The son and grandson of Hasidic rabbis, Hertzberg (died 17 April 2006 at the age of 84) immigrated from Poland to the United States in 1926 with his parents at the age of five. (His maternal family were all killed by the Nazis.)
Hertzberg's family lived in New York for a year, then moved to Youngstown, Ohio, then to Baltimore. As a teenager, he was schooled in the Talmud and Hasidic literature by his father. He, himself, also became a rabbi (at Temple Emanu-El in Englewood, New Jersey, from 1956 to 1985, where he remained as rabbi emeritus), and a professor of religion (at Dartmouth, where he also became a professor emeritus).
He was ordained a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1943 and received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1966. He taught at Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia, and Dartmouth. After 1991, he was the Bronfman Visiting Professor of the Humanities at New York University.
Hertzberg was also active in the World Zionist Organization and the American Jewish Congress (he was president of the American Jewish Congress from 1972 to 1978 and vice president of the World Jewish Congress from 1975 to 1991). Hertzberg was a strident advocate of the Civil Rights Movement, and an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam.
Hertzberg seemed blind to the inconsistency between supporting the American civil rights movement and supporting Zionism, which denies the Palestinian people the basic right to return to their homes. Listen, for example, to an interview on 1 November 2001 on Jerusalem Post Radio in which Hertzberg says that
"There is a very fundamental Zionist idea which is part of the notion that, our age-old notion that, as times change and as circumstances change, political situations change, we will labour to keep the Jewish people going and we will fit what we are doing to the circumstances. We recognized late in the 19th century that assimilation and anti-Semitism were the twin horrors that threatened us and we realized that unless there was a state of our own, to recharge our batteries, we would be finished. We were right. ... To me for instance the basic assertion of Zionism is the right of return. It is the notion that Jews have a home to which they can come back."
So, here we have it: "assimilation [is a] horror" and the Jewish state is a tool which is believed to "fit ... the circumstances". The Palestinians who were unfortunate enough to inhabit the lands where the Zionists decided that 19th and 20th century "circumstances" indicated they should build a Jewish state can go somewhere else – for those who were expelled by the Zionists in 1948, Palestine is not "a home to which they can come back".
Hertzberg was also among those who seek to deny non-Jewish genocides. For example, Norman Finkelstein writes that
Wiesel, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg withdrew from an international conference on genocide in Tel Aviv because the sponsors, against government urging, included sessions on the Armenian case. Acting at Israel's behest, the US Holocaust Council 'virtually effaced' mention of the Armenians in the Washington Holocaust Museum; and Jewish lobbyists in Congress blocked a day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide.
For all that, Hertzberg was on the liberal end of the Zionist spectrum.
Hertzber's books include: The Zionist Idea; Jewish Polemics; The Jews in America; Judaism and The Jews.