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Marc H. Tanenbaum

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Marc H. Tanenbaum
Rabbi Tanenbaum
Personal details
Born October 13, 1925(1925-10-13)[1]
Baltimore, MD
Died July 3, 1992 (aged 66)
Nationality American
Denomination Conservative
Residence New York City
Children 4
Semicha 1950
1990-Dec. 6 - Vatican-IJCIC Meeting, Rabbi Tanenbaum Pope JP II

Rabbi Tanenbaum and Pope John Paul II in 1990

Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum (1925-1992) was a human rights and social justice activist, best known for building bridges with other faith communities to advance mutual understanding and cooperation, and to eliminate entrenched stereotypes, particularly those rooted in religious teachings.[2]:xix He was a vigorous advocate during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) on behalf of what eventually emerged as Nostra Aetate, a landmark document which overturned a long tradition of hostility toward Jews and Judaism—including the charge that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus—and affirmed the Jewish roots of Christianity. Nostra Aetate established a new policy of outreach in dialogue to Jews and set Catholic-Jewish relations on a new course.[2]:xiv-xxv

In addition, Tanenbaum was dubbed "the human rights rabbi" for his work on behalf of Vietnamese boat people and Cambodian refugees.[2]:xix He also helped organize humanitarian relief for victims of the Nigerian-Biafran conflict[2]:xix


File:Tanenbaum and Bush.jpg
The son of Orthodox Jewish Ukrainian immigrants who struggled to make ends meet, Tanenbaum grew up in Baltimore. He excelled in school, and graduated from high school with a scholarship to attend Yeshiva University in New York City.[2]:xx Torn between his mother's hope that he would become a rabbi and his father's wish for him to become a doctor, he pursued both pre-medical and rabbinical studies. On graduating from Yeshiva University, he was accepted into medical school, but after only one day of classes, realized that medicine was not for him.[2]:xx

Always interested in writing, both creative and journalistic, he found work at a weekly newsletter. A chance encounter with a former classmate at Yeshiva led to his application for and admission to the Jewish Theological Seminary.[2]:xxi

In the intellectually stimulating atmosphere of the seminary, he pursued his interests in both Judaism and journalism, writing for The Eternal Light, a radio show produced by the seminary.[2]:xxi

One relationship forged in the seminary that would influence the direction of interreligious dialogue in the years ahead began as a chance encounter between the young Marc Tanenbaum and Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his senior year at the seminary, Tanenbaum learned one morning that his father had just suffered a heart attack. Overcome with grief, concern and guilt that his mother and sister were left along in Baltimore to cope, he encountered Heschel in the elevator. Heschel, recently arrived from Europe, already famous as a scholar and teacher, noted his distress and said "Something is troubling you. Come into my office." When the young rabbinical student broke down and cried, Heschel immediately called his mother offering solace and support. Tanenbaum never forgot that act of kindness and a genuine friendship and affection developed between the two.[2]:xxi

Tanenbaum as a leader

After ordination, Tanenbaum knew he wanted to serve the Jewish community, but not in what capacity. He worked in various positions as a writer and editor, and, for a time, was the Religion writer for Time magazine. In 1952, he became director of the Synagogue Council of America (SCA), an organization formed to represent the combined voices of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism in the United States in the area of public policy and inter-group relations.[2]:xxii At the SCA he reached out to make contacts with Christian leaders, including televangelists and Greek Orthodox primates and befriended the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. His influence widened as he became involved in national public affairs; he served as the vice president of the White House Conference on Children and Youth, where he invited Heschel to deliver a major paper. The intersection of religion and public policy had a particular appeal for Tanenbaum, and he saw it as a fertile field for inter-religious cooperation. He believed that Jews needed to take an active role in public life in order to prevent marginalization and to counter anti-Semitism.[2]:xxii

During his ten years at the Synagogue Council of America, Tanenbaum strengthened and increased funding for the organization, but he found the work increasingly frustrating. In 1961 Pope John XXIII called for an Ecumenical Council—the first in nearly a century—to renew the Roman Catholic Church and reach out to other religions.[2]:xxiv Tanenbaum saw the Ecumenical Council as a historic opportunity to mend the church's troubled relationship with the Jewish people. He hoped to relate himself and the Synagogue Council to the forthcoming event, but was forestalled by the SCA's rigid ban on religious dialogue with Christians. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) was one of the few Jewish organizations that took the Ecumenical Council seriously. It had already mounted an active program based on scholarly research into religion textbooks that the Committee had initiated over many years. In 1961 Marc Tanenbaum became its director of Inter-religious Affairs in a situation where his inclinations and creative energy found organizational respect and support.[2]:xxiv

Tanenbaum threw himself into the AJC's initiative on behalf of what eventually emerged from the Second Vatican Council as Nostra Aetate. He supervised an initiative that included three AJC memoranda: one documenting the negative and hostile portrayal of Jews and Judaism in Catholic textbooks; the second noting anti-Jewish elements in the liturgy; and the last, written by Abraham Joshua Heschel, suggesting concrete steps that the church could take to redress past injustices. When Cardinal Augustin Bea visited the United States, Tanenbaum arranged to meet him off-the-record with a group of Jewish religious leaders, including Heschel; the two biblical scholars struck up a personal relationship that withstood the tensions of the months to come.[2]:xxiv

He was instrumental in the establishment of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations (IJCIC), and was elected its chairman in 1987. IJCIC was formed to represent the Jewish community in dialogues with international Christian bodies such as the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. He was the first rabbi to address the latter organization, speaking before some 4,000 delegates at the WCC's Sixth Assembly in Vancouver in 1983.[2]:xxv

1978-Feb. - Dr. Jimmy Allen, Rabbi Tanenbaum & Frank Reynold

Dr. Jimmy Allen, Rabbi Tanenbaum, and Frank Reynold

File:1970-Jan. 15-MLK Birthday.jpg
In 1983, Tanenbaum became director of International Affairs for the AJC where he focused on issues of human rights and humanitarian work.[2]:xxiv

During his career as director of first, Inter-religious, and then, International Affairs at the AJC, Marc Tanenbaum won a good deal of public recognition. Newsweek magazine dubbed him "the American Jewish community's foremost apostle to the gentiles."[3] New York Magazine called him "the foremost Jewish ecumenical leader in the world today."[4] In a poll of newspaper editors ranking the ten most respected and influential religious leaders in America, Tanenbaum came in fourth.[2]:xix

In the course of his professional life, he served on the boards of various institutions, including the American Jewish World Service, the International Rescue Committee, the Overseas Development Council, the United Nations Association, the National Peace Academy, the Bayard Rustin Institute, and Covenant House. He was founder and Chairman of the National Inter-religious Task Force on Soviet Jewry, which, under the directorship of Ann Gillen, S.H.C.J, vigorously pursued the cause of oppressed Jews and Christians in the Soviet Union. He was awarded fifteen honorary degrees,[1] and was honored by the International Council of Christians and Jews and the New York Board of Rabbis.[2]:xix

Besides his activism and scholarly work, Tanenbaum was known for his syndicated radio broadcasts,[1] which addressed current events. He also wrote editorials and articles directed to the Jewish community, upholding the value of inter-religious dialogue.

Tanenbaum married Helga Weiss in 1955, and they had two daughters, Adina and Susan, and a son, Michael. The marriage ended in divorce in 1977. He married again in 1982 to Dr. Georgette Bennett, an author, broadcast journalist, criminologist and business consultant.[2]:xxvii

In 1992, Tanenbaum died of heart failure at the age of 66, seven weeks before the birth of another son, Joshua-Marc. While grieving the loss of her husband, Dr. Bennett realized that his work must go on. In 1993, she launched the Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum Foundation, which operates today as the Tanenbaum Center for Inter-religious Understanding.[2]:xxvii


Board memberships

Selected writings

  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (January 1966). "The Role of the Church and Synagogue in Social Action". Torah and Gospel: Jewish and Catholic Theology in Dialogue. New York: Sheed and Ward. OCLC 6648391. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (Winter 1968). "Israel's Hour of Need and the Jewish-Christian Dialogue". Conservative Judaism (Rabbinical Assembly of America) XXII (2). OCLC 5017447. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1969). The Meaning of Israel: A Jewish View. American Jewish Committee. OCLC 184338. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (July 28, 1971). Statement on Jerusalem before the Near East Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Washington, DC. OCLC 123473086. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (February 12, 1972). Do You Know What Hurts Me?. New York: American Jewish Committee. OCLC 7982275. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1974). "Judaism, Ecumenism, and Pluralism". Speaking of God Today: Jews and Lutherans in Conversation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. ISBN 9780800602758. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1974). "Holy Year 1975 and its Origins in the Jewish Jubilee Year". Jubilaem: Consilium Primarium Anno Sancto Celebrando (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice). OCLC 25910780. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (January 15, 1980). The Moral Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.. American Jewish Committee, Institute of Human Relations. OCLC 9817801. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H.; Eric W. Gritsch (1983). Luther and the Jews: From the Past, A Present Challenge. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. OCLC 10306844. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1983). "The Role of the Passion Play in Fostering Anti-Semitism Throughout History". Good Friday Worship: Jewish Concerns—Christian Response. Detroit: Ecumenical Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies. OCLC 11279783. 
  • Tanenbaum, Marc H.; Marvin Wilson (1984). "The Concept of the Human Being in Jewish Thought: Some Ethical Implications". in A. James Rudin. Evangelicals and Jews in an Age of Pluralism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. ISBN 9780801088711. 

Television consulting


  • "Like the Maccabees of old, if small groups of people of conscience, in this country and in other parts of the world, will remain steadfast in their commitments to the 'Law of Human Rights' - and will mobilize to press our government and every government to enforce the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—we may yet find a way to help turn the world away from its present course of barbarism and anarchy to the achievement of a human society illuminated by reverence for human life and for human conscience."
    Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1978). Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation on Scripture, Theology, and History. Compiled Writings of Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum. Baker Book House. ISBN 9780801088346. 
  • "Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions."
    Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1986). "The Jewish Reaction to Nostra Aetate". in Fisher, Eugene J. Twenty Years of Jewish-Catholic Relations. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809127627. 
  • "Jews have a quite legitimate reason to fear any trend that will threaten the Jewish community's ability to survive… But those valid concerns cannot justify any discrimination or denial of basic human rights to any American citizen, including gays."
    Tanenbaum, Marc H. (1978). "Judaism, Slander, Gay Rights". Detroit Jewish News. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Goldman, Ari L. (4 July 1992). "Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, 66, Is Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2009. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 Banki, Judith H. (ed.) (January 1, 2002). "Biographical Sketch". in Tanenbaum, Marc H.; Fisher, Eugene J. (ed.). A Prophet of our Time: An Anthology of the Writings of Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823222308. 
  3. "Rabbi Tanenbaum To Speak at JCC". The Jewish Press (1977-1989) (Omaha, Nebraska) LVIII (28): 1. April 13, 1979. 
  4. The Milwalki Sentinel: p. part 1, page 6. May 29, 1982. 

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