Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Nicholas de Lange, ed., Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. xiv, 247. Hardback, $ 60. ISBN 0521781167.


Prof. Raphael Loewe has been a very prolific English scholar of Medieval Hebrew and Judaica for over fifty years. His oeuvres include both his own original research and translations of Hebrew classics (such as Solomon Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut, and the forthcoming Isaac Ibn Sahula's Meshal ha-Qadmoni). The present volume is intended as a Festschrift on the occasion of Loewe's eightieth birthday, although this fact does not appear on the title page and is evident only from the dedication, the preface, occasional comments in the articles, and the list of Loewe's publications. Almost all the contributors were at European academic institutions at the time of the composition of their articles, furnishing evidence that Hebrew and Judaic studies are vibrant not only in Israel and the United States. It is a well-deserved tribute to a master scholar.

Although the contributions are generally on a high level, there is a decided unevenness in genre and presentation. The editor informs us that the contributors were chosen in order to provide "surveys of research and status quaestionum written by leading specialists," as well as "expositions of subjects that deserve to be better known" (p. xii). Thus, some of the studies are mostly bibliographical in nature covering whole fields (such as Daniel Frank's "The study of medieval Karaism, 1989-1999," a sequel to an article written ten years previously; Angel Senz-Badillos' "Hebrew philology in Sefarad: the state of the question," and de Lange's own "Hebrew scholarship in Byzantium"), while others are normal academic articles on specific topics, roughly united by the theme of Hebrew in the medieval world (and even that does not hold for the late lamented Michael Weitzman's "The origin of the Qaddish" which deals with a rabbinic text in Aramaic). The editor also has not unified the transcription from Hebrew, especially of names which appear on occasion in academic transcription and at other times in more popular forms (e.g., Sĕadyah and Saadya in the articles; Saadiah in the index).

Although many fields are covered in this volume, the emphasis seems to be on Hebrew linguistic and literary studies, often with a nod to recent developments in the field. Thus, Geoffrey Khan's "The early eastern traditions of Hebrew grammar," discusses some of the earliest Hebrew grammarians, especially in light of material from the former Soviet Union, now available for western researchers. Stefan Reif's "Some recent developments in the study of medieval Hebrew liturgy" reviews scholarship which is often indebted to discoveries in the Cairo Geniza, especially the work of Reif's teacher, the late Naphtali Wieder. Albert van der Heide provides a lexicographical study of a root in Biblical Hebrew. Hebrew poetry receives its due in Joseph Yahalom's "The journey inward: Yehuda Halevi between Christians and Muslims in Spain, Egypt and Palestine"; Masha Itzhaki's, "Abraham ibn Ezra as a harbinger of changes in secular Hebrew poetry," Wot van Bekkum's "O Seville! Ah Castile! Spanish-Hebrew dirges from the fifteenth century;" and Adena Tanenbaum's "On translating medieval Hebrew poetry." This last article is noteworthy since in her discussion of different methodologies of translation, Tanenbaum uses Raphael Loewe's own translations and compares them to the work of other translators.

Medieval Jews did not do their Hebrew scholarship in a vacuum. A number of authors are concerned with mutual influences between Jewish and Christian authors, in grammar (Judith Olszowy-Schlanger Hebrew-Latin manuscripts), Bible commentaries (Colette Sirat on Gersonides), or philosophical literature (Irene E. Zwiep on Profiat Duran). A number of articles make references to Islam as well. A comprehensive survey of the Jewish anti-Christian polemical literature is provided by William Horbury's "Hebrew apologetic and polemical literature."

If there is one glaring omission in this collection it is the lack of any discussion of the use of Hebrew in halakhic literature. Hebrew was a language used not only for "scholarship" in the Middle Ages, but as the language of the Jewish religious civilization, both in its liturgy (as in Reif's article) and its law. It is unfortunate that this aspect of medieval Hebrew is not present here.

Raphael Loewe's first article in 1947, at a time when it appeared that Jewish life in continental Europe had all but been destroyed. In his years of scholarly activity, Loewe has contributed greatly to the continued endurance of Jewish studies in the European arena, and this small volume is testimony to the success of his endeavors. Nicholas de Lange is to be congratulated for his editorial work in honor of his well deserving teacher and friend. 

Daniel J. Lasker
Ben-Gurion University