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Harry Starr, Jewish Studies Pioneer, Dead at 92 After Long Illness

July 29, 1992
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Harry Starr, a pioneer in Jewish studies at Harvard University and a lifelong supporter of Jewish scholarly pursuits, died July 25 in Gloversville, N.Y. He was 92 and had been in failing health for some time.

Along with his lifelong friend and colleague, Lucius Littauer, a U.S. congressman and patron of Jewish education, he helped found the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation in 1929.

The foundation provided money for Jewish studies programs at Harvard and other universities and helped fund scientific research and fiction writing, as well.

Jewish historians such as Salo Baron, Lucy Dawidowicz, Raphael Patai and Yehuda Bauer benefited from the foundation’s sponsorship.

Starr served as secretary and then as president of the foundation from its founding until 1985, when he became chairman. He was honorary chairman at the time of his death.

Starr “was sort of the philanthropical father of Jewish studies in this country,” said William Frost, the current president of the foundation.

In 1926, Starr was instrumental in creating the first endowed chair in Jewish studies at Harvard University, the Nathan Littauer Professorship of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy. It was the forerunner of this country’s universitylevel Jewish studies programs.

He also organized an endowment for Hebrew books at the Harvard University Library, the first major endowment for Judaica library resources at an American university.

And he was involved in the creation of the Littauer School of Public Administration at Harvard, known since 1978 as the John F. Kennedy School of Government.


In 1978, Harvard created the Harry S. Starr Professorship in Jewish Studies.

Starr served as officer or board member of 22 organizations in the United States and Israel.

While a student at Harvard Law School in 1922, Starr led the fight against the creation of quotas for Jews at the university.

As president of the Harvard Menorah Society, Starr tackled a growing anti-Semitic undercurrent at Harvard sparked by an increasing Jewish presence on campus.

At a time when closed-door meetings were being called to discuss the issue, Starr wrote a highly charged essay for The Menorah Journal, a publication of the Jewish organization.

“The Jew cannot look upon himself as a problem,” he wrote. “He is a full American, with the right to domicile not only on the soil but in the institutions arising from that soil.”

Born in Vitebsk, Russia, Starr came to America at the age of 2 with his mother, who arrived to learn that her husband had just died. She ran a kosher butcher shop in the upstate New York town of Gloversville, where Starr first befriended Littauer.

In a 1985 interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Starr recalled growing up in Gloversville, a leather-tanning center that attracted immigrants “from Warsaw and Grenoble,” a “crazy quilt of curious paradoxes — radical workers, founders of the Workmen’s Circle, future businessmen and kosher freethinkers.”

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