Charles Liebman, winner of the 2003 Israel Prize in political science and one of the world’s leading analysts of Israeli and American Jewish communities, died last week of a heart attack in Israel. He was 69.
Mr. Liebman, a longtime professor at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Political Science, earned Israel’s version of the Nobel Prize for his pioneering research on religion and society, and on Israel and world Jewry.
He was at the forefront of the debate about how to ensure the future of the Jewish people, an issue affecting hundreds of millions of dollars and the missions of American Jewish organizations and education groups.
Mr. Liebman was a sharp critic of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey’s findings of rampant intermarriage and assimilation, and of the Jewish community’s response to what he called false data.
While the Jewish establishment responded to the survey by creating a broad range of expensive outreach programs aimed at bringing assimilated Jews back into the fold, Mr. Liebman advocated focusing on strengthening the core of committed Jews as the most effective means of combating assimilation.
"Outreach to marginalized Jews will not stem the tide of assimilation and intermarriage among diaspora Jewry," he argued.
"Professor Liebman’s research has helped us to understand the differences between North American and Israeli Jewry, the worrying phenomenon of Jewish assimilation in North America and the role of religion in Israeli society," said Bar-Ilan University President Moshe Kaveh. "He will be greatly missed."
"The fact that the Department of Political Studies is at the academic forefront is due in large measure to Professor Liebman," said Mr. Liebman’s friend and colleague Professor Shmuel Sandler, a former chairman of the department. "As one of the founders of the department, he was active in recruiting many of its current faculty members, myself included. He was very involved in the department until his retirement."
Mr. Liebman was director of Bar-Ilan University’s Argov Institute for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People until his retirement earlier this year.
He received the 1998 Cultural Achievement Award in the field of Jewish social thought from Israel’s National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Mr. Liebman, a New York City native, began his career studying public administration and local politics, in which he received his Ph.D. But he soon switched to American Jewish sociology while teaching political science at Yeshiva University.
In 1969 he joined Bar-Ilan University after moving to Israel with his wife, Carol, and their three children, according to a university spokeswoman.
A frequent lecturer before American Jewish audiences, Mr. Liebman published more than 14 books and 90 articles. His latest studies dealt with religion and politics in Israel, tracing the increased importance of religious parties and religious symbols in Israeli society.
His book "Choosing Survival: Strategies for a Jewish Future," co-authored with Bar-Ilan University Professor Bernard Susser, was published in 1999 by Oxford University Press and was recently translated into Hebrew.