Brandeis names American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna '75, MA'75, University Professor

Professor Jonathan SarnaPhoto/Mike Lovett

Jonathan Sarna

Last week, Brandeis trustees conferred one of the university’s greatest distinctions on Jonathan Sarna ’75, MA’75, when the board named the American Jewish historian a University Professor.
Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish history, joined the Brandeis faculty in 1990. An acclaimed scholar and teacher, he has written or coauthored more than 30 books on Jewish history, and chaired the department of Near Eastern and Judaic studies three times.
“There have only been a small number of University Professors in Brandeis’ entire history, so I am deeply honored,” Sarna said. “It is tremendously exciting and humbling to now be one of that select group.”
“Jonathan Sarna embodies the highest ideals of scholarship through his groundbreaking research, inspired teaching and public engagement,” said Interim President Lisa M. Lynch. “He is truly deserving of this honor.”
The title of University Professor is one of Brandeis’ most prestigious academic honors. It is awarded to faculty members whose renown cuts across disciplinary boundaries; who have achieved exceptional scholarly or professional distinction within the academic community, and whose appointment will enhance the university’s reputation.
Sarna chairs Brandeis’ Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program as well as the academic advisory and editorial board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati. He is the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History and a former president of the Association for Jewish Studies.
One of Sarna’s most celebrated works, “American Judaism: A History,” won the Jewish Book Council’s Book of the Year award in 2004 and was called “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.” Sarna’s most recent book, “Lincoln and the Jews: A History,” coauthored with Benjamin Shapell, was published in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim.
Rabbi David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis and former president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, called Sarna a treasured colleague and an outstanding scholar of American Jewish history.
“Sarna is a rare combination of public intellectual, popular lecturer, and serious scholar who has captured the attention of diverse groups and audiences,” Ellenson said. “His mastery of Hebrew and the classical sources of Jewish tradition, his complete control of every era of Jewish history, his skill and training as an American historian, and his attention to theory combine to make his work unparalleled in originality, richness and insight.”
Born in Philadelphia in 1955, Sarna graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis in 1975, and went on to earn a doctorate at Yale University. He wasn’t the first in his family to become a beloved teacher and intellectual at Brandeis: His father, Nahum Sarna, an eminent Biblical scholar best known for his translation of scripture for modern readers, was a Brandeis faculty member from 1965-1985.
“I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to be able to integrate material in which I specialize into my classes,” said Sarna. “That has been tremendously exciting.”

To mark the distinction, Sarna will deliver a University Professor lecture on campus, though the date has not been set yet.

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