Cover photo for Samuel Zundel Klausner's Obituary
Samuel Zundel Klausner Profile Photo

Samuel Zundel Klausner

Samuel Zundel Klausner, a prominent sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania whose guiding life principles were informed by his commitment to Judaism and Jewish-Arab relations, died on December 27th at his home in Philadelphia. He was 98.

Over the course of an academic career that spanned decades, Klausner, who specialized in the Sociology of Religion, authored 10 books on a diverse range of subjects, including Alaskan Eskimos and alcohol-related violence, and why men take risks. Much of Klausner's work focused on Jewish subject matter, including a comparative study of Jewish and Muslim dietary laws, as well as a book on the experience of Jewish MBAs in corporate America.

A veteran of both the Second World War, where he was a navigator in the U.S Air Force, and Israel's 1948 War of Independence, where he applied his experience in Europe to the nascent Israeli Air Force, Klausner was also a decorated war hero.

"I took great pleasure in dropping that bomb…it was just a small part of a repayment for 5,000,000 Jews," Klausner said of his experience fighting the Germans, which earned him two bronze stars. In 1947, four years after joining the U.S. Army Air Corps, Klausner went to British Mandate Palestine, where he planned to study at the Hebrew University. Instead, he ended up joining the Haganah, the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces, and was later assigned to an air transport command unit that flew surreptitious missions to Czechoslovakia to acquire arms.

Klausner was born in Brooklyn, NY on December 19, 1923 to Edward Klausner, a structural engineer, and Bertha Klausner (née Adler), one of the earliest female literary agents. (
His maternal grandfather, Jacob Adler, was a renowned Yiddish humor writer who wrote for the Jewish Daily Forward. (
In 1947, Klausner earned a Bachelor's in Mathematics from New York University, before going on to earn a Doctorate in Education and a Ph.D. in Sociology, both from Columbia University. He was also a certified clinical psychologist in both New York State and the District of Columbia. In the 1960s, Klausner was recruited to the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Sociology, where he taught for 30 years, until his retirement in 1996. He also taught at universities in the Middle East, including the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he taught in Hebrew; Al-Mansoura University in Egypt; and Muhammad V University in Rabat, Morocco, where he taught in Arabic.
One of Klausner's most controversial studies centered around his own synagogue, Har Zion Temple. Philadelphia's largest Conservative congregation, Har Zion hired Klausner to evaluate whether or not they should remain in Wynnefield, an historically Jewish community in the western part of Philadelphia that had been racially integrating for several years. Prior to engaging Klausner, Har Zion officials were considering moving the congregation out of Wynnefield; they hoped that Klausner's study would provide enough evidence of Jewish migration to justify their relocation to the suburbs. The report, however, failed to provide Har Zion with the justification it wanted, and the proposal for relocation was, at the time, rejected by synagogue leadership.

As an academic, Klausner was known to be experiential in nature. When conducting research for his book, Why Man Takes Chances, a study of stress seekers published in 1968, he jumped out of an airplane while his second wife was pregnant with their first child. While conducting research for his book, Eskimo Capitalists: Oil, Politics, and Alcohol, Klausner stayed in Point Barrow, a headland on the Arctic coast, for six months at a time, living among the Inuit community. To provide some "comforts from home," Klausner brought along his own Hebrew National Salami, given that whale blubber, the local Inuit delicacy, was not kosher.
Klausner was fluent in eight languages, including Hebrew, French, Arabic, Yiddish, Dutch, Spanish, and Aramaic. At the time of his death, he was completing a book on the Machal, the American and Canadian volunteers who fought in Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
In 1992, Klausner married Roberta Sands, also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His previous marriages to Bracha Turgeman and Madeleine Suringar both ended in divorce.

Klausner is survived by Dr. Sands; a sister, Deborah Reiser; a son, Jonathan Klausner; two daughters, Daphne Klausner and Tamar Klausner; two stepchildren, Bonnie Moskoff and Philip Wilhelm; six grandchildren, Adam and Rebecca Spence, Rachel Klausner, Ethan and Rebecca Genyk, and Na'ama Klein, as well as three great-grandchildren, Stanley, Harry, and Eliza Spence. His daughter, Rina Spence Countryman, pre-deceased him by six months.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Lankenau Medical Center Foundation,
the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Abraham Initiatives "Only Together" campaign, which seeks to calm Jewish-Arab tensions in Israel.

Arrangements by Joseph Levine and Sons
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