Beacon of Masorti Judaism, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, dies at 86

A native of Syracuse, New York, Hammer received his rabbinic ordination and doctorate in theology from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a PhD from the School of Speech of Northwestern University.

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August 13, 2019 02:55
4 minute read.
Beacon of Masorti Judaism, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, dies at 86

Rabbi Reuven Hammer. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Rabbi Reuven Hammer, one of the founders and driving forces of the Masorti Movement of Judaism in Israel, died Monday in Jerusalem at the age of 86 after a short illness.

A scholar of Jewish liturgy, author and lecturer, Hammer was past president of the International Rabbinical Assembly and served many years as head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel. He headed the Israel programs of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Jerusalem and was also the founding director of the Seminary of Judaic Studies, today the Schechter Institute.

A regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, Hammer authored the movement's official commentary on the prayer book, Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, published in 2003. This work contains the complete text of Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and festivals, surrounded by a comprehensive commentary. In 2008 Rabbi Hammer, also authored the commentary for Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays.

As president of the 1,500-member Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement in Israel, Hammer authored the movement’s official commentary on the prayer book, Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, published in 2003. This work contains the complete text of prayers for the Sabbath and festivals, accompanied by a comprehensive commentary. In 2008 Rabbi Hammer, also authored the commentary for Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays.

“Rabbi Reuven Hammer was a major leader of the Masorti Movement for over 40 years. He will be sorely missed by all who care about Jewish pluralism in the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institutes and longtime colleague and friend of Hammer’s. “He was a pioneer in the training of Masorti rabbis, in non-Orthodox conversions, and in many other areas related to the growth of the Masorti Movement in Israel.”

A native of Syracuse, New York, Hammer received his rabbinic ordination and doctorate in theology from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a PhD from the School of Speech of Northwestern University.

After making aliyah from the US with his wife Rahel in the 1970s, Hammer was one of the founders of Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot neighborhood, considered the flagship synagogue of the Masorti Movement.

He and his wife also raised five children together during this time.

From October 2005 to July 2007, Hammer was the interim rabbi at the New London Synagogue in London, Britain.

His Torah scholarship stressed faith over knowledge, stating, “It is belief and not reason that will determine what one thinks.”

Following the announcement of Hammer’s death, students and friends took to social media to eulogize him.

His son, Dov Hammer, wrote in a statement on Facebook, “Friends, I am very sad to announce that my dear father, rabbi professor Reuven Hammer has passed away. He lived a long, healthy and happy life, was a great teacher, a wonderful family man and an inspiration to many people. May his memory be a blessing.”

The Masorti Movement in Israel eulogized Hammer in a short statement, referring to him as a “Learned Torah Scholar. A man of spirit and book. The founding director of the Beit Midrash for Jewish Studies – Schechter Institute. Established the bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies program for children with special needs. Israel’s first president of the Rabbinical Assembly and builder of world Masorti Movement in Israel.”

“We bow our heads with the Hammer family and Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem,” the movement added.

Richard S. Moline, a student of the renowned rabbi, wrote in a Facebook post that Hammer was his synagogue’s rabbi “during my high school years, Rabbi Hammer was a major influence in my life, and the many other teens at Beth Hillel.”

“Every Shabbat afternoon for years, he had a group of 5-6 of us over to his home to study Talmud (It was my first serious exposure to Talmud study),” Moline wrote. “On the second day of Yom Tov, he opened his home for lunch to the teenagers in the congregation where we socialized, played games and studied. It was also a clever way of keeping us home from school.”

Moline said that Hammer had “never turned down a request to do something with USY [United Synagogue Youth]...” and spent several weeks at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin where he served as a teacher and mentor to campers and staff.

He pointed out that even after Hammer and his family made aliyah, “he maintained relationships with those whose lives he impacted so forcefully.”

A close friend and student of Hammer’s, Charlie Kalech, took to Facebook to share the impact the Masorti leader had on him.

“Besides being a gadol hador [Torah giant of the generation], Reuven was a leader in combining human compassion with halacha,” he said. “He and his family were my adopted family when I was in Israel for a semester in high school.”

“The warmth with which he and Rahel, his wife, opened their home to me will never be forgotten,” Kalech added.

Hammer’s funeral will take place on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Beit Hesped Kehillat Yerushalayim on Har Hamenuchot.


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