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Leading Scholar Was Part of Movement That Bridged Jewish and Secular Culture

Rabbi Julius Carlebach, who escaped Germany as a child and rose to become a leading scholar, died in Brighton, England, on April 17, at the age of 79.

Honored by Germany for turning Heidelberg’s University for Jewish Studies into the country’s leading institution of its kind, Carlebach worked in a wide range of fields during his life.

He came to England at the age of 16, while the rest of his family, including his father, the distinguished Rabbi Joseph Carlebach, died in the Holocaust.

After serving in Britain’s Royal Navy during the war, he ran a Jewish children’s home for 10 years.

Then he served as rabbi of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, producing a book on the Jews of Kenya before earning a master’s degree from Cambridge when he was in his 40s.

He went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Sussex, and taught there for the rest of his life, eventually becoming emeritus professor of German- Jewish studies.

He also served as rabbi of Hove Hebrew Congregation, near Brighton in the south of England.

“I am amazed by the range of things he did in his career,” said Edward Timms, a professor of German at the University of Sussex.

“He had tremendous versatility for someone who was, at heart, a scholar,” Timms said.

A member of the distinguished Carlebach rabbinic family – the late Shlomo Carlebach was a cousin – Carlebach was heir to the 19th-century tradition of Wissenschaft des Judentums, which promoted the scientific study of Judaism using the tools of modern scholarship.

“That is exactly what he exemplified – the best of the German tradition,” Timms said.

Timms described the creators of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement as “deeply immersed in Judaic culture, but lovers of secular culture – Goethe, Beethoven – as well.

“Julius Carlebach was able to achieve great things in both strands. He didn’t allow himself to be ghettoized in one tradition or another,” Timms said.

In addition to teaching at the University of Sussex, Carlebach was rector of the University of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.

In 1998, the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg presented him with a distinguished service medal for “developing Germany’s only academic and scientific center of Jewish learning into a most important institute of international standing.”

He was also awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994.

“He was one of the last examples of this German-Jewish tradition,” said a former student, Henri Soussan.

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