Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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S A U L LI EBERM AN
On the Occasion of His 75th Birthday
By
T
ovia
P
re sgh e l
I
n the spring of 1970, a team of archeologists uncovered at En-
Gedi the mosaic pavement of a synagogue from the Byzantine
period. The reading of the inscription in the mosaic presented
difficulties; even after the text had been established, its mean­
ing was by no means clear. Particularly puzzling was an adjura­
tion which included a curse against anyone who revealed to the
Gentiles “the secret of the village.”
Various scholars advanced different interpretations. Saul Lieber-
man suggested that the “secret” referred to was the method for
the cultivation and manufacture of balsam employed by the
villagers, which was their main industry. In the light of this
interpretation, he was also able to explain the rest of the ad­
juration.
Lieberman published his explanation in a note entitled “A
Preliminary Remark on the Inscription of En-Gedi” (
Tarbiz,
Oct.
1970). Although the comment is brief, it is buttressed by cogent
proofs in support of his interpretation, including a quote from
the Palestinian Talmud mentioning a prohibition against reveal­
ing trade secrets. Since it involved a significant archeological
discovery which aroused wide interest, Lieberman’s note conveyed
something of the quality and extent of his scholarship to circles
generally unacquainted with his work.
Commentator of Talmudic and Midrashic Literature
Lieberman has concerned himself with the interpretation of
ancient texts for more than forty years. Combining brilliant
mastery of the entire Talmudic and rabbinic literature with a
penetrating knowledge of the ancient world, he clarified numer­
ous passages in the Talmud and Midrash, discovered the correct
meaning of many hundreds of words and phrases, and shed
new light on customs, beliefs and institutions mentioned in Tal­
mudic and Midrashic literature.
Saul Lieberman was born in Motol, near Pinsk, in 1898, to a
family of great rabbinic scholars. He studied at the yeshivot of