Rabbi Sanford Lowe, biblical scholar, dies at 69

Sanford Lowe, a much-beloved teacher of religious studies, died at the age of 69.

Lowe, known to most as Sandy, was a rabbi and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College. He died Monday, March 21, in Santa Rosa, of a heart attack.

He was born in New York City in 1935. As a young child, he developed a fascination with Jesus and began reading the Christian Bible.

“Even as a child I sensed that the great religious myths and stories I was told held the key to understanding some of the loftiest and some of the nastiest developments in human history,” he said on his personal Web site at Santa Rosa Junior College. “I was naturally drawn to the stories of the Bible. As it turns out, I devoted much of the rest of my life to a study of Scripture and to the long and varied traditions of biblical interpretation that helped to shape the western world in general and the North American people in particular.”

Lowe received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and then was ordained as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Later, he received a doctorate of ministry from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.

While still in New York, Lowe became active with the Jewish Peace Fellowship, an organization devoted to supporting conscientious objectors. In his capacity there, he offered support to those resisting the draft for the Vietnam War.

Michael Robinson, rabbi emeritus of Santa Rosa’s Congregation Shomrei Torah, knew Lowe through the peace fellowship — Robinson was president and Lowe served on the national board.

“He was serious, knowledgeable and caring,” said Robinson.

Lowe served a congregation for a short time in upstate New York, but moved to the Bay Area in the early 1970s. In 1971 he accepted a teaching position at Santa Rosa Junior College and became active in the gay rights movement. He was one of the few openly gay rabbis at that time.

He also quickly became a favorite instructor for many students. When Robinson arrived at Shomrei Torah, he found that Lowe also was extremely popular among his congregants.

“Every middle-aged adult in our congregational community had taken at least one course with him, and they all loved him,” said Robinson. “They all raved about him as a teacher.”

Lowe was a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of international scholars who study early Christianity.

In a 1987 interview with the Jewish Bulletin, Lowe said that he found himself “in the unenviable position, sometimes, of reminding Christians of their anti-Semitic heritage. There is a great ignorance of it, and many people are not aware of it.”

Lowe retired from teaching in 2001 and had health problems in the last few years. He was awaiting a kidney transplant at the time of his death.

Lowe is survived by his partner, Simon Bockie of Berkeley, and several cousins. Donations can be made to the Sanford Lowe Humanities Scholarship Fund, Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401.