Rabbi Aaron Liebman

Rabbi Aaron Liebman’s family of origin has always been very committed to the Jewish people, Jewish survival, and Jewish academics. Jewish religion is another matter. One of Aaron’s great-great-great-grandfathers was a prominent Austro-Hungarian Jewish jurist, one of his great-grandfathers served as president of the Galicianer Farband, one of his grandfathers was an outspoken Zionist and an early scholar of Latin American Jewry, and his father was a recipient of the 2003 Israel Prize for his academic scholarship. But there has not been a single rabbi in Aaron’s family, going back at least seven generations.

In fact, some dozen years ago, at a festive sheva b’rakhot meal for a very distant cousin, the leading rabbinic figure in the family spoke about how, when Aaron’s great-great-grandfather came to America, his two sons went different ways. The “bad” son who strayed from the true path of Torah Judaism was, needless to say, Aaron’s great-grandfather. Incidentally, the same rabbi centered his remarks around the concept that the sole crime of Shimon and Levi consisted of their not having consulted da’as torah (rabbinic authority) before they went on their murderous rampage.

Not surprisingly, Aaron knew early on what kind of Torah he did not wish to practice. By the age of 12, he concluded that whatever his rabbis tell him should be taken with a large measure of salt. But even though his agreement with Jewish religious doctrine has been at times circumspect, Aaron has always felt a deep sense of belief in God and morality, as well as an enduring devotion to the Jewish people. After graduating high school in Israel, Aaron served in the IDF and then completed a law degree at Bar Ilan University. In 1994, while temporarily residing in Staten Island awaiting the results of the New York bar exam, Aaron met his future wife, Leora, and they decided to marry and settle down together in Queens, where they had their three children – Ariella, Yael and Jeremy.

While in Queens, Aaron delighted in his encounters with Conservative congregations in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, communities that were Jewishly engaged and yet tolerant and reasonably pluralistic. Through these communities, Aaron and Leora found a way back toward involvement in the Jewish community. This involvement was partly social and partly ritual; the latter – in Aaron’s case – evolved from reading Torah occasionally to leading services as shaliah tzibbur to eventually (in Kew Gardens) performing rabbinic duties after the congregation could no longer afford to retain a rabbi.

After Leora and Aaron had their third child, they decided to relocate from Queens to northern New Jersey, while Aaron continued to lead occasional Shabbat and festival services, either at local senior homes or at one of his old synagogues in Queens. Aaron has held several jobs over the years, as assistant director of a small liberal Zionist non-profit organization and more recently as an assistant project manager for a general construction firm, but he never found them as fulfilling as what he did on weekends. Ultimately, this led him to decide to merge his day job and weekend avocation by pursuing a career as a rabbi. At the same time, Aaron began teaching Judaics to schoolchildren, and he continues to teach on Sundays at Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey. Today Aaron also serves as part-time shaliah tzibbur at B’nai Shalom in West Orange, New Jersey.

Aaron particularly enjoys the diversity of opinion at the Academy for Jewish Religion. These are significant not only because, through exposure, one can learn from and borrow from other conceptions of Judaism, but also because these have encouraged Aaron to better define his own system of beliefs, values and ritual observances.

Aaron is particularly grateful to his wife Leora and his many friends and teachers at AJR and elsewhere, and, in particular, to his teacher and mentor Rabbi David Greenstein.