Charles S. Liebman

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Charles S. Liebman

Hebrew: ישעיהו ליבמן
Birthplace: New York, New York County, NY, USA
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Mr. Liebman

Occupation: Political scientist and prolific author on Jewish life and Israel
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Immediate Family

About Charles S. Liebman

Charles S. Liebman (Hebrew: ישעיהו ליבמן) (October 20, 1934 – September 3, 2003) was a political scientist and prolific author on Jewish life and Israel. A professor at Bar-Ilan University, he previously served on university faculties in the United States.


In 1965, Liebman published a pioneering essay, “Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life,” in the American Jewish Year Book. His 14 books include Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life. According to Cohen (2003), Liebman "argued that American Jews struggle to integrate into the larger society while trying to maintain a distinctive group identity." According to Orthodox Rabbi Reuven Bulka, "Liebman's exhaustive study was an eye-opener for many who had dismissed Orthodoxy as a negligible force on the American Jewish scene and also was a partial harbinger of much more literature on Orthodoxy which has proliferated ever since."

In a provocative paper, "Extremism as a Religious Norm," Liebman (1983) analyzes religious extremism in Israel and argues that "religious extremism is the norm and that it is not religious extremism but religious moderation that requires explanation." A critical respondent appreciated the description of Israel but rejected Liebman's generalization as begging the question of whether "extremism should be regarded as "normal religion or even religion at all." (Cumpsty 1985:217).

In a 1990 study of American and Israeli Judaism (“Two Worlds of Judaism”), Liebman articulated a concept of "Jewish personalism" which, writes his co-author, is "the tendency of American Jews to pick those parts of Judaism they find personally meaningful, rather than complying with external requirements of religious law, Zionist ideology or ethnic obligation" (Cohen 2003).

He was born in New York and attended secondary school at the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv. He earned degrees from the University of Miami (B.A.) and University of Illinois (M.A., Ph.D.). He moved to Israel in 1969. With his wife Carol, he had three children. He was an observant Jew, concerned about intermarriage, served in the Israeli Defense Forces on an education unit, and was politically a dove regarding Israel. (Cohen 2003)

Personally, Liebman is said to have had a "fierce devotion to honesty, even at the risk of unpopularity." (Cohen 2003) For example, in a book review, he writes: "If a [reviewer] can't be kind he must be fair. I find it impossible to be kind to an author who writes.... a statement comparable to saying that an American state is located somewhere between New York and California. ... Since I cannot be kind I will try very hard to be fair. The book does have redeeming features." (Liebman 1984:137f.)

In November 2007, the Jewish Theological Seminary published a memorial volume, Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life (Stuart Cohen and Bernard Susser, editors). According to an obituary in The Forward, "Liebman was widely regarded as the pre-eminent social scientist of Jews and Judaism in the latter third of the 20th century" (Cohen 2003).

  • In 2000, Liebman was awarded the Marshall Sklare Award.
  • In 2003, Liebman was awarded the Israel Prize, for government studies.
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Charles S. Liebman's Timeline

October 20, 1934
New York, New York County, NY, USA
September 3, 2003
Age 68