Richard Rubenstein

Richard Rubenstein

Richard L. Rubenstein (born January 8, 1924 in New York City) is an educator in religion and a major writer in the American Jewish community, noted particularly for his contributions to Holocaust theology. He is married to art historian Betty Rogers Rubenstein, with whom he lives in Connecticut. Rubenstein is one of two thinkers who are usually credited with coining the term genocide (the other being Raphael Lemkin).


Rubenstein began his tertiary education at Hebrew Union College, which is an institution within the Reform Judaism tradition. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a B.A. degree. He then was awarded the Master of Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative tradition) and was also ordained as a rabbi by that institution. He then studied at Harvard Divinity School and was awarded a Master of Sacred Theology degree. Finally, he pursued doctoral studies and received a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

In addition to his earned degrees, Rubenstein has been honored with two honorary doctorates: Doctor of Hebrew Letters (Jewish Theological Seminary) and Doctor of Humane Letters (Grand Valley State University).


Rubenstein taught in religious studies at Florida State University from 1970 to 1995 and held the professorial chair. He then became President and Professor of Religion at the University of Bridgeport, where he served from 1995 to 1999. [ [ "A Brief Biographical Note", University of Bridgeport website, June 2003] Accessed 2008-09-14]

In addition to his role as an educator, Rubenstein has been a newspaper columnist for a Japanese newspaper and has written many books concerned with the Holocaust, theology, Jewish-Christian relations, ethics, and politics.

Holocaust and Death of God

Rubenstein emerged in the 1960s as a significant writer on the meaning and impact of the Holocaust for Judaism. His first book, "After Auschwitz", explored radical theological frontiers in Jewish thought. In Rubenstein's argument, the experience of the Holocaust totally shattered the traditional Judaic concept of God, especially as the God of the covenant with Abraham. In the covenant, the God of Israel is the God of history. Rubenstein argued that Jews could no longer advocate the notion of an omnipotent God at work in history or espouse the election of Israel as the chosen people. In the wake of the Holocaust, he believed Jews have lost hope and there is no ultimate meaning to life.

" [A] s children of the Earth, we are undeceived concerning our destiny. We have lost all hope, consolation and illusion." [After Auschwitz, p. 70]

In "After Auschwitz", Rubenstein spoke of the "death of God" and that the covenant had died. He did not mean he was now an atheist, nor that religion had to be discarded as irrelevant. He tried to explore what the nature and form of religious existence could possibly comprise after Auschwitz. Rubenstein suggested that perhaps the way forward was to choose some form of paganism.

When his work was released in 1966, it appeared at a time when a "death of God" movement was emerging in radical theological discussions among Protestant theologians such as Gabriel Vahanian, Paul Van Buren, William Hamilton, and Thomas J. J. Altizer. Among those Protestants, the discussions centred on modern secular unbelief, the collapse of the belief in any transcendent order to the universe, and their implications for Christianity. Theologians such as Altizer felt at the time that "as 'Death of God' theologians we have now been joined by a distinguished Jewish theologian, Dr Richard Rubenstein." [John Warwick Montgomery and Thomas J. J. Altizer, "The Altizer-Montgomery Dialogue: A Chapter in the God is Dead Controversy" (InterVarsity Press, Chicago, 1967), p.7]

During the 1960s, the "Death of God" movement achieved considerable notoriety and was featured as the cover story of the April 8, 1966, edition of "Time" magazine. However, as a movement of thought among theologians in Protestant circles, it had dissipated from its novelty by the turn of the 1970s.

Unification Church

Rubenstein was a defender of the Unification Church and served on its Advisory Council. [ [ Richard L. Rubenstein Papers, American Jewish Archives] ] He said about the church's founder Sun Myung Moon:

"I especially appreciated Rev. Moon’s commitment to the fight against Communism. From his own first-hand, personal experience and out of his religious convictions, he understood how tragic a political and social blight that movement had been. I had been in East and West Berlin the week the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961 and had visited communist Poland in 1965. Unfortunately, many of my liberal academic colleagues did not understand the full nature of the threat as did Rev. Moon. I was impressed with the sophistication of Rev. Moon’s anti-communism. He understood communism’s evil, but he also stood ready to meet with communist leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Kim Il Sung in the hope of changing or moderating their views." [ [ Peace King:Essays on the Life and Work of Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon] ]

Other Writings

Rubenstein has undertaken a psychoanalytic study of St. Paul of Tarsus in his book "My Brother Paul". He has also continued with Holocaust themes in later writings and has adjusted some of his earlier views about God in light of the Kabbalah.



* "Power Struggle: An Autobiographical Confession" (New York: Scribner, 1974; Lanham: University Press of America, 1986).


* "After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism" (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).

* "Morality and Eros" (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970).

* "My Brother Paul" (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

* "The Cunning of History: Mass Death and the American Future" (New York: Harper and Row, 1975).

* "Age of Triage: Fear and Hope in an Overcrowded World" (Boston: Beacon, 1983).

* "The Religious Imagination: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Jewish Theology" (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985).

* "Dissolving Alliance: The United States and the Future of Europe" (New York: Paragon, 1987).

* ed., "Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics" (New York: Paragon, 1987).

* and John K. Roth, "Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy" (Atlanta: John Know, 1987; 2nd ed., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

* and John K. Roth, eds., "The Politics of Latin American Liberation Theology" (Washington DC: Washington Institute Press, 1988).


* Zachary Braiterman, " "Hitler's Accomplice"?: The Tragic Theology of Richard Rubenstein," "Modern Judaism", 17/1 (February 1997), pp. 75-89.

* Zachary Braiterman, "(God) After Auschwitz" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

* Jakob Jocz, "The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz" (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981).

* Michael Morgan, "Beyond Auschwitz: Post-Holocaust Thought in America" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

* Betty Rogers Rubenstein and Michael Berenbaum, eds., "What Kind of God? Essays in Honor of Richard L. Rubenstein" (Lanham: University Press of America, 1995).

External links

* [ Richard L. Rubenstein Papers at the American Jewish Archives (includes a biographical sketch)]

See also

* God is dead
* Holocaust theology

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