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Steven Hill, Orthodox Jewish ‘Law & Order’ Actor, Dies at 94

Steven Hill, an Orthodox Jewish actor best known for playing a Jewish Manhattan district attorney on the hit TV series “Law & Order,” has died at 94.

Born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington to Russian immigrants, Hill made his professional acting debut in 1946.

In the 1960s, after having established himself in television and on Broadway, Hill became Orthodox. Hill said he was inspired to explore Judaism after performing the role of Sigmund Freud in “A Far Country,” in which a character screamed “You’re a Jew!” at him.

“In the pause that followed, I would think, ‘What about it?’ And I was provoked to explore my religion,” Hill said in an 1983 interview with the Times. “I slowly became aware that there was something more profound going on in the world than just plays and movies and TV shows.”

Under the influence of the Skver Rebbe, R’ Yaakov Yoseph Twersky (1990 – 1968), Hill became a religious Jew. He often refused major roles and the accompanying allure of wealth and fame. This decision entailed enormous sacrifice on his part, due to his unwavering commitment to Jewish law which often conflicted with the demands of the acting world.

His newfound observance of Shabbat ended Hill’s stage career, but he was still able to work in television. He appeared on several hit shows and was in the original cast of “Mission Impossible,” but was forced to leave after a year due to his unavailability for rehearsals on Friday night and Saturday.

After spending several decades in real estate, writing, TV shows and films, Hill was hired to be the lead character in the hit “Law and Order” series which ran from 1990 to 2000, appearing in a total 225 episodes. Hill played District Attorney Adam Schiff who was loosely modeled on longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who was also Jewish. His performance earned him two Emmy nominations for outstanding actor in a drama series.

Series creator Dick Wolf called Hill ‘the Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series.’ In a statement made after Hill’s death, Wolf said, “Steven was not only one of the truly great actors of his generation, he was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.”
The last year of his life he lived in Monsey, a heavily Orthodox Jewish area in suburban Rockland County. He is survived by his second wife, Rachel, nine children, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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