Rabbi Max Ticktin, leader in Hillel movement, dies aged 94

Judaics scholar and ex-Haganah fighter had urged Israel to make peace with PLO two decades before Oslo Accords

Rabbi Max Ticktin, a leader of the Hillel movement (YouTube screenshot)
Rabbi Max Ticktin, a leader of the Hillel movement (YouTube screenshot)

Rabbi Max Ticktin, a Judaics scholar and leader in the Hillel movement and a founder of two influential congregations known as havurot, died at his home in Washington on July 3. He was 94.

He was also a founder of Breira, a group that urged Israel to seek peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization two decades before the Oslo accords.

Born in Philadelphia, Ticktin was ordained a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1946, and then traveled to Israel with his wife Esther to study at Hebrew University. They both joined the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces.

The couple then returned to the United States, and Ticktin was tapped in 1950 to serve as Hillel director at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a position he held until 1964, when he became Hillel director at the University of Chicago. In 1970, Ticktin moved to Washington to serve as assistant director of the national Hillel movement until 1980, when he left Hillel to teach on the college level.

Ticktin served for more than 30 years on the faculty of George Washington University’s Program of Judaic Studies, retiring last year as professor of Hebrew Language and Literature. At the time of his retirement, the university established the Max Ticktin Professorship of Israel Studies.

He was a founder of Breira in 1973 and served on its board until the group closed in 1977, amid intense criticism from mainstream Jewish organizations.

Following his work creating the “Upstairs Minyan” at the University of Chicago, a precursor to the havurah movement, Ticktin helped found Fabrangen, a havurah that met at the GWU Hillel. The havurah, or fellowship, movement promoted an informal, egalitarian, lay-led worship and study style that reflected its roots in the counterculture.

His funeral will be held on Wednesday in Washington DC. He is survived by his wife; his sister, Toby Ticktin Back; his daughters, Deborah McCants and Ruth Ticktin; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Hannah Ticktin.

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