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Charles Liebman

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Charles Liebman

Charles S. Liebman (Hebrew: ישעיהו ליבמן) (October 20, 1934 – September 3, 2003) was a political scientist and prolific author on Jewish life and Israel. A professor at Bar-Ilan University, he previously served on university faculties in the United States.


In 1965, Liebman published a pioneering essay, “Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life,” in the American Jewish Year Book. His 14 books include Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life. According to Cohen (2003), Liebman "argued that American Jews struggle to integrate into the larger society while trying to maintain a distinctive group identity." According to Orthodox Rabbi Reuven Bulka, "Liebman's exhaustive study was an eye-opener for many who had dismissed Orthodoxy as a negligible force on the American Jewish scene and also was a partial harbinger of much more literature on Orthodoxy which has proliferated ever since."

In a provocative paper, "Extremism as a Religious Norm," Liebman (1983) analyzes religious extremism in Israel and argues that "religious extremism is the norm and that it is not religious extremism but religious moderation that requires explanation." A critical respondent appreciated the description of Israel but rejected Liebman's generalization as begging the question of whether "extremism should be regarded as "normal religion or even religion at all." (Cumpsty 1985:217).

In a 1990 study of American and Israeli Judaism (“Two Worlds of Judaism”), Liebman articulated a concept of "Jewish personalism" which, writes his co-author, is "the tendency of American Jews to pick those parts of Judaism they find personally meaningful, rather than complying with external requirements of religious law, Zionist ideology or ethnic obligation" (Cohen 2003).

He was born in New York and attended secondary school at the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv. He earned degrees from the University of Miami (B.A.) and University of Illinois (M.A., Ph.D.). He moved to Israel in 1969. With his wife Carol, he had three children. He was an observant Jew, concerned about intermarriage, served in the Israeli Defense Forces on an education unit, and was politically a dove regarding Israel. (Cohen 2003)

Personally, Liebman is said to have had a "fierce devotion to honesty, even at the risk of unpopularity." (Cohen 2003) For example, in a book review, he writes: "If a [reviewer] can't be kind he must be fair. I find it impossible to be kind to an author who writes.... a statement comparable to saying that an American state is located somewhere between New York and California. ... Since I cannot be kind I will try very hard to be fair. The book does have redeeming features." (Liebman 1984:137f.)

In November 2007, the Jewish Theological Seminary published a memorial volume, Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life (Stuart Cohen and Bernard Susser, editors). According to an obituary in The Forward, "Liebman was widely regarded as the pre-eminent social scientist of Jews and Judaism in the latter third of the 20th century" (Cohen 2003).


Selected works

  • "Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life" in the American Jewish Year Book 1966, pp. 21–92, 1965. (pdf version)
  • Ambivalent American Jew: Politics, Religion, and Family in American Jewish Life, Varda Books, 2001. ISBN 1-59045-039-6
  • Aspects of the Religious Behavior of American Jews. New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1974.
  • Attitudes Toward Jewish-Gentile Relations in the Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Israel. Cape Town: Kaplan Centre, Jewish Studies & Research, University of Cape Town, 1983.
  • Deceptive Images: Toward a Redefinition of American Judaism 1988, Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-88738-218-5
  • "Extremism as a Religious Norm," in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 22:1, 75-86. March 1983.
  • Li-Ḥeyot be-Yaḥad: Yaḥase Datiyim-Ḥiloniyim Ba-Ḥevrah Ha-Yiśreʼelit. Jerusalem: Keter Avi ḥai, 1990.
  • Liḳrat teoryah Shel Ha-Liberalizm Ha-Yehudi. Jerusalem: Agudah le-ḥeḳer ha-ḳehilah ha-Yehudit, 1985.
  • Pressure without Sanctions: The Influence of World Jewry on Israeli Policy. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1977.
  • Reconceptualizing the Culture Conflict among Israeli Jews. Zivion. Vol. 1. Ramat Gan: Zivion, Jolson Center for Israel, Judaism & Democracy, Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University, 2001.
  • Religion, Democracy and Israeli Society. The Sherman Lecture Series. Vol. 2. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997.
  • Retsaḥ Poliṭi: Retsaḥ Rabin u-Retsiḥot Poliṭiyot Ba-Mizraḥ-Ha-Tikhon. Sidrat Taḳriv. Vol. 1. Tel Aviv: Merkaz Yitsḥaḳ Rabin le-ḥeḳer Yiśraʼel : ʻAm ʻoved, 1998.
  • Religious and Secular: Conflict and Accommodation between Jews in Israel. New York, N.Y.: Keter Pub. House, 1990.
  • "Reconstructionism in American Jewish Life," in American Jewish Yearbook, 1970
  • [Review:] "The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry by William B. Helmreich in AJS Review, 9:1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 137–140. (JSTOR)
  • "Myth, Tradition and Values in Israeli Society" in Midstream 24, 1978"
  • Yehude Ameriḳah Ṿe-Yiśrael. Jerusalem: Agudah le-ḥeḳer ha-ḳehilah ha-Yehudit, 1984.
  • Liebman, Charles S. and Steven Martin Cohen. Two Worlds of Judaism : The Israeli and American Experiences. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
  • Liebman, Charles S. and Eliʻezer Don-Yiḥya. Religion and Politics in Israel. Jewish Political and Social Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.
  • Liebman, Charles S. Civil Religion in Israel : Traditional Judaism and Political Culture in the Jewish State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
  • Liebman, Charles S. and Elihu Katz. The Jewishness of Israelis : Responses to the Guttman Report. SUNY Series in Israeli Studies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
  • Liebman, Charles S. and Śarah Libman. Nośʼim Nivḥarim Ba-Havanat Ha-Ḳehilah Ha-Yehudit be-Artsot Ha-Berit. Ramat-Aviv, Tel-Aviv: ha-Universiṭah ha-petuḥah, 1988.
  • Liebman, Charles S. and Merkaz Argov. A Research Agenda for American Jews. Israel: Bar-Ilan University, Dept. of Political Studies, 2001.
  • Susser, Bernard and Charles S. Liebman. Choosing Survival : Strategies for a Jewish Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Tabory, Mala and Charles S. Liebman. "Jewish International Activity : An Annotated Bibliography". Research Aids / Bar Ilan University, the Argov Center. Vol. 1. Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University, The Argov Center, 1985.

More available online: Charles Liebman on the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner.


  • Butler, Menachem. "About Charles S. Liebman" July 18, 2004, [1] and "Prof. Charles S. Liebman's 'Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life'" July 28, 2006 [2]
  • Cohen, Steven M. "Charles Liebman Shed Light on Jewish Culture: Social Scientist Pioneered Pivotal Studies of Contemporary Jewry" in The Forward Sept. 12, 2003. [3]
  • Cumpsty, John. "Glutton, Gourmet or Bon Vivant: A Response to Charles S. Liebman" in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 24:2 (June 1985), pp. 217–221. (JSTOR)
  • Kirschenbaum, Sherry. "JTS Announces Publication of Ambivalent Jew: Charles Liebman in Memoriam" [4]
  • Prell, Riv-Ellen. "Necrology Charles S. Liebman (1934--2003)" in Jewish Quarterly Review 94:4 Fall 2004, pp. 672–676


  1. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) – Recipient’s C.V.". 
  2. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) – Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient". 

See also

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