Rabbi Jack Bemporad Biography
Rabbi Bemporad is the director of the nonprofit Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU), which he founded in 1992. Its aim is to bring people of all religious faiths together to promote open dialogue, mutual respect, and theological understanding of the common foundations shared by the world’s religions. Concurrently, he is also Director of the John Paul II Center and Professor of Interreligious Studies, both at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), in Rome. He also serves as Senior Rabbinic Scholar at the Chavurah Beth Shalom synagogue, Alpine, NJ.
Fleeing the fascist takeover in Italy prior to WWII, Bemporad and his family traveled to the U.S. when he was five years old. Thus, having personally suffered as the result of persecution and prejudice, he has dedicated his career to improving relations among Christians, Muslims, and Jews worldwide. The Rabbi is recognized internationally for his diplomatic skill and leadership in matters of religious understanding and reconciliation. He is one of the rare Jewish leaders to have had a personal audience with Pope John XXIII, numerous personal audiences with Pope John Paul II, and was one of three rabbis to have blessed him shortly before his death. Most recently, he met with Pope Francis at the conclusion of the “Refugees and Migrants” conference, co-sponsored by the CIU in Rome this past November.
Among his noteworthy accomplishments, Rabbi Bemporad led two study tours of Imams and Muslim religious leaders, (the first group from the U.S and the second from the Middle East and developing world), to Dachau and Auschwitz. Both CIU sponsored trips resulted in landmark public declarations by the Muslim leaderships, condemning any attempts to deny the Holocaust and to “… declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics,” as well as decrying any form of anti-Semitism.
In another groundbreaking initiative, the CIU-sponsored a Sharia/Halakha Conference, a highly successful discussion in New York on interpretation of Muslim and Jewish scripture. Attended by top Imams, Rabbis, and scholars, it is believed to be the first of its kind in modern times.
Rabbi Bemporad was also a presenter at the “Sacred Spaces Conference” in Rome, which examined peaceful ways in which major world religions share access to holy places and shrines. In addition, his talk at the European Commission’s conference in Brussels, “Protection of Sacred Places of the Mediterranean,” was published in their book, Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage.
Earlier, as representative of the Interreligious Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, in 1990, Rabbi Bemporad was the chief writer of the Prague Accord, the historical turning point when the Catholic Church asked forgiveness for acts of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Soon after, every European Catholic Archdiocese asked forgiveness for past acts of anti-Semitism.
Among several “firsts” in his life, on November 9, 2016, Rabbi Bemporad became the first person in history to receive an honorary Ph.D. in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, one of the oldest universities in the world.
He also became the first rabbi ever to address an officially sanctioned Ukrainian event when he spoke at the inauguration of the Libertas Center for Interconfessional and Interreligious Dialogue in Lviv, Ukraine, founded by one of his former students, Dr. Taras Dzyubanskyy. Recently, in the face of violence and escalating tensions in Ukraine, Rabbi Bemporad and Dr. Dzyubanskyy hosted a CIU-funded conference in Lviv, exploring pathways for peace.
In addition to heading programs that build bridges among faiths, Rabbi Bemporad continues to speak, both in the U.S. and abroad. Among recent talks he has given, he moderated the panel at a U.S. State Department sponsored discussion in Rome, “The Continued Importance of Interreligious Engagement in Combating Intolerance;” was a speaker twice at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and lectured at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, as well as at Universities in Turin, Rome and Providence, R.I. He has also given the Jummah (sermon) at the Masjid Al-Quran (mosque) in Dallas and, continuously over the past eleven years, he was a speaker at the bi-annual think-tank sponsored by PRIO (Peace Research Institute, Oslo).
Most Significant Publications:
Rabbi Bemporad is the author of numerous books and articles, including Our Age: The Historic New Era of Christian-Jewish Understanding, published by New City Press. He also edited The Inner Journey: Views from the Jewish Tradition by Morning Light Press, and contributed the chapter on “Norms of War in Judaism” for World Religions and Norms of War, published by the United Nations University Press. Most recently, he contributed a memoir of the philosopher Hans Jonas in Giacobbe E L’Angelo (Jacob and the Angel), published in Rome in 2012.
Highlights of Professional and Educational Posts:
From 1966-72, Rabbi Bemporad served as Chairman of the Interreligious Affairs Committee of the Synagogue Council of America, where he represented Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbinical and lay bodies at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, and the national and international branches of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist churches. In addition, he was chief rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas from 1972-83, and concurrently served as Professor of Philosophy at Southern Methodist University during those years. He taught philosophy at Hebrew Union College in New York as well, from 1960-65 and from 1965-72 was Director of Worship and Adult Education for the Reform Movement, based in New York. He has been teaching as a Professor of Interreligious Studies at the Vatican’s Angelicum University in Rome since 1998.
Rabbi Bemporad received a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in philosophy from Tulane University, his M.A. in philosophy at Hebrew Union College, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and was the first rabbi ever to receive a Fulbright Scholarship. Ordained as a Rabbi in 1959, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College in 1984.
Awards and Recognition:
For his efforts to foster interreligious understanding, the Dallas based organization, Connecting our Faiths gave a dinner in Rabbi Bemporad’s honor. He also received the Faith in Action Award from the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), as well as the prestigious Luminosa Award of the Focolare Movement and the Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Leadership Award of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He has been honored with The Pave the Way Foundation’s “Inter-Religious Dialogue Award, Sri Chinmoy’s “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart” Award, (Hindu) and The Peace and Tolerance Award from the (Muslim) Interfaith Dialog Center, now the Peace Islands Institute. He was also honored by the Friends of John Paul II Foundation. In 2012 Rabbi Bemporad was made an honorary monk when he spoke at the inauguration of His Holiness, Master Seonsa Jinje, Supreme Patriarch of Korean Buddhists, the only rabbi in Korean history ever to speak at such an inauguration.