Rabbi Leivy Smolar, former president of Baltimore Hebrew University and founder of the school's Master of Arts and doctoral degree programs, died Monday of cancer at his home in Richmond, Va. He was 69.
"He was really the critical player in professionalizing the staff of the Jewish communal agencies in Baltimore. If one looks around, they are staffed with graduates of Baltimore Hebrew University," said Robert O. Freedman, a past president of the school.
Dr. Smolar was born in Ra'anana, Israel. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1941, and he was educated at New York University, Columbia University and the University of Maryland, where he earned his doctorate.
He was ordained in 1962 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and later was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree.
He married his first wife, Arlene Ostrow, in 1959, and the couple moved to Worcester, Mass., in 1962, where Dr. Smolar served as an assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel for three years before relocating to Baltimore. He and his wife were later divorced. She died in 1996.
After working five years as a librarian and teacher at Baltimore Hebrew College, Dr. Smolar became president of the school in 1971, succeeding the retiring Dr. Louis L. Kaplan.
Under Dr. Smolar's leadership, Baltimore Hebrew College was fully accredited by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Later in his tenure, the institution gained regional accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which eventually raised the college to university status.
"He was passionate about Jewish education," said his daughter, Robin Minkoff of Philadelphia. "And he was very proud of having helped the school achieve the status of an accredited university."
Dr. Smolar is also credited with expanding the Joseph Meyerhoff Library, the largest library dedicated solely to Judaica south of Philadelphia.
The doctoral program Dr. Smolar started now has 16 students, and Dr. Smolar was a co-founder of the Baltimore Institute for Jewish Communal Service, now called the Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center, which has helped place graduates from the school at Jewish institutions throughout the country.
Dr. Smolar served as president of the university until 1992, when he was forced to resign after a fight over the school's budget with the leadership of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the university's trustees.
Dr. Smolar served as rabbi of Congregation Or Ami in Richmond from 1994 to 2002. He returned to Congregation Or Ami in 2004 and stayed there until last year.
According to published reports, Dr. Smolar, in a 2003 debate in Henrico County, Va., with Muhammad Sahli, past president of the Islamic Center of Virginia, called for two states in the Mideast -- one Israeli and one Palestinian -- to help bring peace to the area.
Services were held last week in Richmond.
Other survivors include his wife, Marcia C. Penn of Richmond; a son, David Smolar of Silver Spring; two daughters, Laura Smolar of Baltimore; a sister, Naomi Kaplan of Rockville; three stepdaughters, Randy Penn of New York, Allison Revenson of Richmond and Tracy Sweet of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.