By David Berger, Yeshiva University
Professor Leon A. Feldman passed away on July 23, 2008, at the age of 87 after a brief battle with cancer.
Born in Berlin to a rabbinic family, he left Germany during the Nazi period, lived in England and then Canada during the war, and finally made his way to the United States. He received rabbinic ordination and a Doctor of Hebrew Literature degree from Yeshiva University and later earned two PhDs, one in Jewish history from Columbia and another in theology from Amsterdam. These degrees supplemented his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oxford.
Feldman, who was also the recipient of the Rabbi Judah Leib Maimon Prize for Rabbinic Literature and Jewish History, founded the Department of Hebraic Studies at Rutgers University and taught there from 1962-1992, serving as Distinguished Professor of Hebraic Studies. He was also the founding rector of the College of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg.
After his retirement from Rutgers, he devoted his energies to a career in public service in the realm of international relations between Jews and representatives of other faiths, particularly Christianity. As primary interfaith consultant to the World Jewish Congress and to the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, Feldman turned his attention to the large issues addressed by interfaith meetings at the highest international level. He cultivated relationships with Christian clergy of virtually all denominations, commanding both their respect and their friendship in the face of the most contentious issues, ranging from Israeli-Palestinian relations to the opening of Vatican archives relevant to the action or inaction of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War.
Both as a distinguished scholar and an engaged intellectual and communal leader, Leon Feldman will be sorely missed.