Rabbi Neil Gillman, professor emeritus of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and one of the premier theologians in the Conservative movement, has died. He was 84.
His death was announced Friday by the Rabbinical Assembly.
The author of numerous books, including, in 1991, Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew, Gillman was associated for over 50 years with JTS, the main seminary of the Conservative movement, as a student, administrator and member of the faculty, emphasizing the intersection of Jewish theology, Conservative Judaism and Jewish education.
“Gillman’s innovative thinking about how to construe Jewish faith and how to justify it, his use of anthropology as well as philosophy in approaching questions of God and life after death, and his ability to combine complete intellectual openness and honesty with a commitment to Jewish tradition mark his work as truly important, indeed, a real gift to Jews and non-Jews alike,” Elliot Dorff, the Sol & Anne Dorff Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy at American Jewish University, said in introducing a collection of essays released in Gillman’s honor in 2013.
Abq Jew wrote about Rabbi Gillman in December 2010 (see Talmud and Torah and Zombies and The Final Tisch; No Zombies), when he was first reading The Death of Death.
In the final chapters, Rabbi Gillman dismisses the doctrine of the immortality of the soul - it's just not enough - and makes a very strong case for the traditional Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead.
Only resurrection of the body, says Rabbi Gillman, will prove God's supreme power, solve the problem of the misfortune of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked (tzaddik vi'ra lo, rasha vi'tov lo), and make each of our individual lives eternally meaningful.
Abq Jew remembers Rabbi Gillman from his time at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1975, Rabbi Gillman and Rabbi Joseph Lukinsky z"l taught an Introduction to Philosophy course that totally blew the mind (he had more of it then) of Abq Jew, a guy from California with an engineering degree and very little formal Jewish learning.
Here is JTS's statement on Rabbi Gillman's passing:
With deep sorrow, we join the family, the Jewish world, and countless others in mourning the loss of Rabbi Neil Gillman, professor emeritus of Jewish Philosophy and a giant presence at JTS for more than half a century.
He was a beloved teacher, colleague, and friend, whose lucid writing and philosophical insights profoundly influenced Jewish theology in the contemporary world.
An award-winning author, his writing was both learned and accessible, helping Jews and non-Jews wrestle with the most challenging theological issues, including questions about God, revelation, suffering, and death.
As a professor and dean of The Rabbinical School, he mentored and inspired generations of students, challenging them to explore the meaning of their relationship with God as they went on to careers as clergy, educators, and scholars.
The impact of his teaching and writing is immeasurable and will be felt for years to come.
We extend our deepest condolences to his beloved wife, Sarah, his daughters, Deborah and Abigail, his grandchildren, and the entire family. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.