Jack Cohen (b.1919), Papers.

  • Dates: ca. 1940-1986
  • Size: 1.25 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 1
  • Languages:
    • English
    • Hebrew
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Rabbi Jack Cohen
  • Date: May 28, 1991

TK, 4/2/92

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

Jack Joseph Cohen was born on March 21, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1940. At The Jewish Theological Seminary he received a Doctor of Hebrew Letters in 1940, and rabbinic ordination in 1943.

After ordination, Rabbi Cohen served in a number of educational and leadership positions in both the Reconstructionist and Conservative movements in the United States. In 1961 Cohen made a break from his activities in the American Jewish community and settled permanently in Israel, where he began working as the director of the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He served as Hillel director until 1984, and though physically removed from the day-to-day activities of the American Jewish community, he continued to devote much energy to the problems of Jewish education and religious pluralism in both Israel and the United States.

Cohen's work in Jewish education began in 1943, when he accepted a position as the educational director of the Cleveland Jewish School, later the Park Synagogue, in Cleveland, Ohio. He served at the Cleveland Jewish School until 1945, when he returned to New York City to take on his new role as director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. Rabbi Cohen remained in this position until 1952, though he did take off during 1947-1948 to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Cohen's continued involvement with the Reconstructionist Movement is reflected in his activities from 1952 until his permanent move to Israel in 1961. From 1952-1954 he served as the educational director for the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the model Reconstructionist synagogue center, and then in 1954 he became the center's rabbi, serving in this role until 1961.

Cohen's involvement with the Conservative movement also began prior to his move to Israel. He taught two courses at The Jewish Theological Seminary (philosophies of religion, 1955- 1961, and philosophy of education, 1960-1961); was a member of the Rabbinical Assembly's Executive Council and vice-chairman of its Placement Commission; and served as chairman of the United Synagogue's Commission on Jewish Education, 1960-1961.

Other significant activities in Cohen's life prior to his relocation to Israel included completion of the Ph.D. degree at Columbia University in 1959; membership in the following organizations - the Executive Council of the National Council for Jewish Education, the National Committee of the Labor Zionist Organization of America and the National Board of the Religion and Labor Foundation.

Cohen is the author of The Case for Religious Naturalism (1958) and Jewish Education in a Democratic Society, 1964. As an editor, he worked on two journals, The Reconstructionist and Petachim.

Collection Description

Jack Cohen's papers, ca. 1940-1986 (the bulk of the material dates from the early 1960s to the late 1980s) are a small, miscellaneous group of minutes, correspondence, course materials, items from speaking engagements, writings and notes, printed materials and clippings. These document Cohen's commitments to Jewish education; the Reconstructionist movement; the improvement of Israeli-American Jewish relations; the Esco fund, an American Jewish philanthropy involved in a number of projects in Israel; the movement of M'Sorati Judaism, the representative of the Conservative movement in Israel; the Leaders Training Fellowship, a youth organization sponsored by The Jewish Theological Seminary; and Ansche Chesed, a synagogue in New York City. Many of these involvements are sparsely documented in the collection, with the bulk of materials reflecting Cohen's interests in Jewish education, the Reconstructionist movement, and Israeli-American Jewish relations.

The bulk of materials related to Jewish education appear in Series IV, Educational Materials series, which include lecture notes, assignments, reading lists and graded student papers for various courses in education, Bible, and Jewish thought, 1940s-1970s. In addition, the subject file titled "religion in education" (1/15) includes a few publications from the 1950s (one written by Cohen) on the topic of religion and public education in the United States.

Most of the documentation of Cohen's involvement with the Reconstructionist movement is located in the subject file entitled "Reconstructionist movement," (1/14) which contains various items on the subject of Mordecai Kaplan's contributions, including published and unpublished articles, letters, and minutes of a meeting; and material on different topics related to the Reconstructionist movement, including correspondence and essays.

Cohen's concern with Israeli-American Jewish relations is documented in Series II, Committee Materials, which contains minutes and statements of purpose, much of it in Hebrew, from various committees devoted to improving communication and cooperation between Israelis and American Jews, 1950s-1960s. Some of the committees represented are the Ideological Committee, the Committee to Plan the Meeting of the Working Party for an International Conference of Jewish Communal Service, the Committee for Strengthening the Bonds between Israel and American Jewry, and the Committee on the Relations Between the Jewries of the United States and Israel.

The topics of Jewish education, the Reconstructionist movement, and Israeli-American Jewish relations also figure prominently in the following series: II. Correspondence, VI. Speaking Engagements, and VIII. Writings and Notes.

Of particular interest in this collection is correspondence between Cohen and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which appears in Serie VI. and focuses on comments which Tutu made about the Palestinian struggle during a visit to Israel. There is also a letter from Haim Herzog in Series II. (1/4), thanking Cohen for his work on a project for the Israeli President's office.

Box List

Box  Folder(s)  Description 
1 1 I. Clippings, 1957; n.d.
 2 II. Committee Materials, 1956-1965
 3-5  III. Correspondence, ca. 1974-1987; n.d.
 6-8 IV. Educational Materials, ca. 1941-1974; n.d.
 9 V. Esco Fund, 1982-1990
 10 VI. Speaking Engagements, 1985-1990
  VII. Subject Files, 1954-1985
 11 Ansche Chesed, 1985
 12 Leaders Training Fellowship, 1964
 13 Movement of M'Sorati Judaism in Israel, 1983
 14 Reconstructionist Movement, 1959-1986
 15 Religion in Education, 1954-1956
 16 Retirement from Hillel Party, 1984
 17-22 VIII. Writings and Notes, ca 1955-1986; n.d.