Joseph Edelheit, 2021 Alum of the Year

Upon recommendation from the Divinity School’s Alumni Council, the Board of Trustees of the Baptist Theological Union has named Joseph A. Edelheit, DMin 2001, the Divinity School Alumnus of the Year for 2021.

Professor Emeritus of Religious and Jewish Studies at St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, Minnesota), Dr. Edelheit’s career spans and links work in congregations, academia, interfaith relations, contemporary philosophy, and service. With over 25 years of service to the academy in addition to over 45 years in the rabbinate, he is an educator known for bringing a passion for understanding and dialogue into the college classroom, the congregation, and community writ large.

Dr. Edelheit’s career reflects a deep commitment to the values of equity and justice, and engages interreligious dialogue at every level, from scripture to service. Perhaps best known among his achievements is his work at St. Cloud State University. There he initiated and facilitated the transition of a Religious Studies program from a minor in the Philosophy Department to an independent college level program in the College of Liberal Arts, and worked in the surrounding communities on issues of anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue. As a mentor, teacher, and community activist, his work has helped students and nonstudents alike develop critical and sympathetic skills needed to recognize and combat racism and anti-Semitism.

As a rabbi, Dr. Edelheit has served Reform Jewish congregations in Chicago (Emanual Congregation), Minneapolis (Temple Israel), and Michigan City (Sinai Temple); in his retirement he works with communities without rabbis.

A long-term HIV/AIDS activist, he served on the Clinton administration’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (1995-2000) and also initiated and directed a non-governmental organization, Living India, for almost a decade, providing HIV/AIDS care to orphans in India.

In addition to his lifelong mission of tikkun olam (repair of the world), Dr. Edelheit has contributed chapters to or been the editor of over a dozen monographs; he is the author of numerous journal articles, lectures, and papers on topics including issues in Jewish practice and belief, the work of Paul Ricoeur, the Holocaust, and religion in public thought and memory.

His most recent work, What Am I Missing? Questions About Being Human (Wipf and Stock), was published in 2020 and Reading Scripture Again with Paul Ricoeur (coedited with James More), is forthcoming from Lexington University Press.

“Rabbi Edelheit’s contributions to interfaith understanding, particularly in Jewish-Christian relations, are significant and moving,” said David Nirenberg, Dean of the Divinity School, of the award. “His service to the interwoven communities of students and scholars, practitioners of religions, and those who seek a greater understanding of our religiously pluralistic society embodies the values of The Divinity School.”

Dr. Edelheit currently lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In lieu of a public lecture, the Divinity School is pleased to offer a prerecorded interview between Rabbi Edelheit and Rob Wilson-Black, AM'92, PhD'02, the President of the Divinity School’s Alumni Council.