JM, 4/26/90; EK, 8/3/2007
Individual folders are identified in the following way: record group# -- box# -- folder#, as in R.G.1-10-32. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.
In 1990 the Joseph and Miriam Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism, an archives and research center at The Jewish Theological Seminary, received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to assemble an archives of historical records documenting the Seminary's history. Up until that time most of the Seminary's non-current records were stored in its attic where they were inaccessible to researchers and subject to temperature and humidity levels that lead to deterioration. The NHPRC grant made it possible to remove a large portion of these records from the attic, survey them, put them in usable order, house them in acid-free boxes and folders, create finding aids, and transfer the records to secure, temperature-controlled stacks in the Seminary's library. Many student workers, from The Jewish Theological Seminary, Barnard College and Columbia University, helped in this process.
|Louis Finkelstein (1895-1991), chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.|
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America maintained a central filing office, called the General Files, from 1940 to 1990. The office's job was to systematically collect the incoming and outgoing correspondence of the chancellor (the title changed from president to chancellor in 1951) vice-chancellors, and other top administrators.
Dr. Louis Finkelstein's tenure as chancellor ended in 1972, and the Ratner Center chose that date as the cutoff point for work done under the NHPRC grant. As a result, these General Files chiefly document the administration of Dr. Finkelstein, whose tenure began in 1940. Despite the predominance of material documenting the Finkelstein years, there is also a significant amount from the 1930s, some from the 1920s, and a scattering going back as far as 1902, the year the Seminary was reorganized under Solomon Schechter. These earlier files cover, if thinly, the administrations of presidents Solomon Schechter (1902-1915) and Cyrus Adler (1915-1940). The earlier files may have been gathered into the General Files when the office was established in 1940. Records dating from the period between the Seminary's founding in 1886 and 1902, when Solomon Schechter arrived to head the newly reorganized Seminary, have not been found in these files.
The material in the General Files is mainly correspondence, both letters received and carbon copies of outgoing letters. The files also contain memoranda; minutes; reports; press releases; texts of speeches and lectures; clippings; reprints of articles; programs, invitations and guest lists; high holiday seating charts; photographs; reel to reel and cassette tapes; and a few odd objects such as keys and books.
The files are organized mainly by correspondent; in some cases, "Danzig," for instance, material is filed by subject. Correspondents include: members of the Seminary's boards of directors and overseers; Seminary benefactors; faculty members, administrators, students, and staff; administrators of institutions affiliated with the Seminary such as the "Eternal Light" radio program, the Jewish Museum, the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and the Schocken Institute for Jewish Research in Jerusalem; many participants in the Conference on Science Philosophy and Religion and the Institute for Religious and Social Studies (see below for more about these two programs); recipients of honorary degrees; rabbis; clergypeople of other faiths; Dr. Finkelstein's academic colleagues; contributors to his book The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion; representatives of many Jewish communal, religious, cultural, educational, and political organizations; politicians and other public figures; Israeli government officials; administrators of the other academic institutions on Morningside Heights; community organizations; and an occasional member of the public writing to ask a question about Jewish law or custom.
During Louis Finkelstein's administration the files reflect his role as a prominent American Jew, one who was occasionally called upon to act as a spokesman for American Jews as a whole. Events such as Dr. Finkelstein's appointment by President Kennedy to the United States delegation to the installation of Pope Paul VI, and the publication of a cover story about him in Time magazine in 1951 are documented in these files. Current events, particularly World War Two, reverberate in the files. Dr. Finkelstein's scholarly work, particularly the preparation of his The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion is documented here (the bulk of his scholarly papers are not in these files).
Two important Seminary programs documented in these files are the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, founded in 1938 (now the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies) and the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, which first met in 1940 and lasted until 1968. Louis Finkelstein took an active, personal role in both of these programs, particularly the Conference, and the files reflect that. From the 1940s to the 1960s, when the Conference and the Institute were most active, files concerning them typically take up about one quarter to one third of the total bulk of the General Files.
The Institute was a series of courses and lectures held at the Seminary at which Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and, beginning in around the 1950s, Buddhist and Muslim clergypeople met to discuss contemporary social issues in light of their different faiths. At times scholars, artists, businesspeople, and others delivered lectures at the Institute.
The Conference, orginally called the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, was organized at the Seminary, but was mainly held at other academic institutions, particularly Columbia University. The Conference was a (generally) annual gathering of scholars - scientists as well as humanists - whose original mission was to respond as intellectuals to the rise of totalitarianism in Europe. As time went on the Conference took up race relations, education, labor relations and other contemporary topics, and added government officials, industrialists, and officers of private foundations to its membership. Seminary administrator Jessica Feingold took a prominent role in running both the the Conference and the Institute.
Both the Conference and the Institute were expressions of Louis Finkelstein's efforts to make the Seminary a leader in what Seminary administrators called "intergroup" relations and a proponent of the Jewish point of view in the larger world. Some related programs documented in the General Files are the Herbert H. Lehman Institute of Talmudic Ethics, the Institute on Ethics, and the ambitious, yet never realized World Academy of Ethics and quarterly journal on ethics.
The files documenting the Institute and the Conference mainly contain correspondence with participants and with people who were invited to participate (letters of refusal are often as interesting as those accepting invitations); copies of Conference papers; copies of participants' comments on one another's papers; and transcripts of Institute talks. Participants in the Conference and the Institute were prominent people from a wide range of fields. As a result, there are letters in the files from W.H. Auden, Mary McLeod Bethune, Franz Boas, Van Wyck Brooks, T.S. Eliot, Nels Ferre, Aldous Huxley, Jacques Lipchitz, Alain Locke, Thomas Mann, Margaret Mead, Reinhold Niebuhr, I.I. Rabi, Bertrand Russell, Bayard Rustin, Delmore Schwartz, Ben Shahn, Harlow Shapley, Paul Tillich, Mark Van Doren, and many others.
In addition to this material about the Conference and the Institute in the General Files, each of these programs is represented by a separate collection: R.G.5, Records of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, and R.G.16, Records of the Institute for Religious and Social Studies.
Some notable items appear annually in the files. One of these is the correspondence with Frieda Schiff Warburg. Frieda Warburg (1876-1958), widow of Felix Warburg, daughter of Jacob Schiff, was the first woman to serve on the Seminary's board of directors. In 1944 she donated her Fifth Avenue mansion to the Seminary for use as a museum - today's Jewish Museum. From that year until her death in 1958, the files contain substantial correspondence - the outgoing letters are generally dated only several days to a week apart - between Mrs. Warburg and, most likely, Jessica Feingold and Louis Finkelstein (since outgoing letters are unsigned carbons, it's hard to know their writers for sure). These letters provide a view into the donation of the Warburg house and its transformation into the Jewish Museum. They are also interesting for the insight they provide into daily life at the Seminary, particularly meetings of the Conference and Institute, as described for Mrs. Warburg by Feingold and Finkelstein. Finally, they are a source of information about Mrs. Warburg's own life in her later years.
Seminary representatives, mainly Jessica Feingold and Louis Finkelstein, also kept in touch with a number of other women who were important to the Seminary. Their correspondence with Racie Friedenwald Adler and Sally Wolfinsohn, widow and daughter of Cyrus Adler; Adele Ginzberg, widow of professor Louis Ginzberg; and Hanna Marx, widow of librarian and professor Alexander Marx, can be found here.
In 1950s, Dr. Finkelstein began taking a long, annual summer trip to London. He often used this period away from his office to write a long, ruminative letter to his colleagues at the Seminary. In these "London letters" Dr. Finkelstein summed up his thoughts of the year, or described events or ideas of particular importance to him. In 1963, for instance, he used this letter to describe his impressions of the Pope's installation.
The General Files Office arranged the files in alphabetical order by correspondent (occasionally by subject), and began a new alphabetical sequence for each year (sometimes grouping two or more years together). We have kept the files in this order, and have named each year's (or group of years') files, which we call a series, by a letter. See the series list below.
Since the General Files are arranged overwhelmingly by correspondent, finding topics in them involves knowing the names of people involved before approaching the files. For instance, the files for participants in the Conference on Science Philosophy and Religion are not grouped together under the name of the Conference. Instead, material relating to the Conference is in files headed by the names of participants. (A tip for locating names of Conference participants is to look in the volume of papers published for each Conference. A list of participants is included in the back of each. These volumes are in the Seminary library.) Similarly, in order to find information about the Seminary's library it's necessary to know that Alexander Marx, Nahum Sarna, Gerson Cohen, and Menachem Schmelzer have been the Seminary's librarians. Correspondence, memoranda, and reports about the library can be found in their files. To help with this problem of subject access, some cross-referencing has been done. Cross-reference notes on some folders will help guide you to subject matter that might otherwise be hidden.
Most of the files are, essentially, the correspondence of Louis Finkelstein as President/Chancellor. Thus, to find letters addressed to and written by Dr. Finkelstein it is necessary to look not under his name, but under the names of his correspondents. There are, however, some files headed by his name. These tend to contain material about him, or letters from him while he was away. For instance, the "Louis Finkelstein - Trip Abroad" folder found in many series generally contains his annual letter to the faculty from London.
Another peculiarity concerns the correspondence of administrators other than Dr. Finkelstein. The General Files generally contain the correspondence of presidents, vice-chancellors, deans, department heads, some faculty members, and members of the Business Administration Committee (a group of administrators, chiefly women, which was in charge of the day-to-day aspects of Seminary administration). These individuals' correspondence can be found in the files of their correspondents. However, there are also files under their own names which chiefly contain intra-Seminary memoranda documenting the jobs they did at the Seminary. Administrators with a substantial amount of correspondence and memoranda in the General Files include: Max Arzt, Harriet Catlin, Carlotta Damanda, Moshe Davis, Jessica Feingold, Seymour Fox, Joel Geffen, Judah Goldin, David Kogen, Martin Grabois (business manager), Simon Greenberg, Bernard Mandelbaum, Alexander Marx, Menachem Schmelzer, Bernard Segal, and Marjorie Wyler.
A small group of Louis Ginzberg's papers was collected by the Seminary's General Files office and has been added to the original collection as Series CC. This small series, with documents dating from 1904 -1958, consists of correspondence, writings, and ephemera.
Finally, each folder has a heading which might look something like this:
1BB-283-24 1972 Agus, Aisenberg, Albright, Alexander
Decoded, this means, on the left side: Record Group 1 (General Files); Series BB (1972); box 283; folder 24. On the right side is a list of names of correspondents. Each of these correspondents originally had a folder of his or her own but we consolidated the material when we housed it in new folders (thus saving sixty-four linear feet of space - all old folders). Please use these folder headings as a reference both in citations, and when requesting material.