Chaim Pearl (1919-1995), Papers.

  • Dates: ca. 1940s-1990s
  • Size: 7 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 6
  • 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: Anita Pearl
  • Date: August 1996

RDKT, 3/6/97

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

Rabbi Chaim Pearl was born in Liverpool, England in 1919. He received two undergraduate degrees, one from the University of Birmingham in 1947 and another from the University of London in 1949. He earned a masters degree in Old Testament Studies at the University of Birmingham, and a doctorate in medieval Jewish philosophy at the University of London in 1956. Rabbi Pearl was ordained by the Liverpool Yeshiva in 1941. In 1981, The Jewish Theological Seminary granted him an honorary doctorate.

Rabbi Pearl married Anita Newman in 1941. They had four children: David, Jonathan, Simon, and Judith. During World War Two, Pearl and his wife ran a residential community for Jewish children evacuated to the countryside during the blitz.

Rabbi Pearl's first pulpit was the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation, serving as assistant rabbi, 1945-1949, and as senior rabbi, 1950-1960. He then moved to London and held the pulpit of the West End Synagogue from 1960 to 1964. Pearl was active in a range of English and international communal organizations, including the World Jewish Congress.

In 1964, Rabbi Pearl relocated to New York. He became the rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale, Bronx, New York. In 1966 he joined the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Pearl moved to Jerusalem in 1980 after his retirement.

While in Jerusalem Rabbi Pearl was an active member of the Ramot Zion Congregation.

Also a prolific writer, Rabbi Pearl published numerous articles in the Anglo-Jewish press. He also authored a number of books, including a translation of Sefer Ha-Aggadah, A Guide to Jewish Knowledge, and The Medieval Jewish Mind: Studies in the Religious Philosophy of Isaac Arama, as well as two volumes on Rashi. In addition, he edited the sermons of Rabbi Abraham Cohen, who was his predecessor in Birmingham; produced a number of pamphlets; and served as associate editor of The Jewish Bible Quarterly. Rabbi Pearl died in 1995.

Collection Description

Rabbi Pearl's papers consist primarily of his sermons. The collection also contains: lecture notes; eulogies; a notebook of quotations, observations, and anecdotes recorded by Pearl; copies of a pamphlet by Pearl titled "Marriage and the Jewish Home" dating from his English period; annotated typescripts of a book of philosophy (authorship unclear); a copy of a well-worn, book with handwritten marginal notes, from the Jewish Pioneer Series titled If I Forget Thee (Knole Park Press, n.d.); and clippings of pages from the Congressional Record of a speech by Rep. Jonathan B. Bingham, a Riverdale neighbor, titled "Thanksgiving, Ecumenism, and the Energy Crisis," January 14, 1974, that mentions Pearl and contains an extract from one of his sermons. A note from Bingham is attached.

A group of rare books were included with Pearl's papers; these have been transferred to the special collections department of the library.

Series List

I. Sermons, 1940s-1990s
II. Other Writings, n.d.
III. Printed Material, 1974; n.d.

Series Descriptions

I. SERMONS, ca. 1940s-1990s
Boxes 1-5
Although only some of the sermons are dated - and many of those that are dated are from the 1940s and 1950s - Rabbi Pearl's sermons, judging from their subject matter, appear to date from at least the 1940s through the late 1970s. A significant number of sermons in Hebrew may have been composed after Pearl's move to Israel in 1980. In some cases drafts and notes of sermons are included along with finished texts. Newspaper clippings from Hebrew-language newspapers commenting on torah portions are found with some sermons.

Pearl numbered many of his sermons, and an index listing sermon numbers and titles is included in the collection (4/15). He also arranged his sermons in categories, and these categories have been adopted here. Subject matter is often repeated in sermons found in different categories. Thus, subjects found in the sermons arranged by parsha come up again in the sermons arranged by topic.

Many of Pearl's sermons use the parshat ha'shavua, the weekly portion of the torah read in the synagogue, or the holiday at hand, as starting points. Included are many high holiday sermons. In one of these Pearl comments that he devotes one sermon every year at that time to the situation in Israel. In fact there are a number of sermons about Israel among the High Holiday sermons.

In addition to utilizing sources from the Bible and rabbinic sources, Pearl incorporated references from many secular sources and writers into his sermons. Some of Pearl's sermons are philosophical in tone, while others are reflections on contemporary events and trends. Pearl sermonizes on such contemporary themes as the Vietnam War, the Kent State killings, violence on television, the bad - he believed - example of Philip Roth's Portnoy, streakers, the generation gap and the youth revolt of the 1960s, and Watergate. Occasionally, the British-born Pearl speaks from the perspective of an outsider in America. Sermons composed in England reflect on current trends there, such as wartime shortages.

At times, Rabbi Pearl decided to speak on a particular topic over the course of several weeks. One summer he delivered a series of sermons entitled "What I believe." Another time, he seems to have turned his Friday night sermons into a kind of "ask the rabbi" forum. He also devoted a number of sermons to Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers).

Of note are Rabbi Pearl's sermons marking the occasion of his arrival or departure from pulpits. Rabbi Pearl also spoke a number of times on the role of women in society and in Jewish law; some of these can be found with the material for individual parshas, such as Yitro, and some under the subject heading of women's rights. He was clearly progressive in that area, preaching in favor of extending greater social religious and rights to women.

Boxes 5-6
Included here are lecture notes organized into three files (the order of which has been maintained here) on a range of Jewish topics; groups of lectures on subject such as Maimonides and folklore, possibly from courses Pearl taught; eulogies and memorial writings; and his pamphlet for distribution to engaged couples, Marriage and the Jewish Home.

One lecture of interest, entitled "Why I am a Conservative Jew," is among the lecture notes from file #3. Also of note are Pearl's eulogies and memorial writings. These are for members of his congregations as well as for public figures. Thus there are eulogies for King George VI, Theodore Herzl (a memorial), Winston Churchill, Chaim Weizmann, and Viscount Herbert Samuel, who was a congregant at the West End Synagogue in London.

This material is very largely undated, but seems to extend from his English period through his time in America.

Box 6
This series contains: If I Forget Thee, Jewish Pioneer Series (Knole Park Press, n.d.); clippings from the Congressional Record, 1974; and the philosophy book.

Box List

Box  Folder(s)  Description
  I. Sermons, ca. 1940s-1990s
      Arranged by Weekly Torah Portion:
1 1     Bereshit
 2     Noah
 3     Lech-lecha
 4-5     Va-Yeira
 6     Chayay Sara
 7     Toldot
 8     Va-Yeitze
 9     Va-Yislach
 10     Va-Yeshev
 11     Miketz
 12     Va-Yigash
 13-14     Va-Yechi
 15     Shemot
 16     Va-Ayra
 17     Bo
 18     B'shalach
 19     Yitro
 20     Mishpatim
 21     Terumah
 22     T'tzaveh
 23     Ki Tisah
 24     Va-Yakhel (Pekudei)
 25     Pekudei
 26     Vayikra
 27     Tzav
 28     Shemini
 29     Tazriah (Metzorah)
 30     Metzorah
 31     Acharei Mot
 32     Kedoshim
2 1     Emor
 2     Behar (Bechukotai)
 3     Bechukotai
 4     Bamidbar
 5     Naso
 6     B'ha'alotcha
 7     Sh'lach
 8     Korach
 9     Hukat
 10     Balah
 11     Pinhas
 12     Maatot (Maasey)
 13     Maasey (Maatot)
 14     Devarim
 15     Va-Etchanan
 16     E'kev
 17     Re'eh
 18     Shoftim
 19-20     Ki Te'tzeh
 21     Ki Tavo
 22     Nitzavim
 23     Va-Yelech
 24     He'ezinu
      Arranged by Holiday:
 25     Selichot
 26-29     Rosh Hashana
3 1-4     Rosh Hashana
 5     Shabbat Shuvah
 6-13     Yom Kippur
 14-16     Succot
 17     Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
 18-19     Channuka
 20     Tu B'shevat
 21     Shabbat Shekalim
 22     Shabbat Zachor
 23     Purim
 24     Shabbat Parah
 25     Shabbat Ha-Chodesh
 26     Shabbat Hagadol
4 1-6     Passover
 7     Yom Ha'Shoah
 8     Yom Ha'Zikaron
 9     Yom Ha'Atzmaut
 10     Lag Ba-Omer
 11-13     Shavuot
 14     Shabbat Chazon
 15     Tisha B'av
      Arranged By Subject Matter:
 16     Bar Mitzvah
 17     The Book of Samuel
 18     Commemorating Individuals
 19-20     Contemporary Society
 21-22     Current Events
 23     Education
 24     Evaluating the Synagogue Service
 25     Friday Nights
 26     Historical
 27     The Holocaust
 28     Inductions and Departures
 29     Israel
 30     Judaism
 31     Jerusalem
 32-33     Liturgy
 34     Morals without religion
 35     Pirkei Avot
 36     Psalms
 37-38     Public functions
 39     The religious Jew
 40     Ritual
5 1     Russian Jewry
 2     Science vs. religion
 3     Sermons on biblical themes
 4     The synagogue
 5-6     Synagogue functions
 7     Times of protest and tragedy
 8     Tribute
 9     Tzedakah
 10     What do I believe
 11     Who is a Jew?
 12     Women's Rights
 13     Youth
 14     Zionism
 15     Index to Numbered Sermons
 16     Notebook of Sermons/Lecture Notes in Hebrew
      Odd Sermons:
 17     1-508
 18     653-1120
 19     Unnumbered
  II. Other Writings, n.d.
 20-21 Eulogies and memorials
 22 "Jewish Folklore and Theology," lecture notes and texts
 23-25 Lecture notes from file #1
 26-28 Lecture notes from file #2
 29-30 Lecture notes from file #3
6 1 "Maimonides Helek and Principles of Faith" lesson notes
 2 "Halacha For Our Time," notes
 3 Notebook of questions, observations, anecdotes
 4 Marriage and the Jewish Home (Birmingham Hebrew Congregation, London: New West End Synagogue)
  III. Printed Material
 5 If I Forget Thee, Jewish Pioneer Series (Knole Park Press, n.d.)
 6 Clippings from Congressional Record of Rep. Bingham's speech
 7-9 Philosophy book, annotated typescript