Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a philosopher, college teacher, pulpit rabbi, and leader of interfaith and intrafaith activities, died April 16 at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was 82.
Rabbi Wurzburger lived in Lawrence, L.I., where he retired as spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in 1994.
A native of Munich, he immigrated to the United States in 1938. Rabbi Wurzburger received his bachelor’s degree and rabbinical ordination at Yeshiva University, where he taught philosophy from 1967 until earlier this year. He received his master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from Harvard.
"He was a very good teacher … the intellectual of the Modern Orthodox rabbinate," said Dr. Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University. "Intellectually honest … he didn’t just repeat what others had mouthed."
Rabbi Wurzburger served at pulpits in Boston and Canada before coming to Lawrence. He was editor for 26 years of Tradition, an Orthodox journal and was a co-editor with Lamm of "A Treasury of Tradition" (Jewish Publication Society, 1994). Rabbi Wurzburger wrote "God is Proof Enough" (Devora Publishing, 2000).
He served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America and of the Synagogue Council of America, a now-defunct organization that included representatives of the three major denominations of Judaism. During a period of heightened tensions among the branches of Judaism in the late 1980s, Rabbi Wurzburger gave a keynote speech at a convention of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis.
In his speech, the rabbi called on all branches to "subordinate pursuit of sectarian interests and denominational welfare to the overriding concern for klal Yisrael [the Jewish people]."
The rabbi, who also addressed a World Union for Progressive Judaism convention in Toronto, said he agreed to speak before Reform groups, a controversial move in some Orthodox circles, "because I feel it’s important to maintain bridges of communication."
"He was an independent person," Lamm said. "He was not impressed by denominational labels. He felt that klal Yisrael was an important imperative in Jewish thought."
Rabbi Wurzburger was also a member of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the Jewish community’s formal dialogue group with the Catholic Church.
He is survived by his wife, Naomi; three sons, Dr. Benjamin of Jerusalem, Joshua of Manhattan, and Myron of Hewlett, L.I.; and one grandchild.