Samuel Heilman

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Samuel C. Heilman
Born (1946-05-26) May 26, 1946 (age 73)
Karlsruhe, West Germany
OccupationSociologist/Social Anthropologist, professor, writer
ResidenceWestchester County, New York
Notable awardsNational Jewish Book Awards,
Koret Jewish Book Award,
Marshall Sklare Memorial Award

Samuel C. Heilman is a professor of Sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York who focuses on social ethnography of contemporary Jewish Orthodox movements.


Heilman was born in May, 1946, to Henry and Lucia Heilman, both Polish survivors of the Holocaust who were saved by Oskar Schindler. After World War II, the family went to West Germany with the encouragement of the American occupation forces, who wanted a Jewish presence there.[1] Heilman is married to Ellin Marcia Heilman, a psychologist in private practice. Together, they have four children - Adam, Uriel, Avram, and Jonah.


Heilman holds the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center of Queens College of the City University of New York, where he also serves as a Distinguished Professor of Sociology.[2][3] Heilman has been frequently quoted in, and written op ed pieces for various publications that reflect his standing as a respected voice on issues relating to American Jewish life.[4][5]


In 2003, Heilman won the Marshall Sklare Memorial Award for his lifetime of scholarship from the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry. He also was awarded the highest university rank of Distinguished Professor of Sociology by the City University of New York. His books have received various awards: The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was declared a 2011 Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine and was winner of the 2010 National Jewish Book Award. The Gate Behind the Wall, was honored with the Present Tense Magazine Literary Award for the best book of 1984 in the "Religious Thought" category. A Walker in Jerusalem received the National Jewish Book Award for 1987 and Defenders of the Faith was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for 1992. Portrait of American Jewry: The Last Half of the 20th Century was honored with the 1996 [first] Gratz College Tuttleman Library Centennial Award. When a Jew Dies won both the Koret Award in 2003 and the National Jewish Book Award in 2004. Heilman is also the recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Mellon Foundation. He received a Distinguished Faculty Award from the City University of New York in 1985 and 1987. He has been a member of the board of the Association for Jewish Studies, the YIVO Annual and the Max Weinreich Center.


As a scholar who writes about different sectors of the Jewish community, Heilman's statements have been a target for both praise and criticism. Together with Menachem Friedman, Heilman authored "The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson". Aside from the book's selection as a recipient of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award, Publishers Weekly called the book an "outstanding biography", as did the Library Journal. Allan Nadler writing in the Forward called it "lively and provocative" and pointed to its "rich" chapters".[6] In Moment, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky praised the book, as did Jewish Ideas Daily, the Tablet, the Jewish Post and Opinion and many others. The book was also reviewed in the feature story New York Times.[7]

Despite these accolades, some of the authors conclusions, as well as their methodology and research, were later criticized by some, including Chaim Rapoport, in a book titled "The Afterlife of Scholarship - A Critical Review of 'The Rebbe' by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman". (Friedman was also criticized for not disclosing that he had served as an expert witness against the rebbe in a lawsuit involving ownership of the Chabad library, which may invite suspicion of an agenda-driven or biased opinion. Heilman responded that, "we have no ax to grind".[8]) Shortly after publication Shmuley Boteach criticized the book, writing in the Jerusalem Post that the book's central thesis had a "fatal flaw", though he concluded that the book had "merit" and provided a "humanizing portrait."[9] David Klinghoffer asserted that "there are peculiar omissions and contradictions. [...] Readers of this biography may wonder if the authors have failed to grasp their subject", in his review for London's Jewish Chronicle.[10] Jonathan Mark of the New York Jewish Week derided the book in a review, including a section where he referred to a "spitball [rather than] any substantiated academic conclusion, not what you'd expect from a pair of professors who demand to be taken seriously."[11]


In 1996, Heilman was quoted in the press as opposing the appointment of Thomas Bird as head of the Jewish Studies department at Queens College. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor for the New Republic, criticized Heilman for "behaving like a tribalist".[12] Queens College President Allen Sessoms also criticized Heilman, though he subsequently appointed the late Dr. Benny Kraut, an Orthodox Jew, as head of the program.[13]


Heilman is the author of a number of articles and reviews, as well as ten books: Synagogue Life, The People of the Book, The Gate Behind the Wall, A Walker in Jerusalem, Cosmopolitans and Parochials: Modern Orthodox Jews in America (co-authored with Steven M. Cohen), Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry, Portrait of American Jews: The Last Half of the 20th Century, When a Jew Dies: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son, Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy, and The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (co-authored with Menachem Friedman). Heilman is also editor of the Death, Bereavement, and Mourning (Transaction Books, 2005), and is a frequent contributor to a number of magazines and newspapers. For a time, he was a regular columnist for The Jewish Week, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Contemporary Jewry.[14]


  1. ^ Brown, Betsy (February 15, 1987). "Westchester Bookcase". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2009-11-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Samuel Heilman (July 26, 2010). "The New York Times".
  5. ^ Samuel Heilman (July 26, 2010). "The New York Times".
  6. ^ Allen Nadler, The Forward (June 2, 2010). "The Life (and Death and Life) Of the Rebbe".
  7. ^ Patricia Cohen, The New York Times (June 14, 2010). "Rabbi's Biography Disturbs Followers".
  8. ^ Patricia Cohen, NY Times, June 14, 2010
  9. ^ Shmuley Boteach, Jerusalem Post (May 18, 2010). "Leading to believe".
  10. ^ David Klinghoffer, London Jewish Chronicle (July 1, 2010). "A biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is an enjoyable but not altogether reliable read".
  11. ^ Jonathan Mark, NY Jewish Week (June 18, 2010). "Heilman, Chabad & Abraham Lincoln".
  12. ^ Eric J. Greenberg, New York Jewish Week (August 16, 1996). "Debate rages over non-Jewish head of Jewish studies". Archived from the original on January 26, 2013.
  13. ^ William Honan, the New York Times (February 27, 1998). "Trying to End Furor, College Picks Jewish Studies Director". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Contemporary Jewry". July 18, 2010.

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