Monday, May 17, 2010

Moshe Greenberg, z"l

I learned today through the H-Judaic mailing list that Moshe Greenberg passed away.
Professor Greenberg was Professor of Bible at the University of Pennsylvania and then at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for many years. You can read a brief biography by his student and successor at Penn, Jeffrey Tigay, here.

I met Prof. Greenberg in 1993 when I audited his course on medieval Hebrew bible commentary at Hebrew University. It was a course taught in the Bible department aimed mainly at undergraduate Bible majors. I was taking courses for a year after graduating college to fill in some gaps, improve my Hebrew, and prepare myself for graduate study in Jewish history. The class consisted of about 20 undergraduate Bible majors and me. I could keep up with the lectures and class discussion (in Hebrew) but the level of knowledge of the biblical text by the other students floored me. On the other hand, they knew almost nothing about medieval Jewish intellectual history. Prof. Greenberg knew my situation but spoke to me only in Hebrew, even after class.

After I had enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania for graduate study, Prof. Greenberg came (back) to Philadelphia as a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. He greeted me warmly--in English--and asked me about my studies. Later that year, he spoke to some graduate students and told the following story in response to a question about how he had embarked on his career as a Bible scholar:

He (Prof. Greenberg) had travelled around Mexico the summer before his freshman year at Penn. He had fallen in love with the Spanish language and when he got back to Philadelphia he went straight to the chair of the Romance Languages department and declared his intention to major in Spanish. But, he explained to the chair, his love was for the language--its structure and its history--not necessarily the literature, so with whom should he study Spanish philology and linguistics? Ah, exclaimed the chair of the department, we have no one right now who does historical linguistics or the kind of philology that you describe. What other languages do you know, asked the chair to the freshman. Hebrew was the answer Ah, said the chair, then you are in luck: Professor Speiser in Oriental Studies is a first-rate philologist and linguist. Why don't you go see him?

Rest in peace, Professor Greenberg.

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