Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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A. A. ROBACK : IN MEMOR I AM
B
y
H
arry
Z
o h n
T
wo
term s
:
Universalgelehrter
and
Streitbares Leben,
come
to mind when I think of Abraham Aaron Roback, my
honored teacher and fatherly friend, whose death came on
June 5, 1965, at Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is perhaps symp­
tomatic that both are German, for Roback had a truly Prussian
sense of duty and was in the German professorial tradition.
The first term means simply “ polymath,” and it aptly describes
Roback the psychologist, scientist, Yiddishist, cultural historian,
journalist, and folklorist.
Streitbares Leben
is the title of the
autobiography of Max Brod, one o f the most eminent natives
of the polemical city of Prague.
Streitbar
means “ argumentative,”
“ cantankerous,” “ belligerent,” but also “ valiant” and “valorous,”
so that the phrase can be Englished most meaningfully as “ a
fighter’s life.” Brod has called himself an “ unwilling polemicist,”
and this phrase also applies to A. A. Roback. For during his
lifelong championship of a variety of important but not always
popular causes, Dr. Roback met with more than his share of
incomprehension, indifference, and deliberate obfuscation, and
everything he touched seemed to turn into polemics. T o have
created an imposing literary legacy despite numerous obstacles
is in itself a noteworthy achievement.
By training and profession A. A. Roback was a psychologist,
and it is fitting to begin with a brief survey of his contributions
to that field. Born in Russia on June 19, 1890, and taken to
Montreal as an infant, Roback studied at McGill University
where he received the coveted Prince of Wales gold medal. He
pursued his graduate work at Harvard University and always
fondly and proudly remembered the “golden age” of Harvard’s
departments of philosophy and psychology, marked by such
luminaries as William James, Josiah Royce, and Hugo Miinster-
berg. Roback’s publications in psychology run the gamut from
his doctoral dissertation,
The Interference of Will Impulses,
written under Miinsterberg, to
Aspects of Applied Psychology
and Crime
(1964). His
Psychology of Character,
first published
in 1927, repeatedly re-issued and translated into several lan­
guages, and
History of American Psychology
(1952), are probably
his most significant contributions in that field.
Behaviorism and
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