Joshua Haberman, Washington rabbi and champion of adult Jewish education

by | Oct 9, 2017 | Obituaries

Rabbi Joshua Haberman, rabbi emeritus of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and founder of the Foundation for Jewish Studies, has died.

Haberman, who represented the Jewish community during the memorial service for the victims of 9/11 held at the National Cathedral, died Sunday, September 24 at his home in Washington, D.C., at 98 and following a rabbinic career of 72 years.

Haberman “brought the light of Torah to countless followers not only as a rabbi, but also as a brilliant visionary in the field of Jewish Adult Education,” Elaine Amir, president of The Foundation for Jewish Studies, said in a statement. “His leadership, kindness and humanity will be long remembered.”

Haberman, a Vienna native, was enrolled at the Vienna Jewish Theological Seminary when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. An invitation by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, enabled him to come to the United States, where he received ordination from HUC in 1945. Haberman earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati the same year and went on to earn two doctorates.

He served as clergy in several Reform synagogues before becoming senior rabbi at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in 1969. He retired in 1986, becoming rabbi emeritus, and remained active in the congregation as a teacher and spiritual leader until his death.

In 1983, he created the Foundation for Jewish Studies, a nonsectarian organization offering scholarly lecture series and tours for adult Jews, using startup money donated by an anonymous congregant.

Haberman also was active in interfaith dialogue with Christians and Muslims, and spoke at both the White House and in Congress.

He taught as an adjunct professor at Rutgers, American, George Washington and Georgetown universities, as well as at The Washington Theological Union (Catholic) and the Wesley Theological Seminary (Methodist). He was a past president of the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis, and served on the board of fellows of the Jewish Policy Center. He was the author of several books.

Accepting an award in 1987, Haberman lamented a “spiritual malaise” among American Jews.

“We Jews have an incredible advantage,” he said. “In the Western world we have learned important lessons and gained deep insights in world-saving truths from our historical experience of nearly 4,000 years. But a time such as this, when we could be a light unto the nation, most of our people, so brilliantly educated in all the secular branches of learning, are Jewishly illiterate. We are messengers who have forgotten the message.”

Haberman is survived by his wife of 73 years, Maxine Rudin Haberman, as well as four children, 15 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. ( JTA)