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A CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Reinvents the Synagogue

  • A CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Reinvents the Synagogue
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A Circle in the Square tells the story of a project that by all the rules of logic should have failed, but instead succeeded wildly. In the 1960s, a time of deep religious and existential crisis, when the question of God’s existence was being debated among people of all faiths, a young man fresh out of graduate school began teaching an ancient religion to its own members – Jews who had little or no connection to Judaism.

In 1964, when twenty-three-year-old Rabbi Steven Riskin became the rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side, he had no set plan. Nevertheless, he revolutionized Orthodox Judaism by making it attractive and relevant to American Jews.

Within these pages, readers will learn about Rabbi Riskin’s unprecedented approach to adult Jewish education and his steadfast commitment to reaching out to each and every Jew within and beyond the four walls of Lincoln Square Synagogue. Rabbi Riskin also emphasized the importance of bringing heaven down to earth, and inviting God into the synagogue as a regular guest. A Circle in the Square is a spellbinding account of one man’s profound influence on Orthodox Judaism – an influence that is felt to this day.


About the author:

Rabbi Edward Abramson received a B.A. in English literature, an M.A. in Jewish history, and semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshiva University. He and his mother, Anne, were early members of Lincoln Square Synagogue, where he met his future wife, Miriam.

Rabbi Abramson served a congregation in Saratoga Springs, NY from 1973 to 1976, and was the principal of two Jewish day schools in the New York City area. He and his family made aliya to Israel in 1983, where he served as educational director of the World Union of Jewish Students in Arad. Later, he served in the same capacity at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abramson, who has also pursued business interests in Israel, served as an advisor on North American affairs for the Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel.

Through speaking, teaching, and writing, he has reached out to many audiences uninitiated in Torah study, and sees himself as an appreciative beneficiary of the Jewish outreach movement of the 1960s.

Rabbi Abramson and his wife, Miriam, live in Jerusalem. They are the parents of three grown children and the grandparents of four.


“What Rabbi Riskin was able to do was... to make the synagogue a haven and a heaven for people. The haven was a place that protected them, that allowed them to rethink the way they embraced society, and a place that gave them the energy to embrace society in a very creative way.... You felt a certain warm embrace because you had all these different individuals finding some form of cocoon in the institution. The heaven part was teaching them that religion was more than just the prayer experience. It was an intellectual rendezvous with God.”
–Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Dean, Center for the Jewish Future, Yeshiva University


“Rabbi Riskin was dealing with complex topics... and he was able to [transmit them] in language that was deep, articulate, and yet could touch the common folk.... He was on fire.”
–Rabbi Avi Weiss, Senior Rabbi, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and President, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah


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