David Saperstein (rabbi)

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David Saperstein
David Saperstein 2015.jpg
United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
In office
January 6, 2015 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded bySuzan Johnson Cook
Succeeded bySam Brownback
Personal details
Born (1947-08-05) August 5, 1947 (age 75)
New York City
SpouseEllen Weiss
Alma materCornell University (BA)
Hebrew Union College (MHL)
American University (JD)

David Nathan Saperstein is an American rabbi, lawyer, and Jewish community leader who served as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.[1][2] He previously served as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center for more than 30 years.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Saperstein was born in New York City. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University, Master of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law at American University.[4]


Saperstein succeeded Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch as leader of the Washington D.C.-based political lobbying arm of the North American Reform movement. There, he advocated on a broad range of social justice issues. He directed a staff who provided extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues, federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils nationwide, coordinating social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.[3] He has been described as America's most influential rabbi.[5]

Saperstein speaks at a summit on freedom of religion held at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London on October 19, 2016.

On July 28, 2014, President Obama nominated Saperstein to be the first non-Christian to hold the post of United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.[1] In December 2014 Saperstein's appointment to the post won U.S. Senate confirmation.[6][7]

He has co-chaired the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty,[8] and serves on the boards of the NAACP, Common Cause, and People For the American Way.[citation needed] In 1999, Saperstein was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.[9]

On August 28, 2008, Saperstein delivered the invocation at the Democratic National Convention's final session, before Senator Barack Obama accepted the party's nomination for president.[10]

In February 2009, he was named to President Obama's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.[11] In 2009 Newsweek named him # 1 on its list of "50 Influential Rabbis."[12]

Saperstein is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.[13]


He is married to four-time Peabody Award winning journalist Ellen Weiss.[14] They are the parents of musician Daniel Saperstein.[15] His brother is Jewish Historian and Rabbi Marc Saperstein. Their parents were Rabbi Harold Saperstein and Marcia Saperstein.

He is a graduate member of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Obama Names First Non-Christian Ambassador For Religious Freedom". HuffPost. July 28, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  2. ^ Newsweek Staff (April 11, 2008). "Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America". Newsweek. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Official biography from rac.org.
  4. ^ "President Obama Announces Another Key Administration Post". White House. July 2, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  5. ^ Religious freedom: Rabbi to the rescue, The Economist.
  6. ^ US Senate approves rabbi as freedom of faith envoy, The Times of Israel, December 15, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2014
  7. ^ Rabbi David Saperstein confirmed as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, AL.com, December 17, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014
  8. ^ University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown. "David Saperstein". berkleycenter.georgetown.edu. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Interfaith Alliance Masthead Rotator". Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved May 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Democrats Pitch Big Tent in Bid To Draw in the Faithful, by Brett Lieberman, The Jewish Daily Forward, 8/28/08
  11. ^ "The Appointees". The Washington Post. February 6, 2009. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  12. ^ "50 Influential Rabbis". Newsweek. April 3, 2009.
  13. ^ Georgetown Law Faculty Profile page. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  14. ^ "David Saperstein | Miller Center". millercenter.org. May 16, 2019. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  15. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Flasher: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. YouTube.
  16. ^ Jeff Sondhelm, President Obama Nominates Brother David Saperstein as Ambassador! Archived December 19, 2014, at the Wayback Machine TEP.org website December 18, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
Succeeded by