Schechter (Hebrew: שניאור זלמן הכהן
שכטר; 7 December 1847 – 19 November 1915) was a
Moldavian-born American rabbi, academic scholar and educator, most
famous for his roles as founder and President of the United Synagogue
of America, President of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America,
and architect of American Conservative Judaism.
1 Early life
2 Academic career
3 American Jewish community
4 Religious and cultural beliefs
8 Further reading
9 External links
He was born in Focşani,
Moldavia (now Romania) to
Hakohen, a shochet and member of
Chabad hasidim. He was named after
its founder, Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
Schechter received his early
education from his father who was a shochet ("ritual slaughterer").
Reportedly, he learned to read Hebrew by age 3, and by 5 mastered
Chumash. He went to a yeshiva in
Piatra Neamţ at age 10 and at age
thirteen studied with one of the major Talmudic scholars,
Saul Nathanson of Lemberg. In his 20s, he went to the Rabbinical
College in Vienna, where he studied under the more modern Talmudic
scholar Meir Friedmann, before moving on in 1879 to undertake further
studies at the Berlin Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums
and at the University of Berlin. In 1882, he was invited to Britain,
to be tutor of rabbinics under
Claude Montefiore in London.
In 1890, after the death of Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, he was
appointed to the faculty at Cambridge University, serving as a
lecturer in Talmudics and reader in Rabbinics. To this day, the
students of the
Cambridge University Jewish Society hold an annual
Schechter Memorial Lecture.
His greatest academic fame came from his excavation in 1896 of the
papers of the Cairo Geniza, an extraordinary collection of over
100,000 pages of rare Hebrew religious manuscripts and medieval Jewish
texts that were preserved at an Egyptian synagogue. The find
revolutionized the study of Medieval Judaism.
Jacob Saphir was the first Jewish researcher to recognize the
significance of the Cairo Geniza, as well as the first to publicize
the existence of the Midrash ha-Gadol.
Schechter was alerted to the
existence of the Geniza's papers in May 1896 by two Scottish sisters,
Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson, who showed him some leaves from the Geniza
that contained the Hebrew text of Sirach, which had for centuries only
been known in Greek and
Latin translation. Letters, written at
Schechter's prompting, by Agnes Smith to The Athenaeum and The Academy
quickly revealed the existence of another nine leaves of the same
manuscript in the possession of
Archibald Sayce at Oxford
Schechter quickly found support for another expedition
to the Cairo Geniza, and arrived there in December 1896 with an
introduction from the Chief Rabbi, Hermann Adler, to the Chief Rabbi
of Cairo, Aaron Raphael Ben Shim'on. He carefully selected for the
Cambridge University Library a trove three times the size of any other
collection: this is now part of the Taylor-
Schechter Collection. The
find was instrumental in
Schechter resolving a dispute with David
Margoliouth as to the likely
Hebrew language origins of Sirach.
Charles Taylor took a great interest in Solomon Schechter's work in
Cairo, and the genizah fragments presented to the University of
Cambridge are known as the Taylor-
Schechter Collection. He was
joint editor with
Schechter of The Wisdom of Ben Sira, 1899. He
published separately Cairo
Genizah Palimpsests, 1900.
He became a Professor of Hebrew at University College
London in 1899
and remained until 1902 when he moved to the
United States and was
replaced by Israel Abrahams.
American Jewish community
In 1902, traditional Jews reacting against the progress of the
Reform Judaism movement, which was trying to establish an
authoritative "synod" of American rabbis, recruited
become President of the
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA).
Schechter served as the second President of the JTSA, from 1902 to
1915, during which time he founded the United Synagogue of America,
later renamed as the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Religious and cultural beliefs
Schechter emphasized the centrality of Jewish law (Halakha) in Jewish
life in a speech in his inaugural address as President of the JTSA in
"Judaism is not a religion which does not oppose itself to anything in
particular. Judaism is opposed to any number of things and says
distinctly "thou shalt not." It permeates the whole of your life. It
demands control over all of your actions, and interferes even with
your menu. It sanctifies the seasons, and regulates your history, both
in the past and in the future. Above all, it teaches that disobedience
is the strength of sin. It insists upon the observance of both the
spirit and of the letter; spirit without letter belongs to the species
known to the mystics as "nude souls" (nishmatim artilain), wandering
about in the universe without balance and without consistency...In a
word, Judaism is absolutely incompatible with the abandonment of the
Schechter, on the other hand, believed in what he termed "Catholic
Israel." The basic idea being that Jewish law, Halacha, is formed and
evolves based on the behavior of the people. This concept of modifying
the law based on national consensus is an untraditional viewpoint.
Schechter was an early advocate of Zionism. He was the chairman of the
committee that edited the Jewish Publication Society of America
Version of the Hebrew Bible.
The late Solomon
Schechter (1912/1913), etching by Hermann Struck
Schechter's name is synonymous with the findings of the Cairo Geniza.
He placed the JTSA on an institutional footing strong enough to endure
for over a century. He became identified as the foremost personality
Conservative Judaism and is regarded as its founder. A network of
Conservative Jewish day schools is named in his honor, as well as a
summer camp in Olympia, Washington. There are several dozen Solomon
Schechter Day Schools across the
United States and Canada.
Schechter, Solomon (1896) Studies in Judaism. 3 vols. London: A. &
C. Black, 1896-1924 (Ser. III published by The Jewish Publication
Society of America, Philadelphia PA)
Schechter, Solomon (1909) Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology London: A.
and C. Black (Reissued by Schocken Books, New York, 1961; again by
Jewish Lights, Woodstock, Vt., 1993: including the original preface of
1909 & the introduction by Loius [sic] Finkelstein; new
introduction by Neil Gilman [i.e. Gillman])
^ Librarian's Lobby October 2000 Heroes of learning at
^ "Schechter, Salomon (SCCR892S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database.
University of Cambridge.
^ Soskice, Janet (2010) Sisters of Sinai. London: Vintage, 239 - 40
^ Soskice, Janet (2010) Sisters of Sinai. London: Vintage, 241 - 2
^ Soskice, Janet (2010) Sisters of Sinai. London: Vintage, 246
^ Soskice, Janet (2010) Sisters of Sinai. London: Vintage, 240 - 41
^ Taylor-Schechter: a Priceless Collection
Cohen, Michael R. (2012). The Birth of Conservative Judaism: Solomon
Schechter's Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious
Movement. New York: Columbia University Press.
Fine, David J. (1997). "Solomon
Schechter and the Ambivalence of
Jewish Wissenschaft". Judaism. 46 (181): 3–24.
Gillman, Neil (1993). Conservative Judaism: the New Century. West
Orange: Behrman House. ISBN 0-87441-547-0.
Hoffman, Adina; Cole, Peter (2011). Sacred Trash: the lost and found
world of the Cairo Geniza. New York: Schocken.
Starr, David (2003). Catholic Israel: Solomon Schechter, Unity and
Fragmentation in Modern Jewish History. Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia
Solomon Schechter, from Neil Gillman's book on Conservative Judaism
Biography at the Jewish Virtual Library
Louis Jacobs, From Cairo to Catholic Israel: Solomon Schechter, in The
Jewish Religion: a Companion, OUP, 1995
Schechter Collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary of
Works by or about Solomon
Schechter in libraries (
Schechter School of Greater Boston
AHRC Rylands Cairo
Genizah Project[permanent dead link]
Schechter School of Queens
Schechter School of Westchester
See also: Schechter
ISNI: 0000 0001 0773 5120
BNF: cb12808020c (data)