Tag Archives: Yeshiva

Jew of the Week: Émile Durkheim

The Father of Sociology

Émile Durkheim

David Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was born in the French region of Lorraine to Orthodox Jewish parents. His father and grandfather were both rabbis, and Durkheim spent his early years in yeshiva intent on becoming a rabbi as well. Eventually, he decided to switch his career path and break out on his own. He went off to study psychology and philosophy. At 21, on his third application attempt, he was accepted to ENS, the most prestigious graduate school in Paris. Durkheim wanted to apply what he learned to explain society and social behaviour. At the time, however, there were no sociology studies anywhere in France. In 1885 he moved to Germany to work alongside some of the first sociologists. Two years later, Durkheim’s papers had become famous across Europe, and he was invited back to France to teach sociology at the University of Bourdeaux. Durkheim taught the first social science course in French history, and was also asked to reform France’s school curriculum. Over the next few years, Durkheim published a series of manifestos outlining exactly what social science is, and why it is important. He showed how the scientific method could be rigorously applied to this new field, and how it was distinct from related subjects. In 1895, he established the first university social science department, and in 1898 founded the first sociology academic journal. For these reasons, Durkheim is often called the “father of sociology”. His work is also credited with pioneering the field of criminology, and influencing psychology and philosophy as well. In 1902, Durkheim was appointed Chair of Education at the world-famous Sorbonne, and later became the only professor whose courses were mandatory for all students. Meanwhile, he served as advisor to France’s Minister of Education. Unfortunately, World War I had a devastating effect on Durkheim. Right-wing nationalists attacked him for not being “patriotic” enough, for being too liberal, and for being Jewish. Worse, many of his students were conscripted and died in the trenches. The final tragedy was the death of his own son. Durkheim fell terribly ill, and ultimately died from a stroke. Despite abandoning formal religion in his youth, he argued that religion is the most important social institution, and the key to a well-functioning “organic” society. He worried greatly about the rising trend of science and the “cult of the individual” taking the place of religion. Durkheim coined the popular term “collective consciousness” (among many others), and was the founder of the school of structural functionalism. Durkheim’s work has influenced countless thinkers, and still serves as the foundation of sociology today.

Words of the Week

Religion gave birth to all that is essential in the society.
– Émile Durkheim

Jews of the Week: Rabbi Zlotowitz and Rabbi Scherman

The ArtScroll Revolution 

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz

Meir Yakov Zlotowitz (1943-2017) was born in New York to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland. He showed an affinity for art from a young age, and after graduating from yeshiva (and receiving his rabbinic ordination), he co-founded ArtScroll Studios. Originally, the company produced artfully-decorated pamphlets, posters, ketubot, and scrolls. In 1975, a close friend of Rabbi Zlotowitz passed away shortly before Purim. The rabbi decided to honour his friend by composing a new translation and commentary on Megillat Esther within the shloshim, the first 30-day period of mourning. Rabbi Zlotowitz worked day and night for 30 days, barely eating or sleeping at all. When he was done, he produced a beautifully-designed and intellectually in-depth edition of the Book of Esther. It was an instant hit, and quickly sold 20,000 copies. The success of the publication made Rabbi Zlotowitz realize he could do the same for other Jewish holy texts. He went in search of a partner who could work with him, and found the perfect person:

Rabbi Nosson Scherman

Nosson Scherman (b. 1935) was born in New Jersey to a traditional family and originally attended public school. He went to a Jewish after-school program and was inspired to go to yeshiva several years later. Scherman became a rabbi, first worked as a school teacher, and then became principal of Yeshiva Karlin Stolin. He wrote the introduction to Rabbi Zlotowitz’s Megillat Esther, then joined him full time at ArtScroll. The partners had little money and set up the Mesorah Heritage Foundation to help finance their work. Under their leadership and wisdom, ArtScroll has produced over 700 titles and some 2000 volumes, including possibly the world’s most popular Chumash, and the entire Talmud (a whopping 73-tome set). This Talmud was the product of over 70 scholars working together from all over the world, and for many it is the go-to version of Talmud today. It has allowed thousands of regular people to learn and love the Talmud, in clear English and with insightful commentaries. ArtScroll has been credited with revolutionizing Jewish study, and with helping to facilitate the massive baal teshuva movement in recent decades, inspiring the return of countless Jews to their faith and traditions. Despite being in his 80s, Scherman continues to helm ArtScroll, producing ever more beautiful and enlightening Jewish books.

Purim Begins Tonight! Chag Sameach!

15 Purim Facts Every Jew Should Know

Words of the Week

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.
– Gertrude Elion