On Tuesday, professor Shamma Friedman of the Jewish Theological Seminary will accept the Israel Prize for Talmud Study, becoming the fourth of the seven scholars do so who graduated from the Conservative Jewish seminary.
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The seminary, which is located in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood, houses the Conservative Judaism’s rabbinical school and serves as the spiritual and intellectual center of the movement. The school has dominated the prize even though the Conservative branch of Judaism has a relatively small presence in Israel.
Rabbi and professor Arnold Eisen, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, told Haaretz on Sunday that this year’s prize is a “source of tremendous pride for us.”
“From the beginning, the Talmud was our first commitment to a combination of studiousness and faith, to the statement that the two can go together without contradiction and that research can bring people closer to tradition and faith,” Eisen said, noting that American and Israeli researchers of Jewish studies work closely together. “It’s not America against Israel; on the contrary. Everyone knows everyone, everyone reads and appreciates the work of everyone else, and there is cross-fertilization.”
The Israel Prize is widely considered Israel’s highest honor, awarded to those who are preeminent in their fields and have made extraordinary contributions to Israeli life and culture.
On making the decision in January, the award committee said, Friedman has produced an “enormous and varied study of Talmudic literature, which has earned him an international reputation as a leading speaker on the study of the Mishna and Tosefta [supplement to the Mishna], and questions of literary structure and formation of the Talmud text.”
Friedman joins scholars Chaim Zalman Dimitrovsky (1994), Abraham Goldberg (2000) and David Halivni (2008), all rabbis and professors who graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary. While at the seminary, they all studied under professor Saul Lieberman, a pioneer of Talmudic research, who was the rector of and a senior lecturer at the seminary. All four men have been part of Israeli universities in their careers. The three other prize winners were graduates of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Jewish Theological Sem was founded in 1845 in Breslau, Germany and eventually migrated to New York. At the forefront of the seminary’s mission is training rabbis to be religious as well as academic scholars. But not all graduates have gone on to serve as rabbis or even to champion the Conservative worldview. For instance, Halvini and Friedman are members of Orthodox congregations.