Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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Y E H E Z K E L K A U F M A N N
1889-1963
B
y
M o s h e G r e e n b e r g
O
N October 9, 1963, Yehezkel Kaufmann, the foremost Jew­
ish biblicist of our time and a profound commentator on
Jewish destiny, died after a long illness. Never married, a small,
ascetic, retiring man, his life was wholly dedicated to thought,
writing and research. Born in Dounaievci (Ukraine), he studied
in the Yeshiva of R. Chaim Tschernowitz (Odessa) and in
Baron Ginzburg’s Academy of Oriental Studies in Petersburg.
He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1918 at the University
of Berne (his dissertation:
A Treatise on the Sufficient Ground
—ueber den Zureichenden Grund).
Thereafter, though he made
a few more contributions to philosophy, his attention focused al­
most exclusively on the complex of issues making up the riddle
of Jewish existence through the ages. He migrated to Palestine in
1929 and soon became “senior teacher of Hebrew subjects” in
the Reali High School in Haifa, where he was to spend the
better part of his creative years. Recognition of his great work
in Bible came belatedly in 1949 when he was appointed to
a professorship in Bible at the Hebrew University, from
which he was retired after eight years. National accolades fol­
lowed: the Bialik prize in 1956, the Israel prize in 1958, and
in 1961 the highest cultural award, the Bublik prize.
Kaufmann’s first major work,
Gola veNekar
(Exile and Aliena­
tion), appeared in 1929-30. It is a four-volume inquiry into Jew­
ish history which of itself would have assured him a place
in the first ranks of Jewish thinkers. Here he set forth his
central thesis, that the singularity of Jewish existence was shaped
by the unique character of Judaism—a religio-ethnic amalgam
that defied all physical and spiritual onslaughts of the centuries
and immunized the Jews to assimilation. Brilliant chapters are
devoted to a critique of historical materialism; the rise of Chris­
tianity and Judaism’s failure to become a world religion; the
culture and ideology of the Galut; the ideals of the emancipa­
tion and Jewish nationalism. Kaufmann never lost interest in
the cultural and social movements of Jewry. Over the years he
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