Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion mourns the loss of Dr. Eugene Mihaly, reform
Rabbi, professor, and vice-president of College-Institute
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.