Steven Hill, Orthodox actor who played ‘Law & Order’ DA, dies at 94

Steven Hill appeared in

Steven Hill appeared in “Law and Order” between 1990 and 2000. (NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Steven Hill, a Jewish actor best known for playing a Jewish Manhattan district attorney on the hit TV series “Law and Order,” has died at 94.

Hill, who sacrificed numerous career opportunities in order to observe Shabbat, died Tuesday in Monsey, New York, Hollywood Reporter said, citing Hill’s son, Rabbi Yehoshua Hill. Citing Hill’s daughter Sarah Gobioff, the New York Times reported that Hill lived in Monsey, but died in Manhattan.

Born in Seattle as Solomon Krakovsky, Hill’s first professional acting role was in the 1946 production of “A Flag Is Born,” a controversial Zionist play by Ben Hecht.

In the 1960s, after having established himself in television and on Broadway, Hill became Orthodox. In a 1983 interview with the New York Times, Hill said he’d been inspired to explore Judaism after playing Sigmund Freud in “A Far Country,” a play in which a character screamed at the modern psychology founder: “You’re a Jew!”

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“When she would let loose this blast, I would take it. And in the pause that followed, I would think, ‘What about this?’ And I was provoked to explore my religion,” Hill told 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.”

His newfound observance of Shabbat, which coincides with Friday-night and Saturday-matinee performances, effectively ended Hill’s stage career, according to Hollywood Reporter.

However, he was still able to work in television. He appeared in several hit TV shows and was in the original cast of “Mission Impossible,” but was forced to leave after a year due to his unavailability for Friday-night and Saturday rehearsals.

After a 10-year hiatus from acting in which he worked in real estate and writing, Hill returned to acting in 1977, appearing in several TV shows and films, including “Thirtysomething,” “Yentl” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

Hill played Manhattan DA Adam Schiff for more than 225 episodes from 1990 to 2000. Schiff was loosely modeled on longtime Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, who is also Jewish, and Hill earned two Emmy nominations for outstanding actor in a drama series for the role.

In a 1996 interview with The Washington Post cited in the Times obituary, “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf called Hill “the Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series.”

“Steven has more moral authority than anyone else on episodic TV,” Wolf said.

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 … He will be missed but fortunately he can be seen ubiquitously on Law & Order reruns.”

Hill is survived by his second wife Rachel, nine children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.