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Leonard "Leibel" Fein: Judaism's Liberal Lion

Leonard "Leibel" Fein: Judaism's Liberal Lion

We have lost a giant: Leonard "Leibel" Fein, patriarch of American Jewish liberalism, RAC Senior Adviser, and former director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, has died at 80. Our grief can no more be summed up than in the endless tributes to Leibel's gifts and leadership of Jewish causes.

Leibel Fein at Consultation on Conscience 1997

In an eloquent tribute to his longtime friend and collaborator, Rabbi David Saperstein wrote in Ha'aretz:

"To the degree that “tikkun olam” has become the catchphrase of American Jewish life and that social justice has become, according to most polls, the single most common organizing expression of Jewish identity in America, Leibel Fein is as responsible for that as any other individual. His expansive and powerful writings, from his book "Where Are We: The Inner Life of American Jews," and his combined 40 years of regular columns for Moment Magazine and the “Forward,” together with over a thousand lectures to Federations, synagogues, and Jewish organizations, provided an intellectual Jewish framework that inspired two generations of Jewish activists, leaders, and thinkers."

Nadine Epstein, editor and publisher of Moment Magazine (which Leibel founded):

“Leibel was a man of chesed —deep kindness — who dedicated his life to the Jewish community, State of Israel and the world, and never lost that abiding passion. Not only was he a great man of letters, he was a true activist, and that is a rare combination."

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis, MAZON Board of Directors:

"Leibel was one of the gedolai ha-dor, moral and intellectual giants of American and world Jewry. His loving critiques of contemporary Jewish life gave hope to so many that a better world was possible.

Ruth Messinger, Director, American Jewish World Service:

"Leibel was a brilliant man who was the founder and godfather of Jewish social justice in the 20th and 21st century..."

In 2013, Leibel gifted a nearly-complete collection of his writings to the Berman Jewish Policy Archive (BJPA). You can browse the collection here. The BJPA has also created a reader's guide to the Leibel Fein Collection featuring an introduction from Rabbi Saperstein, which you can download here.

Published: 8/15/2014

Categories: Social Justice