Eugene B. Borowitz was the Sigmund L. Falk Distinguished Professor of Education and Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 20, 1924, to immigrant Yiddish-speaking parents, Borowitz was educated as an undergraduate at the Ohio State University. In 1948, he was ordained a rabbi by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and in 1952 received the degree of Doctor of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College for a dissertation in the field of Rabbinic Thought. In the 1950s he served as founding rabbi of The Community Synagogue in Port Washington, Long Island, New York, and was enrolled in the Columbia-Union joint Ph.D. program in Religion, where he completed all work for his doctorate except for the dissertation. When Borowitz assumed the position as Director of Religious Education for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, he agreed to switch to Columbia’s doctoral program in Education and ultimately received an Ed.D from Columbia in 1962. In that same year Borowitz joined the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where he continued to serve as Sigmund L. Falk Distinguished Professor of Jewish Education and Religious Thought until his death on January 22, 2016. His seventeen books, countless articles, and thousands of lectures in both scholarly and popular venues were instrumental in encouraging the American Jewish community to take theology and issues of religious faith seriously. He served as a Visiting Professor at universities such as Columbia, CCNY, Harvard Divinity School, Temple, and Princeton, and this only consolidated his academic reputation. His editorship of Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility from 1970 to 1993 reinforced his preeminent position as a contemporary Jewish religious thinker and public intellectual and cultural critic.
Borowitz was also was an activist. In 1964, in response to an appeal by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Borowitz and a group of rabbinic colleagues traveled to St. Augustine, Fla., for a civil rights demonstration and were arrested for praying in an integrated group and for sitting down with young black people in a restaurant. The episode was the subject of a front page article in The New York Times. In a letter Borowitz and Albert Vorspan co-authored on behalf of the group from a St. Augustine jail, Borowitz wrote, “We came because we could not stand silently by our brother’s blood. We came because we know that second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.”
His impact on the religious thought of the American Jewish community was intensified by his publication of three books in 1968 and 1969. A New Jewish Theology in the Making systematically presented and evaluated the particularistic reality of a twentieth-century tradition of Jewish religious thought. In his two other works—How Can a Jew Speak of Faith Today and Choosing a Sex Ethic—Borowitz argued that the religious rationalism that dominated an earlier generation of Jewish thinkers had come to an end. Instead of his liberal predecessors’ assertion that there was a conceptual core to Jewish religiosity that had to serve as the foundation for Jewish theological reflection, Borowitz incorporated into his thought what he termed “a recognized truth in the general culture… a root belief that personal dignity means having substantial self-determination.”
Borowitz thus turned to religious existentialism—particularly as expressed in Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue and relation––as the most compelling and attractive methodological approach Jewish thinkers could employ in addressing issues of contemporary religious and communal concern. The Jewish theology he was struggling to express was not intended to be reserved only for members of the Reform community. Instead, he was attempting to address a broad swath of American Jewry who made their Jewish decisions in large measure on the basis of personal freedom.
Borowitz’s sociological-religious frame of analysis in that book blossomed five years later in 1978 into Reform Judaism Today, his three-volume commentary on the 1976 Reform Movement’s San Francisco Centenary Perspective. Borowitz had served as Chair of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Committee that wrote this successor statement to the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform and the 1937 Columbus Platform, and it was fitting that he offer the exegesis upon it. The most striking feature of his commentary is the degree to which Borowitz located the Reform Movement at the center of American Jewish life. Borowitz not only demonstrated how the contemporary Reform Movement’s position on the doctrines of God, Torah, and Israel had abandoned the sectarian postures of a classical American Reform Judaism. He also argued that Reform Judaism and its liberal attitudes towards an observance of the tradition had come to inform almost all precincts of American Jewish life, inasmuch as most American Jews were now self-consciously self-determining. The problem of that still had to be addressed was how to link this commitment to self-assertion to a ground for Jewish action.
In order to provide some answers for these problems, Borowitz turned with characteristic openness to the writings of Jewish and Christian theologians for guidance. In 1980 he wrote Contemporary Christologies: A Jewish Response. In it he asserted that Jews could recognize and learn from these modern Christian writings directed to the service of God, even though a Jew might detect in them tonal elements distinct from the commanding-forgiving rhythms of a Jewish view of the Divine.
Borowitz’s theological projects, and his concern for their practical applications, reached their crescendo in two works published in 1990 and 1991. After publishing a collection of forty-one papers entitled Exploring Jewish Ethics: Papers on Covenant Responsibility in 1990. Borowitz published, in the following year his most comprehensive, mature, and systematic theological statement, Renewing the Covenant: A Theology for the Postmodern Jew. Borowitz observed, “For all its reach, this book deals with but one aspect of my theology. To my surprise and consternation, the theological task I early set for myself refused to remain unified, but ramified into three independent, if correlated, foci of interest: (1) the response to our culture, (2) the dialogue with Jewish tradition, and (3) the testing of these ideas in Jewish action.” Exploring Jewish Ethics, in Borowitz’s own view, was the fulfillment of the third item on his agenda, while Renewing the Covenant represented his attempt to mediate the relationship between Judaism and contemporary culture. Nevertheless, Borowitz remained a liberal Jew. He was not prepared to retreat totally from the insights and affirmations of an Enlightenment world. He believed that autonomy was so firmly rooted in the contemporary Jewish condition that its surrender would be unthinkable. Borowitz asserted that the ongoing affirmation of this concept remained crucial for present-day liberal Jews and he rejected religious fundamentalism even as he turned with great respect to examine the wisdom and power of Jewish religious tradition.
Renewing the Covenant represents the statement of a mature theologian. In it one can identify the dialectical themes of Covenant and self, God and community, that Borowitz has emphasized throughout his theological writings. Here those themes found their ultimate definition and his notion of the “autonomous Jewish self” received mature expression.
How this “autonomous Jewish self” achieved normative expression is addressed in Exploring Jewish Ethics. Borowitz affirmed there that Judaism provided a powerful communitarian ethos and sense of morality that can inform the life of the postmodern Jew. He showed how the integrity and wisdom of the Jewish ethical tradition could contribute much to a modern society that all too frequently floundered in its quest for values and direction.
Borowitz remained a commanding intellectual-religious voice in his final decades as well and his writing and teaching continued unabated. His influence upon generations of Reform rabbis and the academic and theological worlds was profound and will continue to be felt for years and years to come.
Eugene B. Borowitz was predeceased by his beloved wife Estelle Covel Borowitz, a psychologist, whom he married during his senior year at HUC-JIR. He is survived by his children Lisa Borowitz, Drucy Borowitz and Philip Glick, and Nan Borowitz and Andrew Langowitz; grandchildren Zoey Glick and Matthew Swerdlin, Zachary Glick, Noah Langowitz and Monikah Schuschu, Emily Langowitz, and Joshua Langowitz; and great-grandson Lewis Swerdlin.
Hebrew Union College
William W. Hallo was The William M. Laffan Professor Emeritus of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University, where he taught for forty years. He also served as curator of Babylonian Collection at the Yale Library and as Master of Morse College (1982-1987). A world-famous scholar of Sumerian and Babylonian literature and culture, he maintained a deep interest in Biblical studies, Semitic studies, and Jewish studies. He remained professionally active throughout his retirement, continuing to publish and to mentor students and young colleagues.
A prolific scholar, Hallo is best known for The Context of Scripture, 3 vols. (1997-2002; paperback, 2003), which he long envisioned and then edited with K. L. Younger. This extensive collection of ancient Near Eastern texts provides a broad context for the study of the Hebrew Bible. Hallo authored or co-authored a dozen books, among them The Ancient Near East: a History (second edition, 1998), The Exaltation of Inanna (1968), Sumerian Archival Texts (1973). A specialist in Sumerian literature, he wrote close to 200 articles, a selection of them collected in The World’s Oldest Literature: Studies in Sumerian Belles-Lettres (2011). He also published The Star of Redemption (1990), a translation of Franz Rosenzweig’s Der Stern der Erlösung. He brought his learning to a wider audience by editing, along with David Ruderman and Michael Stanislawski, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews: Source Reader (1984), a companion for a PBS telecourse; and through his contributions to the Torah Commentaries published by the Reform movement.
Hallo was born in Kassel, Germany on March 9, 1928, into a prominent Jewish family. His father Rudolf Hallo was one of the founders of the discipline of Jewish art history, and successor to Franz Rosenzweig at the Frankfurt Lehrhaus. His mother was Dr. Gertrude Rubensohn Hallo. William Hallo and his sisters were among the Jewish children sent to England in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport program. Rejoined by their mother (his father had died in 1933), they came to the United States in 1940. Hallo completed his elementary and secondary education in New York City. He earned his B.A. at Harvard in 1950 and held a Fulbright scholarship in 1950–51 at Leiden University, Netherlands, where he studied the languages of ancient Mesopotamia. While in Leiden he met and married Edith Pinto, a Dutch student and Holocaust survivor. They later had two children. Hallo earned his Ph.D. at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in 1955. From 1956 to 1962, Hallo taught Hebrew, Aramaic, and Sumerian languages and literatures at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He moved to Yale in 1962 where he remained until his retirement in 2002.
Hallo’s wife Edith pre-deceased him in 1994. He is survived by his second wife, Nanette Stahl, curator of Judaica at Yale University Library, and by his two children and six grandchildren.
(This obituary draws on the biography of Hallo written by David Sperling for the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica.)
University of Maryland
Paula E. Hyman, distinguished Yale University historian of European Jewry, served as president of the American Academy for Jewish Research from 2004 to 2008, the first woman to hold this position. Elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1994, Hyman forged a brilliant career through pioneering scholarship in social history. She introduced gender studies to Jewish historical research in her influential volume Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women (1995), originally presented as the Stroum Lectures at the University of Washington, and she challenged regnant interpretations of the modernization of European Jewry in her book The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1991). The latter examined village Jewish communities and demonstrated how Jews resisted demands for religious change emanating from Paris. The former looked at Western and Eastern Europe as well as the United States, illuminating how gendered understandings shaped and differentiated the project and process of Jewish assimilation. Hyman exemplified excellence in her research and leadership. Her path-breaking projects transformed Jewish historical studies in the United States, Europe, and Israel.
Hyman’s twin intellectual interests intersected with her profound commitment to feminism. In 1971 she helped to found Ezrat Nashim, a consciousness-raising group of Jewish women in New York. The following year the group entered politics and issued a manifesto, “Jewish Women Call for Change,” which they presented to the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention in the Catskills. It called for equality for women in all aspects of Jewish life and especially in leadership positions as rabbis and cantors. Hyman’s feminism extended to the academy, where she regularly challenged standard practices that ignored women, relegating them to the margins.
She also demanded serious study of women’s lives, contending that scholarship that only considered Jewish men was incomplete.
As a modern Jewish historian, Paula Hyman focused on French Jews, the subject of her dissertation, published in 1979 as From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906-1939. Twenty years later she completed a survey of The Jews of Modern France that synthesized two decades of research generated in part by her own scholarship. In these books, Hyman reinterpreted ideological movements, social changes, marriage patterns, educational trends, religious innovations, and political developments. Her broad grasp of the complexities of social transformation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries inspired new research on French Jews and invited serious consideration of their experiences alongside those of German Jews. She trained a number of historians of French Jews, including AAJR Fellow Vicki Caron.
Paula Hyman’s scholarship extended to Jews in the United States and spurred creation of the field of American Jewish women’s history. Indeed, she wrote her first book, The Jewish Woman in America (1976), while still in graduate school. Co-authored with Charlotte Baum and Sonya Michel, this popular feminist book aimed to excite interest among a broad audience in Jewish women’s history and represents the first sustained effort to raise important questions about Jewish women’s experiences as immigrants. Hyman returned to answer some of these questions in subsequent articles, including her oft-reprinted study of the 1902 New York City kosher meat boycott, “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest,” which appeared initially in American Jewish History in 1982. But her award-winning co-edited two-volume The Jewish Woman in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (1997) really initiated scholarship in this field. With eight hundred entries by five hundred authors—scholars, graduate students, writers, and journalists—the encyclopedia introduced a wide range of figures and topics, igniting an array of new research. Hyman subsequently expanded the reach of the encyclopedia by collaborating with Dalia Ofer on the electronic publication, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia, which covered the lives of Jewish women across historical time and space.
The oldest of three daughters of Ida Tatelbaum and Sydney Hyman, Paula was born in Boston on September 30, 1946. Her parents made sure she received the best American and American Jewish education available. She attended Boston Hebrew Teachers College, graduating in 1966, and Radcliffe College, graduating summa cum laude in 1968. Pursuing two degrees simultaneously, Hyman acquired an enduring love of Hebrew and Zionism from her teachers at Boston Hebrew Teachers College and a deep engagement with Jewish history from her professors at Harvard, including Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi and Isadore Twersky. After graduation she moved to New York City to study Jewish history at Columbia University, receiving her M.A. in 1970 and her Ph.D. in 1975. She studied Jewish history with Gerson Cohen and Ismar Schorsch, and modern French history with Robert O. Paxton.
Her teaching career began at Columbia University in 1974. During her seven years as an assistant professor of history, Paula Hyman’s love of teaching inspired both undergraduate and graduate students. At a time when there were few women in the History Department, except as staff members, Hyman served as a model of a successful female academic. She devoted herself to mentoring her students but she shared with them as well her commitment to her growing family. These students included AAJR fellows Elisheva Carlebach and Marsha Rozenblit. Hyman left Columbia in 1981 for an appointment as Dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies, the first woman to hold that position. Her presence at the Jewish Theological Seminary proved critical to the decision to admit women to receive ordination. When she accepted the Lucy Moses Professorship in Modern Jewish History at Yale University in 1986, Paula Hyman left a transformed institution. In 1991 Hyman agreed to direct Yale’s Program in Jewish Studies, the first woman to do so. She held this position for over a decade.
Paula Hyman’s leadership registered in an array of activities in the United States and Israel. She served on numerous editorial boards of leading journals in the field of modern Jewish studies and feminist studies, including YIVO Annual, Jewish Social Studies, Journal for the Feminist Study of Religion, Nashim, and AJS Review. She also served for many years on the Board of Directors of the Association for Jewish Studies and played a key role in creating its Women’s Caucus. Since 1982 she co-edited with AAJR fellow Deborah Dash Moore an influential Indiana University Press book series , the Modern Jewish Experience, which published some of the leading works of Jewish historians. In the twenty-first century, Hyman received recognition for her outstanding achievements and pioneering leadership. The National Foundation for Jewish Culture honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award in Historical Studies in 2004. Both the Hebrew Union College (2002) and the Jewish Theological Seminary (2000) awarded her honorary degrees.
In 2001 Paula Hyman published My Life as Radical Jewish Woman. Without its subtitle, The Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, the book could be said to represent Hyman’s own life. Paula Hyman shared Puah Rakovsky’s commitments to Zionism, education, feminism, and family. Throughout her extraordinary career, Paula Hyman remained devoted to her husband, Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum, and their two daughters, Judith and Adina Rosenbaum. In a marriage that spanned over forty years, Paula and Stan blended their love and careers. They raised their daughters to be feminists and encouraged them to live fulfilling lives. Despite battling multiple bouts of cancer, which first struck in 1979 when Paula was 32 and Judith and Adina were five and two respectively, Paula retained a fundamentally optimistic attitude toward life. She was impatient for change and unwilling to endure tokenism involving women, but she also passionately savored life and gave generously of her mind, heart, and self. A consummate scholar and teacher, colleague and friend, mother and wife, she leaves an outstanding legacy.
Deborah Dash Moore
University of Michigan
A long-time Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Ben Zion Wacholder passed away in Roslyn Heights, New York, on March 29, 2011, at the age of 86. He had been the Solomon B. Freehof Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati and a major figure in the study of ancient Jewish history, especially of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Born in Ozarow, Poland, Wacholder studied at the Ohel Torah Yeshivah in Baranovitch in what is today Belarus and was soon recognized as a brilliant Talmud scholar. His life took a sharp turn when the Nazis destroyed his town in October 1942, forcing him to seek survival under a false identity. Living under an invented name and disguising his Jewishness, he worked in a Polish labor camp and hid in forests until liberation. He then moved to Paris, to Bogota, Columbia, and finally to New York in 1947, where he received rabbinical ordination and a B.A. in English literature from Yeshiva University. He went on to graduate studies in ancient history at UCLA, where in 1960 he obtained a Ph.D. with a dissertation that became his first published book, Nicolaus of Damascus (1962).
He joined the newly established Los Angeles branch of HUC-JIR as a librarian while still a graduate student in 1957 and was soon appointed to its faculty. In 1963, Nelson Glueck, president of HUC-JIR, asked Wacholder to join the faculty in Cincinnati, where he remained until his retirement.
Although principally teaching courses in Talmud and rabbinic literature, his field of specialization remained the ancient world, exemplified by Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature (1974) and Essays on Jewish Chronology and Chronography (1976). Beginning in the late 1970s, he increasingly concentrated his scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls, producing in 1983The Dawn of Qumran: The Sectarian Torah and the Teacher of Righteousness, in which he argued that the Temple Scroll was intended to be nothing less than a new Torah to replace the Mosaic one at the End of Days. He also published some four dozen articles, mostly devoted to the Scrolls.
Wacholder gained broad international attention when, disturbed by the failure of the committee in charge of the Scrolls to make them public, he, together with a graduate student, Martin Abegg, reconstructed and published the presumptive text of the unpublished material from Cave 4 on the basis of a concordance that indicated the place and context of the words that it listed. The text appeared in fascicles beginning in 1991 as A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four. The reconstruction proved to be nearly 100% accurate and broke the monopoly of the international committee that had kept the text secret for decades.
Wacholder’s scholarship, especially late in his career, was nearly always controversial, even as it was serious and stimulated debate. He was rarely satisfied with conventional views, arguing, for example, that the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest mentioned in the Scrolls were not historical but, rather, eschatological figures who would appear at the End of Days. He attended scholarly conferences regularly, eager to advocate for his theories among his colleagues.
At HUC-JIR Wacholder taught both rabbinical students and Christian graduate students, whose Doktorvater he became. He was known as a kind and thoughtful teacher, who encouraged students even as he challenged them not to rely on secondary literature or conventional interpretations, but to analyze the primary sources first and foremost and to seek their own conclusions. As his eyesight progressively deteriorated, he continued his scholarly work and his teaching, causing students to marvel at how he was able to recite texts that he could not see but could draw upon from the storehouse of his prodigious memory. In 1994, two of his graduate students, John C. Reeves and John Kampen, presented Wacholder with Pursuing the Text: Studies in Honor of Ben Zion Wacholder on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Still in 1996, when he could barely see at all, two students helped him put together his The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of the Dead Sea Scrolls. As late as 2007, he was still able to publish The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah: Reconstruction, Translation, and Commentary.
Ben Zion Wacholder was a generous man who never refused a contribution to the poor and who gave freely of his time to anyone who wanted to study with him, often in his own home. Though he taught at a Reform seminary and cherished freedom of thought, he was personally a fully observant Jew. As his eyesight grew worse, he continued to study and write, using a specially adapted computer and the services of students who would read the material to him. Late in life, his cognitive faculties, as well, began to fail, but he could never rest from intellectual endeavor. He was a devoted father and grandfather. Wacholder’s first wife, Touby, died in 1990, his second Elizabeth Krukowski in 2004. He lived the last years of his life with his daughter Nina in Roslyn Heights. He is survived by four children and fifteen grandchildren. He was buried, as he wished, in the Land of Israel.
Michael A. Meyer
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Ze’ev (William Michael) Brinner, professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and long-time Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, died in his home on February 3, 2011, after a long illness. He was 86 years old.
Brinner, who taught Arabic and Islamic studies in the University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies for nearly forty years, dedicated much of his life to the study of the history and cultures of the Middle East and published extensively on subjects ranging from modern Arabic literature and medieval Islamic history and religion to medieval Jewish-Muslim cultural interaction. He was also known for his commitment to the State of Israel and for fostering understanding between Muslims and Jews.
“As a person he was loved and admired by many, capable of bringing a refined sense of humor to the most serious and contentious of topics,” said son Benjamin Brinner, a professor and chair of UC Berkeley’s Music Department. “He took every opportunity to teach people about the roots of conflict, about religious tolerance and intolerance throughout history. In his teaching, public lecturing and research, he was unswervingly committed to fighting prejudice and ignorance.”
“The theme that flowed through his work was the Jewish-Muslim understanding,” his son, Rafael Brinner, noted. “His dream as a Zionist in the 1940s was that Israel would be a home to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.”
In a 1988 talk about “The Political Role of the Middle East,” Brinner cautioned that religious zeal, especially religious fundamentalism, was gaining traction as a powerful political force in the Middle East. “We need to be sensitive to the area’s religious sensibilities,” he cautioned. “We cannot expect Middle Easterners to think and act the same way we would.”
Born October 6, 1924, to Fred (Menahem) Brinner and Sadie Weiszer, traditional Jews who had emigrated from Hungary, Ze’ev grew up in the Filmore district of San Francisco and studied at the Central Hebrew School, where as a youth he began teaching and leading services. Ze’ev was also active in Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsair, and after meeting a young refugee who had escaped Vienna on a Kindertransport, Lisa Kraus, he drew her into its activities as well.
With a BA and MA in Near Eastern Studies from Berkeley, Ze’ev immigrated to Israel, in 1950, having been invited by the Israeli emissary in San Francisco to teach Arabic and humanities at the upper school of Kibbutz Beit Alpha. He tried to enlist in the Israeli army but was rejected on account of his thinness and was sent back to his kibbutz to gain weight. In the meantime, Lisa had settled on a different kibbutz in northern Israel, and the couple managed to see each other on weekends and in 1951 they wed in Afula. The following year Ze’ev was invited back to Berkeley to fill in for a faculty member on sabbatical. He ended up staying on at the University, completing his doctoral dissertation in 1956 under the mentorship of William Popper, with a critical edition and translation of Muḥammad ibn Ṣaṣrā’s al-Durra al-muḍi’a fi ‘l-dawla al-Ẓāhiriyya (published in 1963 in two volumes as A Chronicle of Damascus, 1389–1397) and receiving a professorial appointment that same year.
Over the course of his career, Brinner served the academic community unstintingly, chairing at various junctures UC Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies Department, the Committee for Middle Eastern Studies and the Religious Studies Program. Brinner also was president of the Middle East Studies Association of America and headed the American Oriental Society. He was a visiting professor at Harvard University, UCLA, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington, and Israeli universities in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. He served as acting director of the Annenberg Research Institute in Philadelphia and headed the Academic Consortium of Jewish Studies Programs of the Bay Area for many years. He was the founding director of the Center for Arabic Study Abroad at the American University in Cairo, and from 1973 until 1975, served as director of the Overseas Study Center of the University of California at the Hebrew University. Among the research awards he received were a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Study Award. In 1991, in recognition of his profound contributions to the University, he was awarded the Berkeley Citation, that institution’s highest honor. Ze’ev was the honoree of “Bridging the Worlds of Judaism and Islam,” an international, interdisciplinary conference at UC Berkeley in 1993.
In his research, Professor Brinner made contributions of lasting value to the study of Jewish and Muslim civilizations. In focusing on points of contact and shared achievements he did much to enrich our understanding of their intricate cultural interactions and parallel development. A rigorously trained scholar of Near Eastern cultures and civilization and philologist, he always sought to bring out an appreciation for complexity and nuance that transcended polemics and apologetics. Among Brinner’s publications is his translation of An Elegant Composition Concerning Relief After Adversity, by Nissim ben Jacob ibn Shāhīn (d. 1062), which won the Rabbi Jacob Friedman Award for an English translation of a Jewish classic in 1979. He published two volumes of annotated translations of the universal history of the Muslim historian and exegete Abū Jafar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 923), Ta’rīkh al-rusul wa’l-mulūk: Prophets and Patriarchs (1987) and The Children of Israel (1991). Brinner’s latest work, a translation and annotated edition of ‘Arā’is al-Majālis fī Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyā, or Lives of the Prophets” by Abū Isḥāq Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Tha’labī (d. 1035) was published in 2002. Further information about his work and a complete bibliography of his publication may be found in the Festschrift dedicated to him, Judaism and Islam: Boundaries, Communication, and Interaction.
Beyond his scholarly achievements, William Brinner was a consummate educator. Already as a young teacher this was recognized by the University when it honored him with the U.C. Berkeley Teaching Award of 1959 — the very first year it was offered. He trained many who came through Berkeley at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but also offered freely of his advice and knowledge to many junior scholars from other institutions who turned to him. Those who had the good fortune to study with him encountered a mentor who had no investment of his own ego in the achievements of his students. He offered direction wisely but sparingly, always allowing aspiring scholars to find their own path and follow their own passion. He leaves behind generations of students who benefitted from his erudition, his grace, and humanity.
A gifted orator both in the classroom and without, he was also committed to the wider community; his expertise and insight were constantly sought out to help others make sense of the complicated Middle East. He did so often, usually without any compensation other than the gratitude of his listeners—further evidence of his generosity and civic-mindedness. Brinner was a sought-after commentator about contemporary political developments in the Middle East, both on radio and television, and in a number of print publications. He also surveyed the Israeli and Arabic press on National Educational Television’s weekly “World Press” program. He was active in many community organizations, including the Judah L. Magnes Museum, where his assistance was pivotal in developing the holdings documenting the cultures and history of the Jews in North Africa and the Middle East, with a particular focus on the manuscripts from the Karaite synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. Upon retiring, Ze’ev continued his pedagogic contributions, teaching at The Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning in San Francisco. Professor Brinner’s papers are now part of the University Archives at The Bancroft Library.
Despite his great acumen and talent he was modest and self-deprecating. In remarkable testament to the universal appreciation of Brinner’s intellectual honesty and decency within the contested and contentious field of Near Eastern Studies, one colleague noted that in over five decades of friendship never had he heard an unkind word said of him. In short, Brinner was a true humanist and Renaissance man, who excelled in so many areas of life—family, community, and the academic profession, and he is sorely missed by all those who were privileged to know him.
Ze’ev is survived by his wife, Lisa J. Brinner, of Berkeley; his children, Leyla Brinner Sulema of Ramat Hasharon, Israel, Benjamin Brinner of Berkeley, California, Rafael Brinner of Oakland, California; a sister, Claire Krauthamer of Las Vegas, Nevada; and eight grandchildren.
Michigan State University
Shlomo Eidelberg, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York, passed away on October 10, 2010, at the age of ninety-two.
Professor Eidelberg was born in Poland. His father, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Eidelberg, served as one of the last communal rabbis in Plock (Plotsk) prior to the Nazi occupation. Rabbi Eidelberg, who perished during the Holocaust, was the author of the four-volume rabbinic work Hazon la-Mo’ed. He sent young Shlomo to study with the leading rabbinic scholar and rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman of Baranowich, and also made sure that Shlomo received a rich secular education, including the study of Latin.
An ardent Zionist, Shlomo Eidelberg fought in a local Jewish resistance unit during World War II. At the end of the war, he hoped to study for a Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professor Simcha Assaf. However, circumstances forced him to emigrate to the United States, where he earned his doctorate at Yeshiva University in 1952 under Professors Irving A. Agus and Samuel K. Mirsky. His dissertation, on the responsa of Rabbenu Gershom b. Judah of Mainz, formed the basis of his first book, which was published (in Hebrew) in 1955. In that work, Eidelberg presented some seventy-seven responsa by Rabbenu Gershom, culled from a variety of published medieval rabbinic works and from manuscripts as well. Already at this early stage in his career, and well before it was recognized as an essential tool for the study of medieval Jewish intellectual history and literature, Eidelberg made extensive use of manuscript texts and variants, a practice that characterized all of his later published research as well. In addition, Eidelberg carefully annotated each responsum, providing historical background for the Jewish and wider religious and social phenomena that were reflected, making important philological and literary observations and connections, and identifying in great and precise detail little-known figures and locales. Later on, Eidelberg did have the opportunity to teach and to conduct research in Israel, holding visiting appointments at Tel Aviv University and at Haifa University.
The author of dozens of articles in English, German, and mostly Hebrew (that appeared in prestigious Israeli academic journals such as Tarbiz, Zion and Sinai among others), Eidelberg published on a wide variety of themes, ranging from the eleventh through the eighteenth centuries, from the earliest settlement in the northern French town of Troyes to the status of apostates in early modern Germany. Moreover, Eidelberg was the author of three additional books that demonstrated the same impressive broad range and scope: Jewish Life in Austria in the XVth Century as Reflected in the Legal Writings of Rabbi Israel Isserlein and his Contemporaries (1962); The Jews and the Crusaders: the Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (1977; reprinted, 1996),; and R. Juspa Shamash di-Qehillat Vermaiza: ‘Olam ha-Yehudi ba-Me’ah ha-Yod Zayyin. This volume, published by Magnes Press and the Hebrew University, was divided into parallel Hebrew and English sections, and included facsimile reproductions of both the minhagbuch of Worms and the communal pinkas during this period, along with a fascinating array of pictures and illustrations of tombstones, prominent institutions and figures, and other realia of the time.
Eidelberg’s pioneering work served as the starting point for much subsequent scholarship and research. He recognized this and often remarked that he was content to provide original and accurate work that would allow others to have access to Jewish texts that were heretofore unknown. This desire to be of service to academic Jewish studies and scholarship was a hallmark of all of Eidelberg’s work. Indeed, he also edited several collections of primary texts that were intended to be helpful to students and colleagues alike. In 1999 (at the age of eighty one), Eidelberg published two volumes of collected studies (with a number of bibliographic addenda), one in Hebrew and the other in English. In the introduction to the English volume, Eidelberg noted that the two volumes contained many but not all of the articles that he had published since 1953, and pointed to a number of recurring historical themes and arguments that appear throughout his studies.
During his many years at Yeshiva University, where he taught at the Harry Fischel School for Higher Jewish Studies and at Stern College for Women, Professor Eidelberg was known for his devotion to his family (which included a son who tragically predeceased him), and for his concern for the welfare of both his students and his colleagues. To the end of his life, he actively encouraged the younger scholars whom he met at libraries and conferences, displaying a strong interest in their work. May his memory be for a blessing.
Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies
The American Academy for Jewish Research—and the world of Jewish studies at large–lost a towering figure with the death of our distinguished colleague, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, at the age of 77 on December 8, 2009. Yerushalmi was one of the most eminent scholars of Jewish history in the post-Holocaust age, renowned for his unique combination of erudition, analytical brilliance, and literary elegance. His wide-ranging studies left a profound imprint on a generation of students, over whom he presided with a unique Old-World authority. But his work also resonated with a wider lay readership in the United States, Europe and Israel, for whom he translated often arcane scholarly questions into central issues of contemporary identity.
Yosef Yerushalmi inherited the mantle of leadership in the field of Jewish history from his teacher, the legendary Salo W. Baron, with whom he studied and whose name adorned the chair that Yerushalmi held at Columbia University from 1980 to 2008. Unlike Baron, who authored scores of books, including the eighteen-volume Social and Religious History of the Jews, Yerushalmi wrote relatively few. But each of his works was a masterpiece of scholarship, the product of a meticulous, profound, and, at times, tortured writing process.
The effect was never a merely dispassionate historical description, but a creative inquiry into the past that resonated powerfully in the present. At the core of all of Yerushalmi’s work, from his first book on a Spanish converso to his last major study on Sigmund Freud, was a deeply personal fascination with the multiple and often competing strands of identity that constituted the modern Jew.
Born in the Bronx in 1932, Yosef Yerushalmi was raised in a home in which Hebrew and Yiddish were spoken alongside English. He received a traditional yeshivah education that afforded him an intimate familiarity with the classical sources of Judaism. As a young man, Yerushalmi also developed an insatiable appetite for general culture, with abiding interests in European literature and languages and classical music. He received his B.A. at Yeshiva College (1953) and rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary (1957), after which he began to serve as a congregational rabbi in Larchmont, NY.
Yerushalmi was not destined to remain a congregational rabbi for long. He commenced doctoral studies with Salo Baron at Columbia, writing his dissertation on Isaac Cardoso, a seventeenth-century Spanish Catholic intellectual and court physician who came to recognize his Jewish roots and abandoned his comfortable life in Madrid to live openly as a Jew in Italy. Based on massive research and written with novelistic verve, the dissertation became Yerushalmi’s first, award-winning book From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto (1971). On the basis of his dissertation, Yerushalmi was invited to teach at Harvard in 1966, where he remained for fourteen years and held the Jacob E. Safra Chair in Jewish History and Sephardic Civilization. There he taught a number of prominent students including Bernard Cooperman, Lois Dubin, Todd Endelman, Talya Fishman, Aaron Katchen, Hillel Kieval, Allan Nadler, Aron Rodrigue, Marc Saperstein, Jacob J. Schacter, Michael Stanislawski, and Leon Wieseltier. In 1980, Yerushalmi decided to return to his alma mater, Columbia, where he assumed the Salo W. Baron Chair of Jewish History, Culture, and Society, as well as the directorship of that university’s Center for Israel and Jewish Studies.
In his early career, Yerushalmi established himself as a leading scholar of Iberian Jewish history—and in fact earned tenure at Harvard on the basis of his Cardoso book. He retained an interest in this field throughout his career, producing a number of memorable articles on the “return” of Marranos to Jewish communities, Spinoza’s views about Jewish survival, the Lisbon massacre of 1506, and a comparison of Iberian and German racialism. He also maintained a career-long interest in Shevet Yehudah, the post-expulsion text of Solomon ibn Verga, for which he planned to produce a major new critical edition.
And yet it was a measure of Yerushalmi’s vast range and restless mind that he journeyed far beyond the Iberian Peninsula in his work. Even before finishing his dissertation, he devoted a 60-page study, later published in the Harvard Theological Review (1970), to the French Dominican Inquisitor, Bernard Gui. And five years after From Spanish Court first appeared, Yerushalmi traversed much of the terrain of Jewish history in his Haggadah and History (1975), a large and handsome survey of some two hundred haggadot that revealed the diverse forms and remarkable malleability of the central Passover liturgy.
Yerushalmi’s greatest contribution as a scholar, however, came in Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1982). An important adumbration of this renowned book came in a 1980 lecture he delivered in Jerusalem, “Clio and the Jews: Reflections on Jewish Historiography in the Sixteenth Century.” There Yerushalmi declared his desire to overcome “the reticence on the part of Judaic scholars to examine and articulate the latent assumptions of the enterprise in which they are engaged.” He then set out to upend this inhibition in Zakhor. This short volume not only covered — with characteristic erudition and lyrical grandeur — a vast historical time span; it essentially invented a new discourse in the field of Jewish studies: the discourse of history and memory. In the first three chapters of Zakhor, Yerushalmi discussed the ritual practices and texts that Jews used prior to the nineteenth century to forge a rich web of collective memory. That web was undone, he argued in the fourth chapter, by the new project of critical history, dispassionately dissecting the past rather than revering it. Indeed, history in its modern guise had become “the faith of the fallen Jew.” Beholden to history and yet detached from memory, the modern Jew was irretrievably caught between worlds.
The influence of Zakhor was enormous. The sharp distinction that Yerushalmi drew between history and memory prompted an entire generation of scholars to re-examine this relationship. At the same time, Yerushalmi’s probing meditations on the predicament of the modern historian initiated a new degree of reflexivity in the field of Jewish studies and beyond. Zakhor was widely acclaimed by critics in the United States, with especially noteworthy reviews of the book by Harold Bloom and Phillip Lopate. The book’s fame extended well beyond American shores, gaining new audiences in Europe and Israel. Yerushalmi himself spent increasing amounts of time in France and Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, where he befriended and was admired by prominent figures including Jacques Derrida, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, and Pierre Birnbaum in France, and Jan Assmann, Johannes Fried, and Jens Malte Fischer in Germany. It was as a result of Yerushalmi’s strong connections and notoriety in Europe that a number of collections of his essays were published such as Ein Feld in Anatoth (1993) and Sefardica: Essais sur l’histoire des Juifs, des marranes et des nouveaux chrétiens (1998).
In his final major book, Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (1993), Yosef Yerushalmi continued to probe the relationship between history and memory, His provocative re-reading of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism (1939) challenged criticism of that book as a renunciation of Judaism. Yerushalmi recast Freud not only as a student of, but also as a living link in, the chain of transmission of Jewish memory. The book served as a particular source of inspiration to Derrida, whose own work Archive Fever (1996) deeply engaged Yerushalmi’s Freud. Although the two were friends, Yerushalmi ultimately came to believe that Derrida was not sufficiently attentive to or respectful of the historical context that he drew around Freud.
The reader of Yerushalmi’s oeuvre cannot help but notice that his reclamation of Freud manifested a recurrent and deep identification with his subject —similar in kind to the empathy with which he engaged Isaac Cardoso and the modern historian of Zakhor. All of these figures in Yerushalmi’s work were joined by a common struggle: to make sense of the conflicting and competing strains of identity that make up the Jewish condition in the modern age. Yerushalmi’s own decades-long quest to understand this condition, which assumed particular poignancy in the wake of the Shoah, was an extraordinary contribution to Jewish studies, as well as to the world of letters.
In addition to his brilliance as a scholar, Yosef Yerushalmi was an orator and raconteur of rare talent. With a distinctive accent that was part Bronx and part Oxford, he knew how to hold his audiences rapt, whether in large lecture halls or the privacy of his study. But his proudest scholarly legacy was the long series of doctoral students whom he produced. (His Columbia students included Benjamin Maria Baader, Michael Brenner, Elisheva Carlebach, John Efron, Edward Fram, Jonathan Karp, Michael Miller, Nils Roemer, Marina Rustow, Daniel Schwartz, Nancy Sinkoff, and Magda Teter). Yerushalmi was a devoted and demanding teacher, famously intimidating but also compassionate and caring. Those whom he trained have gone on to positions of prominence in universities throughout North America, as well as in Europe and Israel. In the days after his death, many of them declared that they felt themselves orphans, bereft of the person who elevated the study of Jewish history to a level of sophistication and artistry barely conceivable before. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi is survived by his wife, Ophra, a concert pianist, and son Ariel and family.
David N. Myers, who is a professor of Jewish history at UCLA, studied with Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi at Columbia from 1985-1991.
On December 6, 2009, Professor Yochanan Muffs, נרו יאיר , passed away at his home in New York, approaching the age of 78. Yochanan served on the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary for his entire academic career. He represented what has been called the “second wave” of Judaic scholars in North America, composed of those whose training was accomplished here and who were further nurtured by interaction with the academic community and the Hebraic culture of modern Israel. Yochanan received his undergraduate degree from Queens College, and studied for the rabbinate at JTS. He earned his doctorate under Ephraim A. Speiser at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Jewish Research and a member of other scholarly societies.
To fully appreciate Yochanan’s scholarly contribution, we must acknowledge what is so painful – that for almost half of his life he was severely incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease. As a consequence, his published works were accomplished fairly early in his life, when I remember him as one who was excited about scholarship, always whirling a new idea around in his mind, or becoming ecstatic over a new insight. As we mourn his passing, we also lament the loss of his potential contributions to scholarship, for he was endowed with genius. Yochanan continued to teach as long as he was physically able to do so, an act of heroism on his part. He was driven by a powerful urge to impart knowledge. No remembrance of Yochanan would be complete without reference to his devoted wife, Yocheved, שתחיה, who undertook to have his individual studies collected and edited, and translated into Hebrew (and from Hebrew!) for publication here and in Israel.
Yochanan’s scholarship followed two paths, both of which realized his mastery of languages (and of “language” as a phenomenon), his great sensitivity to the structure and idiom of written texts, and his wide, comparative reach. At JTS, he was especially close to H.L.Ginsberg and to Saul Lieberman, from whom he learned the art of reading a text, and to Abraham Joshua Heschel, who directed his attention to the modern crisis of faith. Yochanan’s mentor at the University of Pennsylvania, Ephraim A. Speiser, a master in the interpretation of ancient Near Eastern law, honed Yochanan’s already keen skills.
Yochanan’s major work in the field of ancient Near Eastern law is Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri from Elephantine (1969). It was my privilege to arrange for a reprint of this classic by Brill in 2003 and to contribute a prolegomenon, updating Yochanan’s earlier findings. In the intervening years, the discovery of Hebrew and Aramaic legal documents from the Judean desert had revived interest in Yochanan’s analysis of the Elephantine papyri. Yochanan made connections that clarified the relatedness of ancient Near Eastern law to the development of rabbinic law, based as it was on biblical law, by unlocking the formulation of the Aramaic legal documents stored away by an unusual Jewish community, living in the Egyptian interior during the Persian period. In this effort he was guided by the earlier study of the great J. N. Epstein, who, in 1908/09, had published his “Notizen zu den jüdisch-aramäischen Papyri von Assuan,” and who, like Yochanan some sixty years later, understood what many others had failed to realize, namely, that cultural materials deriving from the periphery can be as instructive as those coming from the center.
The second path of Yochanan’s scholarship takes shape in his two collections, Love and Joy: Law, Language, and Religion in Ancient Israel (1992) and The Personhood of God: Biblical Theology, Human Faith, and the Divine Image(2005). Both collections have been translated into Hebrew. Beginning with several follow-up studies of law, Yochanan set out to chart a radical methodology for the study of biblical theology, one free of the imposition of theoretical models so characteristic of most systematic theological inquiry, as we know it. Instead of regarding biblical anthropomorphisms as a philosophical difficulty, for which there is, of course, a strong tradition in Judaism, Yochanan saw them for what they arguably are: fervent attempts to capture the nearness of God, attempts that are amplified in the less bridled rabbinic tradition. In a masterful article, which first appeared in beautiful Hebrew, Yochanan exposed the double role of the Israelite prophet, who not only rebuked a sinful Israel in the role of God’s messenger, but confronted God on Israel’s behalf and interceded for his flock. One has the sure sense that Yochanan had attained a comprehensive and uniquely original insight into the meaning of the human-divine encounter.
It is already evident that Yochanan’s brilliant achievements on both of his paths, and his passionate efforts as a teacher and colleague, have inspired students of Torah in its widest dimensions.
יהי זכרו ברוך
Baruch A. Levine
New York University
Professor Leon A. Feldman passed away on July 23, 2008, at the age of 87 after a brief battle with cancer.
Born in Berlin to a rabbinic family, he left Germany during the Nazi period, lived in England and then Canada during the war, and finally made his way to the United States. He received rabbinic ordination and a Doctor of Hebrew Literature degree from Yeshiva University and later earned two PhDs, one in Jewish history from Columbia and another in theology from Amsterdam. These degrees supplemented his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oxford.
Feldman, who was also the recipient of the Rabbi Judah Leib Maimon Prize for Rabbinic Literature and Jewish History, founded the Department of Hebraic Studies at Rutgers University and taught there from 1962-1992, serving as Distinguished Professor of Hebraic Studies. He was also the founding rector of the College of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg.
After his retirement from Rutgers, he devoted his energies to a career in public service in the realm of international relations between Jews and representatives of other faiths, particularly Christianity. As primary interfaith consultant to the World Jewish Congress and to the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, Feldman turned his attention to the large issues addressed by interfaith meetings at the highest international level. He cultivated relationships with Christian clergy of virtually all denominations, commanding both their respect and their friendship in the face of the most contentious issues, ranging from Israeli-Palestinian relations to the opening of Vatican archives relevant to the action or inaction of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War.
Both as a distinguished scholar and an engaged intellectual and communal leader, Leon Feldman will be sorely missed.
Our colleague Wolf Leslau was born on November 14, 1906. in Krzepice, 20 miles northwest of the famed city of Czestochowa. He was orphaned at a young age, but an older brother kept the family functioning, and at eighteen, he graduated from a Polish high school that devoted a considerable part of its curriculum to Hebrew and Jewish subjects; such schools were common in the reconstituted Polish state after World War I. In his teen years, he joined the left-wing Zionist movement Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa’ir and after high school, prepared himself for moving to Israel and joining a kibbutz. The British, however, refused him an entry permit to Palestine, apparently because he showed signs of having had tuberculosis. His mother, who died from the disease, would seat him on her lap and share her food with him when he was a child, and Wolf was sure that he contracted the disease from her. Instead of tilling the soil of Palestine, he was destined to break ground of a different sort.
A series of peregrinations ensued, which reached their happy culmination two decades later in Los Angeles. The first step, in 1926, was a move to Vienna, where he enrolled in the Hebrew Pedagogium. The Pedagogium boasted faculty of university caliber, but Wolf was more interested in a working agreement between the school and the University of Vienna, which allowed students in the former to enroll in the latter. At the University, he studied Akkadian, Arabic, and a subject far off the beaten path that he found especially intriguing–the South Arabic family of languages. Not least of all, soon after arriving in Vienna, he met Charlotte Halpern, who would be his loving and supportive partner for more than seventy years.
In 1931, Wolf moved with Charlotte to Paris in order to study with Marcel Cohen, an expert on the languages of Ethiopia. He received diplomas in South Arabic and the Ethiopian languages, a language family related to South Arabic; as a dissertation, he wrote an etymological dictionary of Sokotri, one of the South Arabic dialects; and he began teaching South Arabic and Ethiopian languages. After the French capitulated in 1940, he and Charlotte fled to the South. He was interned by the Vichy authorities, managed to get released, and with Charlotte and their infant daughter escaped to New York in 1942. He held part time positions at an École des hautes études that had been created in New York for refugee scholars, at the Asia Institute, and at the New School for Social Research. In 1951, he received an appointment at Brandeis, was still an Associate Professor in 1955, and was not especially happy with the atmosphere at Brandeis, which was in its infancy. Then he and Paul Dodd, Dean of Letters and Science at UCLA, were introduced.
UCLA had begun a program in Hebrew with the help of funds contributed by members of the Jewish community and it committed itself to funding a permanent position should the experiment succeed. The university was now ready to fulfill its commitment, but Dodd envisaged something grander–a Department of Near Eastern Languages and a Center for Near Eastern Studies. The meeting with Wolf was a meeting of kindred spirits. After Dodd made short work of having the appropriate faculty committee affix its approval, Wolf was hired in 1955 as Professor of Hebrew. He was housed in the Department of Classics, and a Professor of Arabic, Irfan Kawar (Shahid), was appointed and housed in Oriental Languages. Wolf was added to the Committee on Near Eastern Studies, became chairman of the Committee in the following year, and then made one of his many contributions to the university by recommending, and pushing for, the appointment of Gustave Von Grunebaum as the first Director of a Center for Near Eastern Studies. Both men had the ear of the Administration, each gave the other unstinting cooperation, and the days were happy ones when funding was plentiful. Further appointments in Near Eastern languages and in the social sciences followed.
In 1959, the University established a department of Near Eastern Languages; for a time it was a department of Near Eastern and African Languages and eventually chose for itself its current name, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. The initial faculty consisted of professors of Hebrew, Semitic, Arabic, and Persian-Turkish, who had hitherto been housed in the Departments of Classics and Oriental Languages. Wolf was chairman, a capacity in which he served until 1965. Despite having had no previous administrative experience, he was strikingly adept at the job, establishing a warm rapport with the university administration and proving himself an efficient and visionary departmental administrator. In those days, the chancellor had a yearly reception for faculty. A few remaining souls–their hair long since gone white–will recall how Wolf would gather new faculty before the reception and, like a proud mother hen escorting her chicks, present them to the chancellor and deans so that they could see how well university resources were being utilized. More likely than not, he would knock on the administration’s door a few months later to request funding for an additional appointment. The Leslau-Von Grunebaum “master plan” gave the Department form and direction as it grew, although not every element was implemented. The university deemed other demands more pressing, for example, than professorships in the languages and literatures of all the Eastern Churches–Armenian, Geez, Syriac, and even Georgian. The Department today has a healthy Armenian program and offers occasional courses in Syriac language, but the other components of the Eastern Church concept fell by the wayside. Wolf nonetheless sowed the seeds that developed into the breadth and strengths of today’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.
For his dictionary of Sokotri, he relied on materials collected by Austrian researchers who, early in the nineteenth century, visited the areas where the language was spoken. He was eager, however, to do his own field work, and after the war, from 1946 into the 70’s, made repeated trips to Ethiopia in order to record languages and dialects that were spoken in outlying pockets but had no writing system. He wrote down what he heard on index cards and when tape recorders became available–and he was able to convince customs officers, with a helpful word from Emperor Haile Selassie himself, to allow the mysterious machine into the country without the payment of a king’s ransom in fees–he employed that device as well. One of the deans would ask him when he returned from field trips: “Well, Wolf, how many new languages did you discover this time.”
On returning to the United States and then when the Emperor was deposed and travel to Ethiopia was no longer feasible, he resorted to informants from Ethiopia who happened to be here. An ingenious tactic of his was to have a speaker of one of the village dialects who was also literate in Amharic write down, in his native tongue and in Amharic characters, his recollections of village life. A number of volumes in this vein, representing various languages and dialects, were later published, in transliteration and translation, under the title Ethiopians Speak. They still serve linguists and anthropologists.
He molded the materials he gathered into a prodigious number of publications, and his full bibliography, which also includes an invaluable reference grammar and dictionary of Amharic, as well as studies in Hebrew, Arabic, and general Semitics, exceeds 300 entries. His approach, once he had recorded materials, was more along the lines of traditional philology than of modern linguistics.
His final book, published in 2004, The verb in Masqan as Compared with Other Gurage Dialects, was based on material gathered years earlier. Anyone reading the introduction would visualize an author at the height of his scholarly powers; it is hard to comprehend how the book could have come from the hands of a frail ninety-seven year old with failing eye sight. Upon completing the Masqan book, Wolf, as a matter of course, turned to a study of another of the Gurage dialects, Gogot. But age had finally taken its toll, and he was unable to bring that project to completion.
He was recognized as the world authority on Ethiopian languages. Grover Hudson of Michigan State University describes him in an obituary as “the greatest Semiticist linguist of the post-war generation.” Among the many honors that he received, he especially cherished the Haile Selassie Prize for Ethiopian Studies-he was the second recipient, Marcel Cohen having been the first–and an honorary degree from the Hebrew University
Charlotte Leslau died in 1998, and Wolf, full of days, on November 18, 2006. He is survived by his daughters Eliane and Sylvia, four granddaughters, and six great-grandchildren.
Tikva Frymer was a student at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America when the late Moshe Held, one of the luminaries among her teachers, urged her to transfer to Yale to study Assyriology and Sumerology. She arrived in New Haven in 1965 and quickly became part of a kind of “golden age” in the annals of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, with large classes that included many future Assyriologists. Knowing her interest in law, as her dissertation supervisor I suggested the judicial ordeal in the Bible and the ancient Near East. Tikva treated this topic exhaustively in two lengthy volumes; my only regret is that she never published them. Even so, the study led a kind of underground existence in its University Microfilm version (1977), and has been frequently cited ever since. In fact, it was the appearance of numerous shorter studies on the same subject by other scholars that made Tikva feel that she had to continually update her manuscript if she was to publish it at all.
Before and after getting her degree at Yale, Tikvah taught at a women’s college in the Washington area and at American University. Here Tikva taught general courses in the humanities and in religion. Her first chance to teach in her own fields of specialization came with her appointment to Wayne State College (now University) in Detroit. For Tikva, the proximity to Ann Arbor was all-important – professionally because of the resources of the University of Michigan, and personally because she had in the meantime (1975) married Rabbi Allan Kensky who led a Conservative synagogue in Ann Arbor.
When it became clear that she would not be nominated for tenure at Wayne State, Tikva moved to Ann Arbor and served in a succession of adjunct positions there. This period saw the first flowering of her publication activities. Several seminal articles reflected her interest in law and ethics, dealing with perennial cruces such as the moral dimensions of the Deluge, or the Red Heifer of Numbers 19. She also launched major book projects, of which the most important was certainly In The Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Transformation of Pagan Myth(1993), a book which established her reputation as a major figure in the comparative study of biblical religion. It is cited whenever the consequences of Israelite monotheism are at issue, and presents a breakthrough assessment of these consequences, particularly in gender terms. As she was the first to see and document, the elimination of female deities forced the Israelite conception of the unitary deity to assume both male and traditional female functions such as protection of pregnant mothers or newborn babies. Her intimate acquaintance with both sides of the Biblical/Babylonian equation stood her in good stead in her comparative approach.
The extraordinary success of her first book led Tikva inexorably into the field of gender studies, at a time when that field was high on the agenda of Biblical studies.. Her next book-length work was a highly original and personal anthology of women’s prayers entitled Motherprayer:The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion (1995). The volume was intentionally non-denominational or inter-denominational, and included not only selections from various religious traditions, but also significant numbers of her own poetic creations on Jewish themes. It was followed by a sensitive translation from Hebrew of From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven by Ari Elon (1996) and an edition of essays on Biblical women, Reading the Women of the Bible: A new Interpretation of Their Stories (2002), which won both the Koret Jewish Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award. She also served as co-editor of two books, Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (1998) and Christianity in Jewish Terms (2000).
Tikva’s personal odyssey included a stay in Philadelphia which assured her daughter Meira and son Eitan of adequate Jewish and general schooling and afforded her husband Allan the chance to accept a call from his (and her) alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he served as dean for a number of years. Tikva herself took a position at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College on the northernmost edge of Philadelphia, a commute almost as long as her husband’s to New York. In addition to teaching, she served there as director of biblical studies.
Tikva’s appointment to the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in 1995 recognized her ecumenical interests as well as her place in women’s studies. And it finally represented a position worthy of her talents. Initially she commuted from Philadelphia, but when Allan was invited to lead the conservative synagogue in Wilmette (and both children had finished high school), the couple had no hesitation in moving back to the Middle West. Unfortunately the illness that eventually felled her had already attacked, but nothing daunted her. She plunged fully into academic life. She became a member of the Biblical Colloqium, and was elected a fellow of this Academy. In addition she was always active in the American Oriental Society and attended many of its meetings, as well as those of the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. This year, many of her essays were collected and reprinted as Studies in Bible: Feminist Criticism (2006) in the Jewish Publication Society’s “Scholars of Distinction” series, making her the first woman scholar to be so honored.
She died on August 31st, 2006 at the age of 62. She will be sorely missed by her family, by her colleagues, by her students, and not least by her teachers.
William W. Hallo
Isaac Eisenstein-Barzilay was born in 1915 in the town of Vilkovishk (Vilkaviskis) in Lithuania where his mother was born and raised. As a child he was brought to Yashenofki (Jasionowka), in northeast Poland, where he grew up in the midst of his father’s extended family. He received a traditional Jewish education with a strong devotion to the Hebrew language imparted to him by his rabbinic father. It was already during these early years that Isaac began to use the name Barzilay. At the conclusion of his elementary studies, he was enrolled in the Tachkimoni middle school followed by the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bialystok. In this more cosmopolitan atmosphere, his traditional upbringing was challenged and enriched by new secular currents infecting the Jewish world of Eastern Europe, especially Socialism and Zionism. No doubt they left an indelible impact on the young Barzilay, on the formation of his identity and professional aspirations for years to come.
In 1933, a year after completing Gymnasium and a year of local Zionist activity, Barzilay enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he was exposed to this newly established center of Jewish academic learning. Barzilay studied with such luminaries as Dinur, Baer, Tur-Sinai, Roth, Stern, and others who sharpened his scholarly skills and prepared him for his own academic career. With the outbreak of the Second World War Barzilay joined the British navy where he served for more than two years. Following the war, his father and mother, who had by then immigrated to the United States, asked that he join them. He left Israel in 1947 to be with them and his three sisters.
Upon his arrival in New York, he was appointed to the faculty of Herzliah Hebrew Academy while beginning his doctoral studies at Columbia University under Professor Salo W. Baron. His doctoral thesis, submitted in 1955, was entitled: “The Enlightenment and the Jews: A Study of Haskalah and Nationalism.” It represented a highly ambitious undertaking of tracing the roots of Hebrew nationalistic literature through the Berlin and Eastern European Haskalah. As if this wide range were not enough, Barzilay followed the lead of his distinguished teacher in arguing for an Italian Haskalah that had emerged as early as the 16th and 17th centuries. This he described preliminarily in this thesis and contrasted with its later Berlin counterpart. This work surely represented the springboard of much of his later academic writing on Italian, German, Eastern European, and Yishuv/Israeli literature which would occupy him throughout his academic career. No doubt, the creative tensions between Jewish nationalistic and diasporic currents and between traditionalism and secularism reflected in these studies embodied similar tensions in his own life experience as well.
Following the completion of his doctoral studies and a brief teaching appointment at Wayne State University in Detroit, Barzilay was offered a regular academic position at Columbia University in 1959 where he remained until his retirement some twenty-five years later. His fascination with the roots of the Jewish enlightenment within Italy led to two of his most important books: Between Reason and Faith: Anti-Rationalsm in Italian Jewish Thought 1250-1650 and Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo [Yashar of Candia ]: His Life, Works and Times. In the first, he focused on a cluster of Italian Jewish thinkers whom he considered to be anti-rationalist, who opposed the intrusion of secular learning into Jewish culture. In the second, Barzilay composed a highly ambitious intellectual biography of a most recondite intellectual figure of the seventeenth century, trying to make sense of his seemingly simultaneous embrace of modern science and kabbalah. Barzilay’s conclusions in both books were challenged by later scholarship but his contribution in treating thinkers previously neglected and in raising important issues at the heart of early modern Jewish culture was enormous. Barzilay’s pioneering work inspired a younger group of scholars to look seriously at the intellectual history of Italian Jewry.
Following the programmatic outline of his doctoral dissertation, Barzilay published a series of well-known essays on the Berlin Haskalah and especially on Moses Mendelssohn himself. His study comparing the Italian with the Berlin Haskalah became a classic formulation of how one might account for the similarities and differences between early modern and modern Jewish cultures. He also made major contributions to the study of the Eastern European Haskalah, especially in his two books: Shlomo Yehudah Rappaport and His Contemporaries and Manasseh of Ilya: Precurser of Modernity among the Jews of Eastern Europe. Besides his books and articles written in English, Barzilay continued to write extensively in Hebrew, especially in Ha-Doar, dealing with a wide range of subjects of modern Hebrew literature. Especially noteworthy were his essays on Smolenskin, Brenner, Yizhar, Hazaz and Agnon.
Barzilay was an exciting and engaging teacher and attracted many fine students to his popular classes at Columbia. He was also an active leader of the American Academy for Jewish Research, serving for many years as its president. He and his beloved wife Chaya both played critical roles in building the academic community of American Jewish studies and will be remembered for their vital contributions for years to come. May the memory of Professor Barzilay be a blessing to us all.
Sharona and Joshua Barzilay, David B. Ruderman
Our colleague Arthur Hertzberg died at the age of 84 on April 17, 2006. A scholar of modern Jewish history and thought, he was the premier Jewish public intellectual/activist in America in the second half of the twentieth century. A practicing Conservative rabbi, he also held teaching positions at several universities, especially Columbia University and New York University, where he influenced generations of students and future scholars.
Hertzberg took great pride in his rabbinic lineage and his family connection to the Belz Hasidim. Born in southeastern Poland on June 9, 1921, the oldest of five children, he immigrated with his family to the United States, living in Youngstown, Ohio and then Baltimore. Although he retained great respect for his Orthodox rabbi father, by his mid-teens, when he was a student at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied history and oriental languages, he had chosen to identify as a modern Jew. He turned to the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained in 1943. Like many of his generation, he was influenced there by his teacher Mordecai Kaplan. During a tour of duty as an Air Force chaplain in Great Britain, he met Phyllis Cannon, whom he married in 1950. They had two daughters, Linda and Susan.
As a congregational rabbi at Temple Emanu-el in New Jersey, Hertzberg played a major role on the national stage as a social and religious activist. He spoke his mind on the questions of the day and enjoyed taking unpopular stands. An early and prominent figure in interfaith dialogue with representatives of the Catholic Church, in 1971he chaired the first Jewish delegation to meet with the Vatican on the issue of the Church’s role in the Holocaust. Although he argued the case of the Church’s moral failure, he warned American Jews not to place the Holocaust as the cornerstone of Jewish identity. He took part in the civil rights movement of the 60s seeing the struggle for racial justice as a Jewish reponsibility. Within the Jewish community, he was a leader of both the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, serving respectively as president and as vice-president. In the heady period of triumph following the Six-Day War, he boldlycalled for the formation of a Palestinian state.
Hertzberg always combined scholarship and political commentary with his rabbinic duties. His articles appeared in major opinion journals and in the New York Times.In 1959 he published the now classic collection, The Zionist Idea, still used in many courses. Not only are the collected texts well-chosen but the long introductory essay remains relevant. Hertzberg pursued graduate studies at Columbia University, from which he received his Ph.D. His revised dissertation, published in 1968 as The French Enlightenment and the Jews, combined a study of the Enlightenment and its attitudes toward Jews and Judaism with a socio-economic and political survey of French Jewry. His critique of the Enlightenment for its failure to validate differentness was much dismissed at the time but has subsequently become widely accepted, although his identifying Voltaire as the connecting link between ancient and modern antisemitism has not. In his later years Hertzberg continued to be an active scholar, publishing several volumes on American Jewry, including Jews in America: Four centuries of an Uneasy Encounter. He also wrote an autobiographical book entitled A Jew in America: My Life and a People’s Struggle for Identity.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
The world of Biblical and Near Eastern scholarship lost one of its leading lights with the death of Professor Hayim Tadmor, a Corresponding Fellow of the Academy, on Sunday December 11, 2005 (10 Kislev, 5766) at the age of 82. Born in Harbin, China in 1923, he arrived in Israel in 1935 and later studied at the Hebrew University, the University of London, and the University of Chicago. From 1958-1993 he taught at the Hebrew University, where he founded the Department of Assyriology. He was a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and, since his retirement from teaching, had served as its Vice President.
Hayim Tadmor was an historian who specialized in Biblical and Mesopotamian history and historiography, in which fields he made numerous ground-breaking contributions. The crowning jewels of his illustrious and productive scholarly career are The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III King of Assyria (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994) and the Anchor Bible commentary on Second Kings, which he co-authored with Mordechai Cogan (II Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible, vol. 11, Doubleday, 1988). In addition, he was the Editor of the final volumes of the Entsiklopedyah miḳraʼit (vols. 6-8). A volume of his collected articles will be published in 2006 in Hebrew with the English title Assyria, Babylonia and Judah. Studies in the History of the Ancient Near East, edited by Mordechai Cogan (Mosad Bialik and the Israel Exploration Society, 2006).
Tadmor’s early training at the Hebrew University included Biblical studies and the Second Temple Period under the tutelage of Benjamin Mazar and Gedaliahu Alon. Fellows of the Academy will be interested in the fact that he played a role in the posthumous publication of Alon’s lecture notes as Toldot ha-Yehudim be-Erets-Yisraʼel bi-teḳufat ha-Mishnah veha-Talmud (1952; he is the Hayim Frumstein identified in E. Z. Melamed’s preface as supplementing Shmuel Safrai’s lecture notes). He later studied Assyriology with Sidney Smith at the University of London and with Benno Landsberger at the University of Chicago.
Among Tadmor’s notable qualities was his openness toward students, whom he welcomed and treated as peers, and with whom he developed warm friendships and fruitful collaborative relationships.
Tadmor was honored with two Festschriften, the first Ah, Assyria… Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Hayim Tadmor, ed. M. Cogan and I. Ephʽal. Scripta Hierosolymitana 33 (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991) and the second, dedicated also to his wife, the archaeologist Miriam Tadmor, Hayim and Miriam Tadmor Volume. Eretz Israel 27, ed. I. Eph`al, A. Ben-Tor, and P. Machinist (Jerusalem : The Israel Exploration Society, The Hebrew University, and The Israel Museum, 2003). He was also an honorary member of the American Oriental Society, a Fellow at the Annenberg Research Institute (now the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania ) and a recipient of the Rothschild Prize in Humanities (2000). Most recently, he was honored by the Israel Academy with a symposium on “Assyrian Royal Inscriptions: History, Historiography and Ideology” (November 20, 2003 ).
Above all, Tadmor was a lively and colorful player on the Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern scene who was beloved by colleagues and numerous students whom he inspired, many of whom are today leading scholars of Biblical and Mesopotamian history and literature in Israel and elsewhere.
Hayim Tadmor is survived by his wife, Miriam, their children David and Naomi, and four grandchildren.
Further biographical information and lists of publications can be found in Prof. Tadmor’s Festschriften.
Avigdor Hurowitz and Jeffrey H. Tigay
The death on June 23 of our colleague Professor Nahum Sarna at the age of 82 was a sad moment for Jewish scholarship.
Through his publications, his teaching and the disciples he inspired and trained, Sarna was one of the most influential Judaic scholars of the second half of the 20th century and one whose contribution to the appreciation of the Bible among English-speaking Jews was unsurpassed. His scholarship was notable for the lucidity of his thought, the breadth of his learning, his exegetical acumen and his unsurpassed sensitivity to the ethical and spiritual dimensions of the Bible and its commentaries.
Nahum Sarna was a distinguished member of a small group of American and Israeli scholars who guided Jewish biblical scholarship to maturity in the second half of the 20th century. As he noted in the preface to his book, Studies in Biblical Interpretation (Jewish Publication Society), two of the major stimuli for the growth of modern Jewish biblical scholarship have been “research into the languages, literatures, history, religions, cultures and archaeology of the ancient Near East” and creative research into the rich Jewish exegetical tradition. Sarna and his contemporaries united these two resources in a harmonious blend that is common, even if not universal, today.
Sarna’s scholarship was characterized by a strong literary orientation, ferreting out the unifying compositional strategies, recurring motifs and structure of the biblical text as he explicated it. These aims helped explain his reservations about the usefulness of source criticism, the scholarly method that seeks to identify earlier literary sources used in the composition of biblical books.
Parting company with much contemporary scholarship, Sarna became increasingly convinced — apparently as he began writing his commentaries — that source criticism is overly hypothetical and of limited value, and that what the final text says is more interesting than its history. Hence, his commentaries are not based on “dissecting a literary corpse,” but are concerned with, as he wrote, the Bible as “a living literature and a dynamic force in history.”
Nahum Sarna was born in London on March 27, 1923, to Jacob and Millie Sarna. His father, a learned Jewish book dealer who knew the German classics as well as Jewish literature, filled his home with books. Sarna was taught Bible stories from a young age. His father was also a Zionist leader and as a youngster Sarna met the Jewish leaders and scholars, such as Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Moses Gaster and Benjamin Maisler (Mazar) who visited his home.
While in elementary school Sarna also attended an intensive Talmud Torah (after-hours Hebrew school) for some 13 hours a week. He later attended London’s all-day Jewish Secondary School which taught both Jewish and secular studies, and he spent an additional two hours a day studying Talmud at a yeshiva. At age sixteen he matriculated at the University of London, where he studied rabbinics, Semitics and Bible in Jews’ College (London’s Rabbinical Seminary, then a part of the University), general studies at University College, and medieval Hebrew and Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies.
In 1947, he married Helen Horowitz, whom he met when the two were teenagers in a religious Zionist youth movement. He was her first Hebrew teacher, and she went on to become a learned Hebraist and Judaica librarian and to maintain an active involvement in all of Sarna’s work. The Sarnas’ sons David and Jonathan were born, respectively, in 1949 and 1955.
During his student years Sarna’s main field was rabbinic literature, and he had a particular interest in the Geonic literature of the post-Talmudic period. But after receiving his bachelor’s degree. and being appointed as an instructor (later lecturer) of Hebrew and Bible in University College, he began to realize that one could not do justice to the Bible without a first-hand knowledge of the literatures and cultures of biblical Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors. After a brief stay in Israel, he came to the United States in 1951 to continue his studies at Philadelphia’s Dropsie College, where he received his doctorate in 1955.
While studying at Dropsie, Sarna taught at Philadelphia’s Gratz College and also became the first of several distinguished scholars-in-residence at Har Zion Temple. In 1957 his broad knowledge of Jewish literature led to his simultaneous appointments as a member of the Bible department and as librarian at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. In 1965 he accepted an appointment at Brandeis University, where he served as the Dora Golding Professor of Bible until his retirement in 1985.
After his retirement Sarna served for several years as the academic consultant of the Jewish Publication Society. Following a move to Boca Raton, Fla., both Sarnas were called out of retirement to help develop Florida Atlantic University’s Judaic Studies program.
Ever the pedagogue, one of the most important aspects of Sarna’s scholarly career has been his devotion to scholarly projects that serve Jewish communal needs. All of his books have been written with lay as well as scholarly readers in mind. Understanding Genesis (1966), originally published by the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Melton Research Center for Jewish Education, was written to inform Bible teachers about modern scholarship on Genesis.
Its appeal turned out to be much broader, leading to its republication by Schocken and setting the pattern for Exploring Exodus (1986) and the more recent Songs of the Heart: An Introduction to the Book of Psalms.
From 1966 to 1981 Sarna served, along with Moshe Greenberg, and Jonas C. Greenfield, on the committee that translated the Writings (Ketuvim) for the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (1982). In 1973, Sarna and Chaim Potok initiated the five-volume JPS Torah Commentary (1989-96) for which Sarna served as the scholarly editor and author of the commentaries on Genesis and Exodus.
In an interesting twist of history, an abridged version of the JPS Torah Commentary was published in 2001 as part of the Conservative movement’s one-volume Torah commentary Etz Hayim to replace the venerable Pentateuch and Haftorahs edited by Joseph H. Hertz. Sarna was brought up on Hertz’s commentary, and Hertz was the chief rabbi of the British Empire and president of Jews College when Sarna was a student there 60 years earlier.
Throughout his life, Sarna was honored in many ways for his contributions to scholarship, winning numerous scholarly awards and honorary doctorates. No scholar has done as much to educate English-speaking Jewry about the Bible, and he did so in the conviction that intelligent readers prefer serious scholarship lucidly presented over popularizing simplifications. The response to his books has proven him correct.
Jeffrey H. Tigay
University of Pennsylvania
Our mother, Chaya (Helly) Barzilay, served with excellence for many years as the executive secretary of the American Academy of Jewish Research. Under her able administration the Academy saw its endowment grow and its activities expand.
She was born in Vienna in the inter-war years. She was raised in a traditional Jewish home and received a strong Hebrew, Zionist education in the Chajes Gymnasium. By her teen years she was fluent in Hebrew and knew the Bible well. With the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich, her life, and that of her family, was violently disrupted. She saw her father’s business systematically emptied of its contents by the organized Nazi looting of Jewish property, her home ransacked, and her father taken to prison many times simply for being a Jew. On one occasion, when confronted by the Gestapo to rip up a Jewish prayer book, she refused to do so and was beaten for so refusing. In February 1939 she parted from her parents and went to Palestine with Aliyat HaNoar.
It can be said that these were among the happiest years of her life. She was in awe of the beauty of Eretz Yisrael. In the letters she wrote about her experiences, which we recently had the privilege to read (kept by our aunt Erika in Israel), a love for the land and its people suffuses all aspects of the writings. The blueness of the sky, the idealism of building the Land, and above all, living a Jewish life, were all movingly written about in these letters.
In those days of Jewish tragedy, in which Zionism was a secular movement, trying to free itself from the fetters of the “old ways,” it would have been easy for our mother to have abandoned the traditional ways and to embrace the “new” secular way. Not so our mother! In all the years that she spent on secular kibbutzim she kept the laws of kashrut and did not eat meat. Likewise, she kept the laws of Shabbat. For this, she gained the respect of her friends. Witness that even 60 years after these times, our family in the United States, and the descendant families of those who knew her in Israel, remain in contact.
In 1947, our mother’s mother passed away, and our grandfather called for our mother to be with him in New York. Being the unselfish and giving person that she was, she acceded to her father’s request, even though it meant tearing herself away from Israel and its people. It may be said of our mother thereafter, ani ba’maarav, ve’leebi ba’mizrah (I am in the West but my heart is in the East).
From that time on, our mother remained in New York. First she devotedly helped her father and sister. Thereafter she met my father (1949) and devoted herself to him, building an atmosphere at home that allowed him to pursue his academic career (typing and editing his manuscripts as well) to become the noted scholar that he is today. Then too she gave of herself to both of us and saw to it that we received the best Jewish education that America had to offer. She also pursued her own studies and graduated from the Teacher’s Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. She taught primary Hebrew school for many years, as well as in the Prozdor program at the JTS. She thereby educated several generations of Jewish children who have now taken their place in the mainstream of American Jewish society, and, in some cases, Israeli society.
In the 1960s, our grandfather purchased burial plots in Yerushalayim. He and his wife were buried there. It is only fitting that our mother should have the z’chut (merit) to now be buried next to her parents whom she loved. She is also “back home,” in the heart of Am Yisrael, the spiritual home where her soul had always been and to which she had craved to return.
Eishet hayil mi yim’zah ve’rahok me’pninim mich’rah… A woman of valor is hard to find, her worth is above precious stones. She was a true bat Yisrael, a daughter of Israel.
May her memory be blessed and may her soul find peace in Gan Eden.
Franz Rosenthal was born in Berlin on August 31, 1914, and died at Hospice in Branford, CT, on April 8, 2003, at age 88. He was the son of Kurt W. and Elsa (Kirschstein) Rosenthal, who immigrated with him to the USA, but much of the rest of his family, including his brother Gunther, perished in the Nazi death camps. Rosenthal received his Ph.D. in Oriental Studies from the University of Berlin in 1935, and later taught at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. As early as 1938, he won the coveted Lizdbarski Medal for his work on Die aramaistische Forschung : seit Theodor Nöldeke’s Veröffentlichungen (published 1939), although the actual receipt of the award was blocked by the looming war. After enigration, he taught at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, an appointment interrupted by wartime service in uniform as a translator for the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA). In 1948 he was appointed professor of Arabic at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1956 he became the Louis M. Rabinowitz Professor at Yale University, where he remained for the rest of his career, rising to Sterling Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures in 1967. He retired in 1985, having served as chair of the department from 1982-85, and for many years as chair of the advisory committee to the prestigious Yale Judaica Series, an enterprise in which he took a close personal interest. Prof. Rosenthal raised numerous disciples, among them many who specialized in Jewish studies or in the relationship between Jewish and Islamic culture such as Jacob Lassner, Abraham Udovich, Joel Kraemer, Alan Littofsky, Yonah Sabar, Steven Kaufman, Tamar Frank, and Seth Ward. His numerous books dealt with many aspects of Arabic literature and Islamic religion, but such was their relevance for the broader field of humanistic studies that he was awarded honorary degrees and prominent prizes in Israel and elsewhere, and became a fellow of the AAJR as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He was a long-time member of the American Oriental Society and its president from 1964-65, and an honorary member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Societe Asiatique, and the Deutsche Morgenlaendische Gesellschaft. He set a standard for the field of Aramaic with his Aramaic Handbook even while publishing more than a dozen pathbreaking works in his primary field of Arabic studies.
Moshe Perlmann, who was the oldest living Fellow of the Academy, passed away on September 7, 2001. He left his son Joel, a research professor at Bard College; his daughter-in-law Rivka; and two grandchildren, Noam and Maya.
He was born in Odessa in 1905. The family spent a few years in Budapest and returned to Odessa at the outbreak of World War I. Moshe studied at the University of Odessa but–fortunately for him and for us–he was arrested for Jewish socialist activity and expelled from the country in 1924. Forty-nine years passed before he was able to return and visit with his remaining siblings and an aunt. His first-hand taste of Soviet communism helped form his outlook on life and the world.
He lived in Palestine from 1924 to 1937 and studied Arabic and Islamics at the Hebrew University. There too he found an unpopular social issue with which to identify. He belonged to a group that tried to open membership in the Histadrut labor movement to Arab workers, and Ben Gurion himself had the handful of dissidents stricken from Mapai rolls. For whatever reason, he left Palestine and did his PhD. at the University of London. The degree read “Islamic History,” although the dissertation and Moshe’s interests lay in the areas of language and literature, and Tritton, the man with whom he studied, was by no means a historian. After a little hesitation, Moshe once explained to the present writer that had he chosen, he could have had the degree read “Arabic,” but conscience had prevented him from doing so. No one, after all, can master the Arabic language, and who therefore was he to make such a claim?
He came to the United States in 1940, where he married Ida Brenner, whom he had known from his years in Palestine. His fondness for his “Idie,” as he called her, and her fondness for him, were palpable. From 1941-1955, he taught at Herzelia in New York and during some of those years also had part-time appointments at the New School and Dropsie College. From 1955 until 1961, he held the position of Lecturer in Israeli studies at Harvard. In 1961 he was appointed Professor of Arabic at the University of California, Los Angeles and he retired in 1973.
Of the languages he spoke, Hebrew was his favorite, and his Hebrew was pure and elegant. One of his close relatives tells that during a visit in the final weeks he asked Moshe whether he needed pain medication. The questioner slipped and employed a masculine adjective with a feminine noun. Moshe, in his barely audible reply, ignored the question itself and corrected the gender of the adjective. He certainly was not oblivious to pain; Hebrew gender agreement nevertheless took priority. Although uncompromising in principles, he was gentle and indeed passive in his person. He was not, as will have been gathered, the most practical human being. He was entirely free of pretense, pretentiousness, hypocrisy, cant, and any synonym of those words that one can think of. It was as if he had once studied a self-help book on the ten ways to further oneself in the modern world–and thenceforth scrupulously avoided every piece of advice in book. He was a secular person. Yet he would read the Pentateuch through the year. And the only occasion in which the present writer can recall his explicitly criticizing someone by name–ordinarily he would at most show disapproval by frowning, turning his head to the side, and making a dismissive downward gesture with his hand–was when a Jewish member of the UCLA community with an Israeli background organized a conference of some sort on Yom Kippur.
He obviously was a man of rare character.
He was profoundly cynical about humankind–but how could anyone who witnessed the events of the twentieth century be so insensitive as not to be cynical? He was inveterately suspicious of any and all ideologies. And he stood in dread of fanaticism in any guise, whether secular or religious. Just four days after his death, the United States was sickened to see that what religious fanaticism has long been doing in far-off lands could also be done on American soil.
The heart of his scholarly interests was Islamic-Jewish-Christian polemics, and he gave the scholarly world critical editions and translations of three significant Arabic texts. The first of them is an attack on the Jewish religion by a twelfth century Jewish convert to Islam, Samau’al al-Maghribi–whom Moshe sometimes affectionately called his “meshummad.” The second is a dispassionate account of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, by the thirteenth century Jewish polymath, Ibn Kammuna. In his introduction to the text and again in his introduction to the translation, which was published in a separate volume, Moshe quotes an anecdote from a medieval Arabic historian. The historian relates that a few years after Ibn Kammuna finished the book, he barely escaped with the skin of his teeth from a Muslim mob that wanted to tear him to pieces for having insulted the Islamic faith by treating Islam in a dispassionate tone; it is noteworthy that the grand qadi of Baghdad connived at Ibn Kammuna’s escape. The third text is a work by Ahmad al-Damanhuri, an eighteenth century Islamic cleric, who proved conclusively from Islamic legal sources that all the Christian churches of Cairo had to be destroyed. The thread that Moshe saw connecting the three texts is plain. He openly expresses admiration for Ibn Kammuna and contempt for the other two, yet he draws no further lesson. The texts are allowed to speak for themselves, and readers are left to draw whatever moral they can.
His scholarly interests extended to other areas as well. He translated volume four of Tabari’s history and published a good number of articles and reviews in the areas of Arabic, Islamics, and Jewish Studies. His wariness about big ideas in human affairs carried over into his scholarship, and he invariably focused on facts and small points, while eschewing overriding theories. He would particularly seek out what he loved to call the “piquant.” A number of his articles deal with Russian-Jewish periodic literature, and he had a particular interest in the writer and publicist Lev Levanda. Writing on Russian Jewish publicists was not the surest path for advancing one’s career as a Professor of Arabic in twentieth century American academia. Considerations of the sort were naturally no disincentive for him.
In a time of much meretricious gold plating, Moshe Perlmann was pure platinum, and it was a privilege to know him.
Tehi nishmato serura bi-seror ha-hayyim.
AAJR Fellow Cyrus Herzl Gordon died on Friday, March 30, 2001, in Brookline, MA at the age of 93. Born in Philadelphia in 1908, Gordon was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (B.A. 1927, M.A. 1928, Ph.D. 1930) and Gratz College (1926), and also studied at Dropsie College, the predecessor of Penn’s center for Advanced Judaic Studies. A consummate linguist, Gordon specialized in Biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies. He was an archaeologist in Palestine and Iraq in the 1930s and taught at Penn, Johns Hopkins, Smith, Princeton, Dropsie, Brandeis, and NYU, from which he retired in 1990. During World War II he spent time as a cryptanalyst deciphering Arabic, Turkish, and Persian codes. He published over 600 scholarly books, monographs and journal articles on a wide range of subjects. One of his most lasting achievements was his grammar of the Ugaritic language, a close cognate of Biblical Hebrew first discovered in 1929. In recent years he had worked on the interpretation of the Semitic dialect of ancient Ebla, Syria, which was first unearthed in the 1970s. Among his more controversial works were his proposed decipherment of the Linear A script from Crete as Semitic and his studies arguing for the common background of Greek and Hebrew civilizations. Just last year he published his autobiography, A Scholar’s Odyssey, describing the people he knew, the ideas that shaped his interpretations and his “philosophy of the interconnectedness of cultures that has been so significant, and sometimes controversial, in his career.” The entire book, including Gordon’s bibliography, can be accessed on-line by members of the Society of Biblical Literature at http://www.sbl-site.org/Publications/PublishingWithSBL/Odyssey.pdf.
Jeffrey H. Tigay
University of Pennsylvania
Last update: Wednesday, 04-Apr-2001 15:16:22 EDT