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Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
Scholar, theologian, leading thinker of Conservative Judaism, Schechter (1847-1915) was born in Frascani, Romania. His father, a Habad Hasid, was a shohet [ritual slaughterer], hence the family name, Schechter. Schechter received a thorough grounding in traditional Jewish learning, but in his early twenties went to Vienna to study at the Rabbinical College, where his main tutor was Meir Friedmann, a renowned Talmudist in the modern idiom.
Schechter the Scholar
Later Schechter took courses at the University of Berlin and the Berlin Hochschule, where a fellow student was Claude Montefiore. Montefiore brought Schechter to England to be his private tutor. In England, Schechter cultivated an exquisite English style of writing (by reading numerous English novels, it is reported) which has made his Studies in Judaism and Aspects of Rabbinic Theology classics of English literature as well as of modern Jewish thought, though, to his dying day, he spoke English with a strong foreign accent. [It is well documented that Mathilde Roth Schechter, Solomon’s wife, edited everything her husband wrote, and she is widely credited for his exquisite style. Ed.] In 1892 Schechter was appointed reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge University and in 1899 also Professor of Hebrew at University College, London.
Schechter’s reputation in the scholarly world rests securely on his critical edition of Avot, According to Rabbi Nathan (1887) and his discovery of the Cairo genizah, of which he was instrumental in bringing to Cambridge over 100,000 fragments, including the original Hebrew version of Ben Sira.
[The Cairo genizah is the most famous genizah, or storage place for sacred Hebrew texts that can no longer be used. This invaluable cache of ancient Jewish manuscripts was discovered by Schechter in the attic of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo in the late nineteenth century. Ben Sira is the name of both an ancient author and the book that he authored, part of the Apocrypha. Ed.]
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