Published Obituaries

(1) HUC-JIR Mourns Professor Ben Zion Wacholder, z”l
(2) Remembering Rabbi Wacholder, professor emeritus of Talmud, Rabbinics at HUC-JIR, from The American Israelite
(3) An Obituary by Michael A. Meyer, Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati

HUC-JIR Mourns Professor Ben Zion Wacholder, z”l
Freehof Professor Emeritus of Talmud and Rabbinics at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati

Professor Ben Zion Wacholder, scholar of Talmud and Rabbinics, began his career at HUC-JIR as the Los Angeles School’s first librarian in 1956. His early work in the burgeoning library collection helped usher the new school into accreditation — the committee that came to evaluate the campus cited his presence in the library as their reason for support.

Born in Ozarow, Poland in 1924, Wacholder studied in European yeshivot and was recognized as a scholar in Europe before World War II began. In October 1942, the Nazis liquidated his town, but Wacholder survived the Shoah, living as a Christian under an Aryan name and working in a Polish labor camp until liberation. After the war, he moved to Paris and later Bogota, Colombia, and finally immigrated to the United States in 1947 with the goal of resuming his education.

Wacholder received his rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University in 1951 and his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1960. Soon after joining the HUC-JIR staff, he became a permanent member of the College-Institute’s faculty, ultimately being named the Solomon Freehof Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics in Cincinnati, where he taught until his retirement. Wacholder’s students speak of the warmth and magnetism that drew them to their teacher, a brilliant Talmudist who knew scripture and rabbinic texts by heart. When his eyesight deteriorated in the 1970s, dozens of his rabbinical and graduate students flocked to assist him with his research.

Martin Abegg (now co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in British Columbia) describes the experience of working “knee to knee” with his mentor: “I have often thought that my 5 years with Ben Zion Wacholder — in the hands of a gifted writer — would rival Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s with Morrie. Only with me it was Tuesdays and Thursdays with Ben Zion. I, in the rich company of a dozen other HUC-JIR grad students over the years, was Ben’s eyes.”

The students would open mail from scholars around the world seeking his input on scores of topics and would lend their sight to Wacholder’s study of secondary sources in multiple languages. They were constantly awed by their teacher’s flawless knowledge of primary text. Wacholder imbued his students with the lesson that as helpful as modern technology might be, a computer search engine can never replace personal knowledge of the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and all of the commentaries that create our layered text.

Abegg co-authored Wacholder’s seminal work, an unauthorized edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, titled A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991). Together they developed a computer program that reconstructed fragmented sections of the scrolls from a concordance, thereby making the full content of the scrolls accessible and leading to the release of the original manuscripts, which had been withheld from the public for years.The work opened wide the study of the scrolls to new scholars, leading to the establishment of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation to raise funds for research and preservation.

Abegg notes that the legal writings in the Dead Sea Scrolls “provide a critical window into the shape of Judaism before the Mishna and the [Jerusalem and Babylonian] Talmuds.” Professor Wacholder “realized this potential” and made it accessible to the academic community. Abegg and another former Ph.D. student, Tim Undheim, are currently putting the finishing touches on Wacholder’s latest work, The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Brill 2006). Abegg concludes: “My adventure with Ben Zion was priceless. This is the kind of education that all of us hope for from our schooling but few of us actually experience.”
[From The Chronicle, Issue 68]

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Remembering Rabbi Wacholder, professor emeritus of Talmud, Rabbinics at HUC-JIR, from The American Israelite

Rabbi Ben Zion Wacholder, professor emeritus of Talmud and Rabbinics at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, who held the Solomon B. Freehof Professorship of Jewish Law and Practice, died peacefully at home in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., on March 29, 2011, at age 88, after a long illness.

Born in Ozarow, Poland, Rabbi Wacholder studied at the Baranovitch Yeshiva in Lithuania before World War II began. In October 1942, the Nazis liquidated his town, but Wacholder survived the Shoah, living as a Christian under an Aryan name and working in a Polish labor camp in Germany until liberation. After the war, he moved to Paris and later Bogota, Colombia, and finally immigrated to the United States in 1947 with the goal of resuming his education.

He received a B.A. in English at Yeshiva University and he was ordained at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary He received a Ph.D. in history at UCLA.

Professor Wacholder began his career at HUC-JIR as the Los Angeles school’s first librarian in 1956. His early work in the burgeoning library collection helped usher the new school into accreditation — the committee that came to evaluate the campus cited his presence in the library as their reason for support.

Dr. Wacholder’s specialties were the origins and development of Talmudic Judaism and ancient Jewish commentaries, and he played a key role in enhancing scholars’ access to the Dead Sea Scrolls. He trained generations of Reform rabbis and other scholars at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. The author of many scholarly papers and several books, his most recent was The New Damascus Document: Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Martin Abegg, co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, described the experience of working “knee to knee” with his mentor, Professor Ben Zion Wacholder: “I have often thought that my years with Ben Zion Wacholder — in the hands of a gifted writer — would rival Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s with Morrie. Only with me it was Tuesdays and Thursdays with Ben Zion. My adventure with Ben Zion was priceless. This is the kind of education that all of us hope for from our schooling but few of us actually experience.”

Abegg co-authored Wacholder’s seminal work, an unauthorized edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, titled A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991). Together they developed a computer program that reconstructed fragmented sections of the scrolls from a concordance, thereby making the full content of the scrolls accessible and leading to the release of the original manuscripts, which had been withheld from the public for years. The work opened wide the study of the scrolls to new scholars, leading to the establishment of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation to raise funds for research and preservation.

When Professor Wacholder’s eyesight deteriorated in the 1970s, dozens of his rabbinical and graduate students flocked to assist him with his research. They would open mail from scholars around the world seeking his input on scores of topics and would lend their sight to Wacholder’s study of secondary sources in multiple languages. The students were constantly awed by their teacher’s flawless knowledge of primary text. Wacholder imbued his students with the lesson that as helpful as modern technology might be, a computer search engine can never replace personal knowledge of the Bible, Talmud, Midrash and all of the commentaries that create our layered text.

“When I was a student at HUC, it was well before the Internet era. In my senior year I took an advanced, Hebrew-language seminar in intellectual history and we came across a term that no one in the class knew, including the professor. I announced to the class that though I did not know the meaning of the term, I guaranteed I would find out and report back to the class at the next session. The next week I indeed came back with the correct translation. “How did you find out?” the professor asked. “I asked Dr. Wacholder,” I replied. Ben Zion Wacholder was my Google before Google was invented,” commented Rabbi Charles Arian, of Norwich, Conn.

“While the biblical David slew a giant, this David has stood on giant’s shoulders. There are a few giant figures that come into one’s life. Dr. Wacholder was one of those giants for me. His prodigious mastery of primary texts are well known, and separated him from his peers. I think that a scholar of his magnitude only comes around once in a lifetime and he will be remembered for generations to come in the world of academia,” remembered David Maas, Ph.D., assistant professor of Old Testament at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

Wacholder’s first wife, Touby, died in 1990. His second wife, Elizabeth Krukowski, died in 2004.

Rabbi Wacholder is survived by four children: Nina (Robert Goldenberg), Sholom (Michelle Rhone), David (Chana Sara), and Hannah (Daniel) Katsman; and 15 grandchildren.

Dr. Wacholder was buried at Eretz Hachaim Cemetery in Bet Shemesh, near Jerusalem.

Source: The American Israelite, May 11, 2011
View the online edition here (May 12, 2011 edition)

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An Obituary by Michael A. Meyer, Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati

A long-time Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Ben Zion Wacholder passed away in Roslyn Heights, New York, on March 29, 2011, at the age of 86. He had been the Solomon B. Freehof Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati and a major figure in the study of ancient Jewish history, especially of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Born in Ozarow, Poland, Wacholder studied at the Ohel Torah Yeshivah in Baranovitch in what is today Belarus and was soon recognized as a brilliant Talmud scholar. His life took a sharp turn when the Nazis destroyed his town in October 1942, forcing him to seek survival under a false identity. Living under an invented name and disguising his Jewishness, he worked in a Polish labor camp and hid in forests until liberation. He then moved to Paris, to Bogota, Columbia, and finally to New York in 1947, where he received rabbinical ordination and a B.A. in English literature from Yeshiva University. He went on to graduate studies in ancient history at UCLA, where in 1960 he obtained a Ph.D. with a dissertation that became his first published book, Nicolaus of Damascus (1962).

He joined the newly established Los Angeles branch of HUC-JIR as a librarian while still a graduate student in 1957 and was soon appointed to its faculty. In 1963, Nelson Glueck, president of HUC-JIR, asked Wacholder to join the faculty in Cincinnati, where he remained until his retirement.

Although principally teaching courses in Talmud and rabbinic literature, his field of specialization remained the ancient world, exemplified by Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature (1974) and Essays on Jewish Chronology and Chronography (1976). Beginning in the late 1970s, he increasingly concentrated his scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls, producing in 1983 The Dawn of Qumran: The Sectarian Torah and the Teacher of Righteousness, in which he argued that the Temple Scroll was intended to be nothing less than a new Torah to replace the Mosaic one at the End of Days. He also published some four dozen articles, mostly devoted to the Scrolls.

Wacholder gained broad international attention when, disturbed by the failure of the committee in charge of the Scrolls to make them public, he, together with a graduate student, Martin Abegg, reconstructed and published the presumptive text of the unpublished material from Cave 4 on the basis of a concordance that indicated the place and context of the words that it listed. The text appeared in fascicles beginning in 1991 as A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four. The reconstruction proved to be nearly 100% accurate and broke the monopoly of the international committee that had kept the text secret for decades.

Wacholder’s scholarship, especially late in his career, was nearly always controversial, even as it was serious and stimulated debate. He was rarely satisfied with conventional views, arguing, for example, that the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest mentioned in the Scrolls were not historical but, rather, eschatological figures who would appear at the End of Days. He attended scholarly conferences regularly, eager to advocate for his theories among his colleagues.

At HUC-JIR Wacholder taught both rabbinical students and Christian graduate students, whose Doktorvater he became. He was known as a kind and thoughtful teacher, who encouraged students even as he challenged them not to rely on secondary literature or conventional interpretations, but to analyze the primary sources first and foremost and to seek their own conclusions. As his eyesight progressively deteriorated, he continued his scholarly work and his teaching, causing students to marvel at how he was able to recite texts that he could not see but could draw upon from the storehouse of his prodigious memory. In 1994, two of his graduate students, John C. Reeves and John Kampen, presented Wacholder with Pursuing the Text: Studies in Honor of Ben Zion Wacholder on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Still in 1996, when he could barely see at all, two students helped him put together his The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of the Dead Sea Scrolls. As late as 2007, he was still able to publish The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah: Reconstruction, Translation, and Commentary.

Ben Zion Wacholder was a generous man who never refused a contribution to the poor and who gave freely of his time to anyone who wanted to study with him, often in his own home. Though he taught at a Reform seminary and cherished freedom of thought, he was personally a fully observant Jew. As his eyesight grew worse, he continued to study and write, using a specially adapted computer and the services of students who would read the material to him. Late in life, his cognitive faculties, as well, began to fail, but he could never rest from intellectual endeavor. He was a devoted father and grandfather. Wacholder’s first wife, Touby, died in 1990, his second Elizabeth Krukowski in 2004. He lived the last years of his life with his daughter Nina in Roslyn Heights. He is survived by four children and fifteen grandchildren. He was buried, as he wished, in the Land of Israel.
[From AAJR.org/obituaries

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We invite you to share your own memories Ben Zion Wacholder by sending them to BZWacholderMemories[at]gmail[dot]com.

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