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Interview: Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin

Interview: Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin

The Spertus faculty is comprised of leading experts from top universities, all with impressive hands-on professional credentials. Access to their knowledge and creativity is at the core of the Spertus experience.

Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin celebrates 40 years with Spertus

When Rabbi Dr. Byron Sherwin talks about his 40 years at Spertus, his favorite stories center
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 will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Spertus this 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.