rabbinic literature, to which I’ve been privileged to devote my scholarly career.”

Alyssa Gray, J.D., Ph.D.

Alyssa Gray, J.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature at HUC-JIR/New York, has written on a number of topics, notably martyrdom in the Jerusalem Talmud, the formations of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, liturgy, the halakhic history of Jewish women’s charitable giving in the Middle Ages, the evolution of Talmudic attitudes toward the poor, and the application of contemporary legal theory to medieval halakhic literature. Her two current research interests are wealth, poverty, and charity in classical and medieval rabbinic literature and the literary relationship between Bavli and Yerushalmi Yoma.

Professor Gray is the author of A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah (2005), and edited (with Bernard Jackson) Studies in Mediaeval Halakhah in Honor of Stephen M. Passamaneck (2007). She has also contributed to My People’s Prayer Book, My People’s Passover Haggadah, and The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Her articles have or will appear in Conservative Judaism, Journal of Jewish Studies, AJS Review, G’vanim, Jewish Studies Quarterly, and Diné Israel, as well as many edited volumes. Gray is a founding member of the Faculty Council and from 2009-2012 served on the Board of Governors as HUC-JIR’s elected Faculty Governor. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Hebrew Union College Annual.

Gray joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 2000. She received her Ph.D. (with distinction) in Talmud and Rabbinics from The Jewish Theological Seminary, and also holds an LL.M. in Mishpat Ivri (Jewish Law) from the Hebrew University Faculty of Law. Prior to pursuing her advanced studies in rabbinics, she practiced law as a commercial litigator associated with Davis Polk & Wardwell. She also graduated from Barnard College (BA magna cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa), The Jewish Theological Seminary (BA), and the Columbia University School of Law (JD; Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar).

Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman

Ordained by HUC-JIR in 1963, he received his A.B. in Political Science from New York University in 1957, the Master’s in Hebrew Literature in 1963 from HUC-JIR, and the Doctor of Hebrew Letters in Tana’itic Literature from HUC-NJIR in 1973.  He began his rabbinate as an Army chaplain in Texas and Germany. He married Emily Shain in 1964; they had two sons, Jonathan and David.

In 1965, he became the Assistant Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. Two years later, he was hired by Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., a young congregation that expanded rapidly during his ten-year tenure. While in Washington, Rabbi Mehlman served as the Jewish coordinator for Interfaith Metropolitan Theological Education, Inc., an experimental, interfaith, interracial, urban centered seminary for men and women' of all faiths.

In 1978, Rabbi Mehlman became the Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston, serving for twenty-one years. He adopted a more inclusive team approach, broadened educational opportunities for all congregants, and worked to address multiple constituent needs. After retiring in 1999, he joined the HUC-JIR faculty the New York campus. Rabbi Mehlman was also on the committee for the Ethan Allan Brown Scholarship Foundation from 1986-1999.

He has taught at Brandeis University’s Hornstein School of Jewish Communal service, Trinity College, Logos Seminary in Kyoto, Japan, and Boston University.  A contributor to leading Jewish studies journals, Rabbi Mehlman has written on the ketubah (wedding contract) and Jewish divorce, midrash, and biblical and rabbinical literature.  His most recent publication is his new translation and introduction to Martin Buber’s The Way of Man: According to Hasidic Teaching (Jewish Lights Publishing).

A longstanding champion of human rights, Rabbi Mehlman has advocated for compassion for those living with HIV/AIDS, nondiscrimination laws, hate crimes protection, and marriage equality. Rabbi Mehlman recently returned from Milan, Italy, where he was Rabbino Mehlman of Congregazione Beth Shalom, Milano. He revitalized the congregation with his scholarship, deep love of Judaism, humanity, and dedication. 

HUC-JIR’s Jacob Rader Marcus of the American Jewish Archives is the repository for Rabbi Mehlman’s collection of papers, which document his rabbinate at Temple Israel in Boston from his installation in 1978 until his retirement in 1999. Alphabetical files cover a wide range of topics relevant to congregational life, from sermons, services, and lifecycle events to social issues and programming activities. Topical files consist of correspondence, minutes, writings, and more. Also included are papers from the Ethan Allan Brown Scholarship Foundation.

Emily S. Mehlman, z”l

“Emily Mehlman’s sense of compassion was matched only by her modesty, and beneath her modest exterior was a woman whose friends called her the ‘Jewish angel,’” noted the Boston Globe’s obituary on February 12, 2006. “'She had an incredible insight into people and an ability to see pain in other people, and was moved to try and help where it was needed. 'She was the consummate mother and grandmother. Her life was her family. She wanted nothing more than to nourish and nurture them. 'She was a problem solver. 'She reached out to people in every community.”

Born in Mattapan in 1941, Mrs. Mehlman moved to Brookline as a teenager. She graduated from Brookline High School in 1959, and earned a bachelor's degree in history from Brandeis University in 1963.  Mrs. Mehlman met her husband when both were working as counselors at a summer camp in Hampstead, N.H., in 1962. They were married two years later and went on to have two sons, Jonathan of Scarsdale, NY, and David of Brooklyn, NY.

Mrs. Mehlman nurtured many in the community. She tended people with illnesses and assisted those with newborn children. She often took a girl with Down syndrome to get manicures. In the late 1980s and early '90s, during an influx of Soviet immigrants to the Boston area, Mrs. Mehlman helped many newcomers adjust to life in the United States. She assisted them with housing and banking issues – even with understanding the differences between products at the supermarket. After the immigrants made the adjustment, she remained friendly with many of them, often inviting them to her home or accepting invitations to theirs.

Mrs. Mehlman also volunteered once a week for the Call for Action radio program for more than 20 years. The daily call-in show on WBZ-AM is geared toward people who needed help solving problems in their lives.  When a caller needed a handicapped parking space near his residence and was unable to get the local government to install one, Mrs. Mehlman was able to reach the right people and get the parking space for the caller.

Mrs. Mehlman served as a docent at the Boston Athenaeum and also assisted with oral history projects.  Her work for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Women Archives Project helped create taped oral histories of elderly members of the Jewish community who had lived through significant historical events. The Jewish Women Archives Project, sponsored by Temple Israel where her husband served as senior rabbi for 22 years, was titled ''Women that Span the Century."


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first 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 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