Masorti pioneer and ex New London Synagogue rabbi, Reuven Hammer, dies at 86

Masorti pioneer and ex New London Synagogue rabbi, Reuven Hammer, dies at 86

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon pays tribute to the spiritual leader and writer as his 'friend, mentor and predecessor'

Rabbi Reuven Hammer. (YouTube screenshot)
Rabbi Reuven Hammer. (YouTube screenshot)

A British rabbi has paid tribute to his “friend, mentor and predecessor” who has died aged 86, renowned as a pioneer of Masorti Judaism in Israel,

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of New London Synagogue  eulogised Rabbi Reuven  Hammer, who served at the community from October 2005 to July 2007

Reuven was diagnosed with a brain tumour this year and passed away in Jerusalem on Monday.

Posting on Facebook, Rabbi Gordon said Hammer had accepted an invitation to serve as the interim-Rabbi at Abbey Road’s New London Synagogue at “a difficult time .. with membership dwindling, and some suggested we had no future.”

Reuven did far more than steady the ship. He gave the community confidence in its future. He lifted our heads up and calmed un-easiness.”

Rabbi Gordon said the community extended his one-year contract for a second, “but Reuven never sought to build the community in his own image. He was a perfect interim Rabbi, confident, warm-hearted and able to cut through seemingly impenetrable barriers to a future without causing distress.”

Heralding him as his mentor who “published prolifically”, Rabbi Gordon said he thought “of Reuven often, valued my time with him dearly and mourn his passing.”

Read Rabbi Gordon’s eulogy here.

Hammer moved to Israel in the 1970s and helped establish Jerusalem’s Kehilat Moreshet Avraham synagogue as well as the larger Masorti movement.

He later served as the head of the Masorti Beth Din (rabbinic court) here as well as president of the International Rabbinical Assembly.

His death was announced on Facebook by the Masorti Movement in Israel:

Hammer was the author of the a commentary on the Conservative prayer book as well as Sifre: A Taanaitic commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy.

“The Rabbinical Assembly in Israel (association of Masorti/Conservative rabbis), together with all arms of the Masorti/Conservative Movement in Israel and abroad, mourns the death of one of our luminaries, Rabbi Prof. Rueven Hammer, z”l. We send our condolences to his wife Rachel and all the family,” the Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement.

“Rabbi Hammer was not only one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel, but also a leading scholar in the Jewish world,” the statement continued.

“He is perhaps most known for his works on Jewish liturgy and Midrash, as well as a regular column on the weekly Torah portion in the Jerusalem Post. He also founded what today has grown to become the Schechter Institutes, which includes the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary for training Israeli rabbis for Masorti congregations.”

The statement also noted Hammer’s role as a “a leading member of the Committee for Jewish Law and Standards” and how he “laid the halakhic foundations for Masorti’s ground-breaking Bat/Bat Mitzvah program for children with special needs.”

Hammer, a native of Syracuse, New York, studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he received ordination and a doctorate. He also earned a doctorate from Northwestern University.

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, recalled meeting Hammer when Goldstein was heading Masorti’s development office.

“Rabbi Hammer was generally soft-spoken, but always clear and firm. He was especially understanding and open to Masorti geirim (converts), assisting them in their decision to join the Jewish people,” Goldstein said. “He was a great scholar and a believer that traditional Judaism can be relevant in 21st century. He will be sorely missed by family, friends and colleagues.”

Hammer was buried on Tuesday morning on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem.


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