- Saul Lieberman (1898-1983): Talmudic Scholar and Classicist
One possible measure of the lasting values of scholars' works is whether their books remain in print after their death. Another, perhaps, is whether a memorial volume appeared and which colleagues contributed to it. There are of course additional indications as well. In the case of Shaul Lieberman, it is interesting to note that today, twenty years after his death, probably more of his books are in print then ever were in print at any one time in the past—and to the best of my knowledge, none are remaindered! The slim but interesting volume under review is also a testimony to the enduring interest in Shaul Lieberman. The participants are all major scholars. In most memorial volumes, the articles contributed reflect the current research activities of the authors rather than relate directly to the person in whose memory the volume is produced. What makes this volume interesting is that some of their articles are devoted to a various facets of Shaul [End Page 169] Lieberman's character and research. To a large extent, this book is about Lieberman, and a book written by important colleagues and students about one of the greatest Judaica scholars of this generation is bound to be a valuable and interesting one—and so it is.
The volume is introduced by the editor and by Elie Wiesel. The styles of the two are diametrically opposite but both texts are moving—and enlightening. As noted, the bulk of the volume deals with Lieberman's scholarly output. It is understandably difficult to harness different authors to a standard format and similar scope. In the case of this volume, if there were efforts to have some uniformity, they were not totally successful. While almost always interesting and valuable, there is a certain lack of balance. Dov Zlotnick's article, "The Methodology of Professor Saul Lieberman," takes one particular Mishna and analyzes Lieberman's methodology through his discussion of this Mishna. This short study is fascinating, but, of course, an example of one Mishna, enlightening as it may be, does not exhaust the topic. Two relatively long (for the volume) articles, those of Jacobson and Marblestone, deal with Lieberman the classicist and in particular, with claims that Lieberman was not a master of Greek and Latin. The articles devastate the critiques and leave the reader with the conclusion that if anyone had problems with Greek and Latin, it was the critic and not Lieberman. Abraham Goldberg wrote on ways to use published volumes of Lieberman's works to locate his comments on texts to which he did not write a full commentary. Israel Ta Shma contributed two articles. In his English language one, he dealt with Lieberman's contributions to the study of medieval texts.
There are also a number of articles about topics and not about Lieberman. Menahem Schmelzer contributed an article on the way the high priest in the second temple period was kept awake on Yom Kippur. The editor, Meir Lubetski, contributed an article about a rare word, 'tsaltsal,' in biblical and rabbinic texts. The article by Meir Bar Ilan, Lieberman's nephew, is a return to Lieberman as a topic. He wrote about Lieberman's greatness and his willingness to admit to having made an error. Unfortunately, this characteristic seems to be rarer than it should be in the scholarly world. The Hebrew section contains a fascinating anecdote retold by Israel Ta Shma in three pages (I won't spoil it by summarizing it—it is worth reading) and a five-page learned commentary explaining the anecdote! Since bibliographies of Lieberman's work exist, the book concludes with a bibliography of works about him.
Most of the contents of this book are interesting. Some articles are detailed studies of Lieberman's work, some are unrelated, and some come to praise but not to analyze. Coherence is not an absolute value, but it is still desirable. The articles that were not devoted to Lieberman could have been published...