Hershel Shanks, an author, attorney and editor of Moment magazine and founder of Biblical Archeology Review who first brought the Dead Sea Scrolls to public view, passed away on Feb. 5. He was 90 years old.

A force to be reckoned with in his every undertaking, Shanks was first a successful lawyer before a sabbatical year in the Holy Land aroused a passion for biblical archeology. In 1974, he founded Biblical Archeology Review, where he exposed the depths of an often specialist field to the layman.

In perhaps the highlight of his work at Biblical Archeology Review, Shanks released more than 1,000 photographs of scrolls that had been closely guarded by a handful of scholars. In a high-profile lawsuit heard by Israel’s Supreme Court, Shanks was successfully sued for releasing the manuscripts but had no remorse for doing so. “Correct,” he told the judge when asked whether he would still have published the photographs had he known of the copyright infringement, believing that the information in the scrolls was the inheritance of humankind.


Born in 1930 to a Jewish family in Sharon, Pa., where his father owned a shoe store, Shanks was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 1952 from Haverford College. A year later, he earned a master’s degree in sociology from Columbia University and in 1956 graduated from Harvard Law School.

After decades as a successful lawyer, Shanks served as editor and publisher from 1987 to 2004 of Moment—founded in 1974 by Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and Jewish activist, writer and teacher Leonard (“Leibel”) Fine to provide perspectives on the life of the American Jewish community.

In the course of his work at the publication, Shanks personally covered the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—the highest civilian honor in the United States. It was the first time a religious leader had been a recipient of the esteemed medal, of which fewer than 200 have been awarded. It was a historic moment for American Jewry.

“As I sat in the ornate grand hall of the Organization of American States,” Shanks penned in his editorial for the October 1995 issue of Moment , “I could not figure out why this man had such a powerful influence … . He was called great, extraordinary, wise, brilliant, even saintly. He was said to have displayed spiritual and moral leadership. He had vision and insight. He served as a role model to thousands.”

However, none of these descriptions helped Shanks understand just how the Rebbe became such an influential leader. What exactly was a Rebbe?

“I confess to having started the day skeptical. I had never seen or heard the Rebbe. I doubted that he would have affected me.” As he listened to the tributes, “seated with hundreds of black-coated, long-bearded hasidim,” the initial skepticism turned to respect, even admiration, of the Rebbe and his living legacy.

“As the day wore on, I changed my mind,” recalled Shanks. “I had no doubt of the political clout of the Lubavitch movement,” seeing the overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill and the mass turnout of politicians, statesmen and diplomats, and, of course, rabbis. “House Speaker Newt Gingrich, wearing a yarmulke, praised the Rebbe at a Congressional breakfast. Other speakers during the day included Rep. Ben Gillman, Senator Joe Lieberman, White House aide George Stephanopoulos, a bevy of ambassadors from countries as far flung as Israel and Uruguay, and chief rabbis from Israel, Australia, South Africa, and Morocco.”

But the accolades and tributes of these world leaders didn’t yet answer the editor’s incisive, yet simple question: “How did he do it?”

“How did the Rebbe manage to exert such a powerful influence over so many people—and not just politicians, diplomats, and rabbis?

“By day’s end I began to get a sense of what made the Rebbe so remarkable. It was not simply his brilliance, his learning, his wisdom, although he apparently had all these, but the force of his personality. He motivated people. He brought out their best.

“By the sheer force of his personality, the Rebbe motivated people. It may be impossible to describe that personality. An analogy may help. Many of us have felt the influence of a teacher or parent—not necessarily a figure of the ages, but someone who brings out the best in us, who motivates us to be more and do more than we thought we could. Childless, the Rebbe adopted all Jews.”

Shanks may have arrived a skeptic, but by the day’s end, he left with a profound understanding of the Rebbe, and how—even today, 26 years after his passing—the Rebbe’s influence and legacy continues to grow, year after year.

“Somehow, through the force of his personality, the Rebbe was able to convey this message. His influence clearly lives,” concluded Shanks.

Shanks is survived by his wife, Judith, and two daughters, Elizabeth Shanks Alexander of Richmond, Va., and Julia Shanks of Marblehead, Mass.; a sister; and two grandchildren.