Brooklyn, New York
|Died||November 18, 1993
Roslyn Heights, Long Island, New York
|Notable work(s)||The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen
Heaven Help Us!
Herbert Tarr (1929 – 18 November 1993), born Herbert Targovik, was an American Reform rabbi who left his pulpit to become a novelist and humorist, believing he could reach more people that way because "religion is basically out of touch with people."
Tarr was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brooklyn College, graduating magna cum laude. Later he earned advanced degrees in a number of academic areas, including philosophy, contemporary literature and drama, from institutions including Herzliah Hebrew Teachers Institute-Jewish Teachers Seminary, Columbia University, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
He was ordained as a rabbi in 1955 and entered the United States Air Force to serve as a military chaplain. This experience inspired some of his first novel, The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen. In it, he explore how a young civilian rabbi was "converted" to the role of a military chaplain who helps men and women of all faiths.
Following his service as a chaplain, Tarr served as the rabbi of a synagogue in Buffalo, New York. In 1960, he moved to a congregation in Westbury, New York. In 1963 he decided to leave the pulpit to pursue a career as a novelist full-time, believing that he could be more effective in terms of reaching others that way.
He said, "[R]eligion is basically out of touch with people". He wanted to help people "contemplate their lives," to consider "how they fit into the world around them". He wrote with humor, through stories that carried values and ideals. As the playwright Brendan Behan wrote in a review for his first novel, The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen (1963), while Tarr "has us busy laughing, he's throwing sermons at us behind our backs".
A Kirkus Review of his work So Help Me God! affirmed Tarr's mixture of humor and serious messages, noting that
"Tarr's easy-going and companionable rambles through American Jews' spiritual and secular preoccupations (Heaven Help Us!, 1968) continue to amuse, but here he explores some deeply serious and disturbing matters such as Vietnam, the plight of Soviet Jewry, and the essence of religion."
Tarr used his experiences as a pulpit rabbi and military chaplain to inform his writings, and also used his rabbinic knowledge. For example, his novel, A Time for Loving, is based on the Biblical book, The Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs).
Tarr wrote one play, "The New Frontier," a comedy that held tryouts in New Haven and Philadelphia, with the hope that it would make it to Broadway.
The North Shore Institute for Adult Jewish Learning, a joint educational program serving 18 synagogues and one Jewish community center in the Long Island area, was renamed the Herbert Tarr North Shore Institute for Adult Jewish Learning in his memory. The 2012 season of the Jewish Studies and Lectures Program opened at Temple Judea in Roslyn, New York in October 2012.
- The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen. B. Geis Associates. 1963.
- Heaven Help Us!. Random House. 1968.
- A Time for Loving. Random House. 1973. ISBN 0394461584.
- So Help Me God!. Times Books. 1979. ISBN 0812908279.
- Saxon, Wolfgang (November 19, 1993). "Herbert Tarr, Rabbi who found calling as writer, dies at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- "The Conversion of Chaplain Cohen by Herbert Tarr". Kirkus Reviews. 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- "Rabbi Herbert Tarr". Orlando Sentinel. November 20, 1993. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
- Behan, Brendan, "Between the laughs, a sermon or two," The New York Times Book Review, July 21, 1963, retrieved November 7, 2012
- "So Help Me God! by Herbert Tarr". Kirkus Reviews. 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- "A Time for Loving by Herberg Tarr". Kirkus Reviews. 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- People in the News, Park City Daily News (from an AP release), June 6, 1963, retrieved November 7, 2012
- "Temple Judea Adult Education". Temple Judea of Manhassat. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
- "Herbert Tarr Institute website". Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- "Dershowitz Lecture At Temple Judea October 21". The Roslyn News. October 5, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
- David Zucker, "The Fictional American Rabbi", Proceedings of the 37th Annual Convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries, (Denver, CO – June 23–26, 2002)