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Interview: Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin

Interview: Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin


Rabbi Dr. Byron L. Sherwin, Spertus Institute Distinguished Service Professor and Director of Doctoral Programs, died May 22, 2015, after a long illness. He was an internationally renowned Jewish theologian, ethicist, and scholar, and a prodigious author, who will be missed by students and colleagues around the globe. Burial and services were held in New York and a Memorial Service was held at Spertus on June 23, 2015. Hear audio from the memorial service>

Dr. Byron Sherwin

Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin Celebrates 40 Years With Spertus Institute

This interview was done in 2009 at the 40th anniversary of Dr. Sherwin's service at Spertus Institute.

When Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin talked about his 40 years at Spertus, his favorite stories centered on the successes of his students. The Distinguished Service Professor and Director of Doctoral Studies recalled when he first met a recent Jewish Studies doctoral student. The student pulled a thick loose-leaf notebook out of his briefcase as he sat down with Dr. Sherwin.

“He says, ‘At the top of each page I have typed a question. By the time I leave here, I want each page filled in with answers to all my questions.’  He published it, and now it is a standard reference on Judaism,” said Dr. Sherwin. “We have a lot of stories like this.”

Dr. Sherwin received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Spertus in the spring.  He proudly recalls when his mentor, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Spertus.

 “When I came to Spertus in 1970, I asked then-President Weinstein to give Heschel an honorary doctorate.  He had never received any from a Jewish institution, and I felt it was time.  He (Heschel) died in Sept. of 1972.  What if we hadn’t done it?“ Dr. Sherwin asks.

When Dr. Sherwin began his career at Spertus, he says there were very few Jewish Studies programs at American universities and even fewer American-born and educated Jewish Studies scholars.  He liked the idea of coming to an institution with “a long and very prestigious reputation in Jewish scholarship” and the chance to delve into several areas of scholarly interest.

At the time, all classes were in Hebrew, the exams were in Hebrew, the faculty meetings were in Hebrew.  Most of the library collection was also in Hebrew.  During his 17 years as Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Educational Programs, Dr. Sherwin expanded public programming and encouraged distance learning, among other achievements.

He’s published 31 books, and is translating the Arthur Szyk illustrated Haggadah to be released in April. His list of scholarly articles is almost too numerous to count, on topics ranging from interfaith relations to bio-ethics to kabbalah.

But it is the students that matter most to Dr. Sherwin.  “When a student gets his or her degree, that is my proudest moment,” he says.  “The students are unusual and remarkable and interesting people.”

The same can be said of Dr. Sherwin. #

A special Dr. Byron Sherwin  40th Anniversary Fund has been established at Spertus.  Gifts can be made by calling 312.322.1779.