Skip to main content

Milton Steinberg (1903-1950) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-369

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the personal and intellectual life of Rabbi Milton Steinberg, containing his correspondence, writings, books, photographs, audio recordings, and memorabilia. It also includes articles, letters, memoranda, notes, eulogies, and sermons pertaining to Steinberg’s rabbinate at Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis, IN, and at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City.

The collection documents his theological and literary writings, as well as correspondence pertaining to their publication and editing. It also documents his service as a chaplain in the New York State National Guard; his work in the development of a prayer book with the National Jewish Welfare Board; and his activities on behalf of various Zionist organizations, including his efforts to gain support for Israel from various Christian clergy and laity.

Series I: Personal, documents Steinberg's personal life, It is divided into five subseries: Subseries 1: Correspondence with Edith Alpert Steinberg, includes correspondence between Steinberg and his wife Edith, 1926-1932; Subseries 2: Correspondence with Others, includes his correspondence with family members, friends, and mentors; Suberies 3: Edith Alpert-Steinberg Papers, includes Edith's correspondence with Lord William Beveridge, A.K. Brohi, James Ernst, Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, and Jonathan Steinberg; Subseries 4: Education offers a glimpse into Steinberg's education; and Subseries 5: Remembering Milton Steinberg, contains writings regarding Steinberg and his untimely death by Arthur A. Cohen, and Steinberg’s son, among others.

Series II: Writings, documents Steinberg’s intellectual and literary output. Subseries 1: Articles, contains his articles for publications such as newspapers, magazines, and journals; Subseries 2: Books, includes material about his writings published in book form, and includes drafts, and edited drafts of these writings; Subseries 3: Criticism and Review, contains reviews and critiques of Steinberg’s work; Subseries 4: Other Writings, contains Steinberg’s graduate thesis from City College of New York, along with his research materials.

Steinberg's rabbinical career is documented in Series III. This series is divided between his responsibilities as a member of the clergy, and his teachings as delivered from the pulpit and lectern. Subseries 1: Administrative Duties, documents his career from Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis, IN, to the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, including his work as an educator and advocate of Reform Judaism; Subseries 2: Sermons and Lectures, includes copies and notes of the various sermons and lectures Steinberg delivered over the course of his career.

Milton Steinberg served his state and country during World War II as a chaplain in the New York State National Guard. This aspect of his life is documented in Series IV: Military Service. The bulk of this Series is comprised of correspondence between Steinberg and various officials and military officers. Also represented here are his efforts to develop a memorial service for fallen service members that Jewish chaplains of all American Jewish movements could conduct before High Holy Days services.

Steinberg was active in the Zionist movement of the mid-twentieth century, especially in regard to fostering sympathy amongst Christian clergy. His efforts are documented in Series V: Zionist Activities.

Series VI contains his personal papers, and personal library.

The collection also contains a variety of audio recordings; the bulk of the audio in Series VII is a re-dictation by Arthur A. Cohen of Milton Steinberg’s four philosophical essays titled, “New Currents in Religious Thought,” the typescripts of which can be found in Box 13, Folders 7-10. These were originally recorded on Dictabelt tape, and were then transferred to audiocassettes. Additionally there are several phonograph records of various testimonies at the time of Steinberg’s death, including Morton Wishengrad’s eulogy made for Jewish Theological Seminary’s radio program “Eternal Light.”

There are numerous photographs in Series VIII, many of which were used by Simon Noveck in his biography Milton Steinberg: Portrait of a Rabbi.

Series IX: Index of Correspondents and Original Finding Aid, consists of note cards documenting individuals whose names appear throughout the collection, as well as the original 1981 finding aid to the collection. The card index was created during the 1981 processing of the collection.

Dates

  • undated, 1883-2003
  • Majority of material found within 1923-1950

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English with some Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Biographical Note

American author, philosopher, rabbi, teacher, and theologian Milton Steinberg was born in Rochester, NY on November 24, 1903. His father Samuel was born in Seraye, Lithuania and educated at the yeshiva in Volozhin, Lithuania. His mother Fannie, nėe Sternberg, was born in Rochester, NY to a family that managed a boarding house. Milton had two sisters: Florence and Frieda. In 1919, the Steinberg family relocated to the Bronx so that Florence might pursue a singing career.

Milton attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he excelled in his studies and graduated as the valedictorian. In 1924, he matriculated the City College of New York to study philosophy, and graduated first in his class; with additional prizes in history, philosophy, Greek, and Latin. He then attended the Jewish Theological Seminary and was ordained as a rabbi in 1928. While attending seminary, he simultaneously earned a Masters degree in philosophy at Columbia University.

Steinberg’s rabbinical career began in 1928, Indianapolis, IN, at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. In June 1929, Milton married Edith Alpert. Despite his good work and efforts at ministering to that community, the distance from family and familiar surroundings in New York City put a strain on the Steinbergs.

In 1933, he and Edith returned to New York City, where Milton was hired as rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue. The following year their first son, Jonathan, was born. Their second son, David, was born in 1937.

Under Milton's administration, the Park Avenue Synagogue grew from 120 families, to over 700. The Steinbergs made their home at the synagogue, and Milton remained its rabbi until his death. In addition to his rabbinical career he worked with Hadassah, the American Jewish Congress, the Rabbinical Assembly-Committee on Social Justice, B’nai B’rith’s Hillel Commission, Jewish Publication Society’s Publication Committee, the Board of Jewish Education, the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, and served as editor of The Reconstructionist. He taught classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Teachers Institute, and at the 92nd Street YMHA.

In 1942, while serving at Park Avenue Synagogue, Milton joined the New York State National Guard as a chaplain, and was given the commission of Lieutenant Colonel. His first mission was to tour various Army bases throughout the country, mostly in Texas, to determine the spiritual needs of the soldiers. His busy schedule and work load eventually took its toll on his health and, while on tour in 1944, he suffered a heart attack. Due to the remoteness of his location he was unable to receive immediate medical attention. While this severely limited his physical capabilities and restriscted his ability to do as many things in one day as possible, it allowed him to focus on his family and his writings.

After the war, his activities were limited mostly to writing, although he still served as rabbi and worked with Christian clergy, seeking their support for the establishment of the state of Israel.

Throughout his life, three men left their mark on Milton's intellectual identity, and influenced his work: Morris Raphael Cohen, Jacob Kohn, and Mordecai Kaplan. He met Morris Raphael Cohen as a student at the City College of New York. Cohen’s teaching instilled in Steinberg intellectual discipline and a commitment to philosophical rationalism. Jacob Kohn was Steinberg's rabbi at the Ansche Chesed synagogue, which his family attended after moving to New York in 1919. Under the guidance of Rabbi Kohn, Milton came to believe that any philosophical understanding required faith in an absolute truth. Lastly, Mordecai Kaplan, Steinberg's homiletics professor and mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, developed a significant and lasting relationship. Despite differences of opinion between Steinberg and Kaplan, Steinberg strongly believed that Kaplan’s Reconstructionism was an acceptable ideology for American Jewry, and a solution to what Steinberg believed were the problems facing modern Jewry.

Steinberg was convinced that faith is an essential component to modern Jewish life, and elaborated on this philosophy in his works. In his first book The Making of Modern Jewry (1934), he examined the causes of what he and others called the “Jewish Problem,” that is, how can the tenets of Judaism fit into modernity. Based on his philosophy and the ideas put forth in the above mentioned work, he set out to describe his ideas in fiction. In his first novel, As A Driven Leaf (1939), he tells the story of the heretic Elisha ben Abuyah, who betrayed the Jews to the Romans during the Bar Kochba Revolt. In the novel Steinberg attempts to reconcile Judaism with Greek philosophy in order to demonstrate the interdependence between reason and faith. In the years between the writing of As A Driven Leaf and his next book, A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem (1945), much in Judaism had changed and, he had suffered a heart attack. In this new work, he laid out his frustration at the lack of answers and offered his solutions to the many problems besetting the Jewish world. In Basic Judaism (1947), he returned to the topic of theology, and offered a synoptic description of the Jewish faith, accessible to all Jews, the believers and the indifferent, as well as non-Jews. This was his last work published in his lifetime.

When he died suddenly in 1950, he had been already at work on two books concerning theology, and another novel. Edith, his wife and assistant, published the first, a collection of his sermons and papers called A Believing Jew, in 1951; the other, Anatomy of Faith (1960), edited by Arthur A. Cohen, was an attempt describe Steinberg's theology in a systemic fashion. Following the Holocaust, Steinberg’s theology had grown increasingly relational and mystical as he read the works of Christian Neo-Orthodox writers such as the Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr and Karl Barth. The manuscript for his second novel, A Prophet’s Wife (2010), tells the account of Hosea and Gomer, in which God's compassion, mercy, and forgiveness are demonstrated. The novel was published sixty years after his death, in March 2010.

In March 1950, at the age of 46, Milton Steinberg passed away. He was survived by his wife, Edith, and sons Jonathan and David. Despite only having been in the rabbinate for two decades, Steinberg's ideas, work, and writings left a profound mark on American Jewish thought.

Extent

13.4 Linear Feet (21 manuscript boxes, 1 OS1 Box, 1 SB1 Box, 1 Phonograph Box)

Abstract

The Milton Steinberg (1903-1950) Papers documents the personal and intellectual life of the American author, philosopher, rabbi, teacher, and theologian. The collection contains correspondence, writings, photographs, audio recordings, and memorabilia. In addition to numerous articles, he authored several books including, The Making of the Modern Jew (1934), As A Driven Leaf (1939), A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem (1945), Basic Judaism (1947), A Believing Jew (1951), Anatomy of Faith (1960), and A Prophet’s Wife (2010). In a professional career that lasted a little over twenty years, he served as rabbi at three synagogues, primarily at the Park Avenue Synagogue. In addition, he was active in the community at large, and worked with many Jewish community and civic organizations. As a disciple of Mordecai Kaplan, he and others helped to establish the Reconstructionist movement of American Jewry.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

This collection is the gift of David J. and Jonathan Steinberg. The gift was made in 1980-1981.

Accruals

In early 2015, a small accrual (accession number 2015.004) was given to AJHS by Jonathan Steinberg.

Related Material

The published works of Milton Steinberg can be found in the holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society and its partners at the Center for Jewish History. Additionally, the Milton Steinberg Photograph Collection (P-681) can be found in the photograph holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Separated Material

This appendix lists a number of books that were found in the Accession File but relocated to the general holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society.
  1. Bible: The Holy Scriptures (Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia: 1922)
  1. Bible: The Old Testament II (Moffatt, James translator) (NY 1925)
  1. Glatzer, Nahum Norbert. Geschichte der Talmudischen Zeit. (Berlin: 1937)
  1. Hart, Moss. Lady in the Dark. (New York, 19410.
  1. Josephus Flavius II. Antiquities of the Jews. (New York: 1825)
  1. Kaplan, Mordecai M. The Future of the American Jew. (New York: 1948)
  1. Kaplan, Mordecai M. Judaism in Transition. (New York: 1936)
  1. Katz, A. Raymond. A New Art for an Old Religion. (New York: 1952).
  1. Klein, A.M. Poems. (Philadelphia: 1944)
  1. Mahzor. Service of the Synagogue: Day of Atonement II. (London: 1922)
  1. Morgenthau, Henry. All in a Life-Time. (Garden City, NY: 1925)
  1. Noveck, Simon, ed. Contemporary Jewish Thought: A Reader. (Clinton, Mass.: 1966)
  1. Raban, Z. (Illus.) The Story of Ruth. (New York: 1930)
  1. Raskin, Saul (Illus.) Hagadah for Passover. (New York: 1941)
  1. Raskin, Saul (Illus.) Sidur. (New York: 1945)
  1. Raskin, Saul (Illus.) Land of Palestine. (New York: 1947)
  1. Raskin, Saul (Illus.) Five Megiloth. (New York: 1949)
  1. Sachar, Abram Leon. Sufferance is the Badge. (New York: 1939)
  1. Samuel, Maurice. Jews on Approval. (New York: 1932)
  1. Samuel, Maurice. The Gentleman and the Jew. (New York: 1950)
  1. Samuel, Maurice. The Devil that Failed. (London: 1953)
  1. Silverman, Rabbi Morris. Mahzor. High Holiday Prayer Book 1939: Special Edition for Park Avenue Synagogue. (Printed 1942)
  1. Sonneborn, (Rudolf) Siegmund B. The Book of the Baalshem Mishpat. (Balt: 1940)
  1. Steinberg, Milton. Anatomy of Faith. (New York: 1960)
  1. Steinberg, Milton. Como Una Hoja al Viento. (Buenos Aires: 1952) (translated Aida Aisenson)
  1. Steinberg, Milton. The Making of the Modern Jew. (New York: 1955)
  1. Twain, Mark. Concerning Jews. (New York: 1934)
  1. Walkowitz, Abraham (Illus.) Ghetto Motifs. (New York: 1946)
  1. Warburg, Max M. Aus ‘Meinen Aufzeichnungen. (New York: 1952)
  1. Wishengrad, Morton. The Eternal Light. (New York: 1947)

Processing Information

In 1979-1981 David J. and Jonathan Steinberg attempted to collect any of Milton Steinberg's papers that remained in the hands of family and friends. This collection is a result of their efforts. When the original document was located elsewhere, photocopies were made. This resulted in a collection consisting of roughly 100-150 copies of letters, articles or other documents. The earliest arrangement was done by Jeffrey L. Houben on June 3, 1981. The collection was revised in October 1982 and again in June 1999. On April 28, 2003, Adina Anflick turned the legacy finding aid into a word document. In July 2010, Michael Montalbano reorganized and re-housed the collection, providing additional information and creating a DACS-compliant EAD finding aid for improved access and description.

In 2015, materials from a small accrual were intellectually arranged into the collection, and physically housed in box 21, folders 2-6. A handwritten 1929 note thanking Goldsmit House for hospitality was placed in existing box 3, folder 10. At the same time, the original 1981 finding aid and related materials were also integrated into the collection, into Series IX, in box 21, folders 7-9.

In September 2016, materials relating to Milton Steinberg that his cousin, Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, had donated to AJHS in 1981 were intellectually arranged into the collection, and physically housed in box 21, folders 10-15. Newspaper clippings of obituaries and book reviews and two photographs from Rabbi Bernstein were placed into existing box 4, folder 10; box 9, folder 6; and box 15, folders 17 and 18. Additionally, a folder of correspondence between Rabbi Bernstein and Rabbi Steinberg was integrated into box 3, folder 5.
Title
Guide to the Milton Steinberg (1903-1950) Papers, undated, 1883-2003, (bulk 1923-1950) P-369
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Michael D. Montalbano. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison
Date
© 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 2015-02: A small addendum (2015.004) was integrated into the collection in 2015. See accrual note for details.
  • June, October 2020: EHyman-post-ASpace migration cleanup

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States