About Louis Leib Ginzberg, Rabbi
Rabbi. Louis Ginzberg was a Talmudist and leading figure in the Conservative Movement of Judaism of the twentieth century.
Ginzberg was born into a religious family whose piety and erudition was well known. The family traced its lineage back to the legendary Gaon of Vilna. In his own mind, Ginzberg emulated the Vilna Gaon’s intermingling of ‘academic knowledge’ in Torah studies under the label ‘historical Judaism’.
In his book Students, Scholars and Saints, Ginzberg quotes the Vilna Gaon instructing, “Do not regard the views of the Shulchan Aruch as binding if you think that they are not in agreement with those of the Talmud.”
He writes in his memoirs that he felt saddened that he had grieved his father. Ginzberg recognized that his pious father was disappointed that his son had chosen a more liberal path with regards to Jewish law apposed to following the path of his forefathers.
Ginzberg first arrived in America in 1899, unsure where he belonged or what he should pursue. Almost immediately, he accepted a position at Hebrew Union College and subsequently wrote articles for the Jewish Encyclopedia. Still, he had not found his niche.
In 1903, he began teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in New York City, where he taught until his death.
On account of his impressive scholarship in Jewish studies, Ginzberg was one of sixty scholars honored with a doctorate by Harvard University in celebration of its tercentenary. Ginzberg’s knowledge warranted him the expert to defend Judaism both in national and international affairs.
Ginzberg was the author of a number of scholarly Jewish works, including a commentary on Talmud Yerushalmi (the Jerusalem Talmud) and his six-volume (plus a one-volume index) The Legends of the Jews, which combined hundreds of legends and parables from a lifetime of midrash research.
Legends of the Jews is an original synthesis of a vast amount of aggadah from all of classical rabbinic literature, as well as apocryphal, pseudopigraphical and even early Christian literature, with legends ranging from the creation of the world and the fall of Adam, through a huge collection of legends on Moses, and ending with the story of Esther and the Jews in Persia.
Ginzberg had an encyclopedic knowledge of all rabbinic literature, and his masterwork included a massive array of aggadot. However he did not create an anthology which showed these aggadot distinctly. Rather, he paraphrased them and rewrote them into one continuous narrative that covered four volumes, followed by two volumes of footnotes that give specific sources. See Jewish folklore and Aggadah.
Apart from Legends of the Jews, perhaps his best known scholarly work was his Geonica (1909), an account of the Babylonian Geonim containing lengthy extracts from their responsa, as discovered in the form of fragments in the Cairo Genizah. This work was continued by him in the similar collection entitled Ginze Schechter (1929).
Professor Ginzberg wrote 406 articles and several monograph-length entries for the Jewish Encyclopedia (Levy 2002), some later collected in his Legend and Lore. He was an important halakhic authority of the Conservative movement in North America; for a period of ten years (1917–1927), he was virtually The halakhic authority of this movement. He was also founder and president of the American Academy of Jewish Research.
Many of his halakhic responsa are collected in The Responsa of Professor Louis Ginzberg, ed. David Golinkin, NY: JTS, 1996. Wikipedia Bio continued
We invoke wisdom and blessing upon our country. On the government and leaders of our nation, And on all who exercise rightful authority in our community.
May peace and security, happiness and prosperity, right and freedom forever abide among us. Unite the inhabitants of our country, of all backgrounds and creeds, into a bond of true kinship, to banish hatred and bigotry. May this land be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom. - Louis Ginzberg (adapted)