Page 145 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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Robert Gordis: A Tribute
On the Occasion of His 75th Birthday
Rober t gordis
was born on February 6th, 1908, in New York City,
to a middle class family of immigrants from Lithuania. Early in
life he already showed signs of the scholar he was to become. The
exceptionally gifted youngster had the good fortune to come
under the guidance of his uncle, Moshe Leib Engel, whom he
remembers with affection as a “maskil.” He received his early
general and Jewish education in the local N.Y. City schools. While
yet in high school, he studied Arnold B. Ehrlich’s biblical com­
Mikra Ki-Feshuto.
When barely 11 years of age in 1919, he
entered the Bet Midrash le-Morim, the teachers’ institute,
founded by the Mizrachi organization, and taken over in 1920 by
the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva. In 1926 he graduated from
City College “cum laude” and was the recipient of the Ward
Medal in Latin and German. His audacity to “speak up” against an
instructor’s anti-Semitic remarks “earned” him an “F ,” which
excluded him from receiving “summa cum laude.”
Family economics was the deciding factor in Gordis’ choice of
Dropsie College, rather than Yale University, for graduate
studies in Bible and Semitic languages. In those days rail fares
were at reduced rates for commuting students to Philadelphia.
The modest stipend as “Mayer Sulzberger Fellow in Bible” was
also helpful. However, upon graduation in 1929 with a Ph.D
degree there were no opportunities for academic employment,
much less for Jews specializing in Bible! The only prospects for
teaching positions were either at the above-mentioned Yeshiva or
at Talmud Torahs.
Dr. Gordis’ thesis,
The biblical text in the making: a study of the
marked the beginning of a brilliant career in biblical
scholarship. In the “Foreword” to his volume
The word and the Book
(New York, 1976) he described his lifelong activity in this field as
follows: “My principal field of study and research has been the