Prof. Nechama Leibowitz – Intellectual Profile
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Background 1 Life Name Hebrew name – פרופ' נחמה ליבוביץ English name – Prof. Nechama Leibowitz 2 Dates – 1905 – 1997 Location – Nechama was born in Riga, and moved with her family to Berlin in 1919. She moved to Israel in 1930, immediately upon completing her doctorate. 3 4 Education – Nechama received private tutoring until entering German public educational institutions in 1920. Between 1920 and 1928, she completed high school and a university degree. In 1930, she completed doctoral studies at Philipps University in Marburg, focusing on Yiddish Bible translations in Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries. 5 During her time in Berlin, Nechama also took classes at the Berlin Hochschule. 6 7 Occupation – Nechama began teaching while still studying in Germany. Upon moving to Israel, it took some time for Nechama to establish herself as a scholar and educator. 8 She taught at the Mizrachi Women Teachers Seminary and gave adult education classes for many years. She was awarded the Israel Prize in education in 1956, 9 and in 1957 she became a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, eventually becoming a full professor in 1968. In 1983, she was awarded the Bialik Prize for Jewish thought. The focus of her activities was education as opposed to scholarship, and she always preferred the title "teacher" to "professor". 10 11 Family – Nechama came from a merchant family in Riga, and was the younger sister of controversial thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz. She married her uncle, Yedidyah Lipman Leibowitz. 12 Teachers – Before entering formal educational institutions after age 14, Nechama was taught by her father and private tutors. Students – A significant percentage of today's Jewish educators and scholars are students of Nechama (or her students). Works 13 Biblical commentaries עיונים – Nechama published a series of volumes on the five books of the Torah, discussing select topics in each parashah. 14 גליונות – From 1941 to 1971, Nechama issued her "Gilyonot" ("worksheets") on the weekly portion. 15 שיעורים בפרקי נחמה וגאולה – Worksheets on Shemot 6, Devarim 30, and Yeshayahu 40-41. 16 גליונות לעיון בספר ירמיהו – Fifty worksheets on Yirmeyahu 1-9. 17 לימוד פרשני התורה ודרכים להוראתם – ספר בראשית – An educators' guide for teaching the first nineteen chapters of Bereshit. 18 עיונים בשיטתו פירוש רש"י לתורה – A study of the methodology of Rashi's Torah commentary. 19 Other works Translational Techniques in Judeo-German Bible Translations in the 15th-16th Centuries. 20 Nechama also published several teachers' guides and many articles. Most of these focus on pedagogy, but some deal with topics in Jewish thought. 21 Characteristics Verse by verse / Topical – Genre – Structure – Language – Methods Themes Sources Significant Influences Earlier Sources – Teachers – Foils – Occasional Usage Possible Relationship Impact
1 This section incorporates information from A. Levenson, "Contextualizing a Master: Nehama Leibowitz, History and Exegesis," Journal of Jewish Education 77:1 (2011): 42-65 (hereafter: Levenson: Contextualizing). 2 Her beloved and humble personality led to her being referred to simply as "Nechama" by her legions of students and followers. 3 She was raised in a religious-Zionist family, and felt so idealistic about living in Israel that, once she arrived, she refused to ever leave despite her prominence as a lecturer and many offers to serve in positions in the Diaspora. 4 Nechama's experience of being raised in Eastern Europe, educated in Weimar Germany, and then again relocating, was shared by many luminaries of her generation who ended up in either Israel or America. A. Levenson (Contextualizing: 44-45) argues that exposure to this "triple immersion" in very different milieus was instrumental not only in Nechama's intellectual development, but also that of other figures such as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, historian Jacob Katz, philosopher Leo Strauss, and historian Harry A. Wolfson. 5 It is notable that in her youth in Riga, her family spoke Hebrew in the home (even though all were fluent in Yiddish). 7 During her time there, Nechama studied texts together with fellow student (and future philosophy professor) Leo Strauss. Nechama provided the Hebrew expertise, and Strauss the philosophical background. 8 According to M. Breuer ("פרופ' נחמה ליבוביץ ע"ה", in Pirkei Nechama Prof. Nechama Leibowitz Memorial Volume (Jerusalem, 2001; hereafter: Pirkei Nechama): 17), Nechama taught at the Adat Yisrael elementary and high schools, and this exposed her to the Torah Im Derekh Eretz school of thought (about which she felt ambivalence, according to Breuer). 9 M. Ahrend ("מתוך עבודתי עם נחמה", in Pirkei Nechama: 47) notes that, at first, she was not focused exclusively on teaching Bible, but rather taught literature, sometimes employing cinema and theater as teaching tools. 10 Nechama's educational activities played a major role in a revival of interest in the study of the Bible and its traditional Jewish commentaries. 11 The single word "teacher" (מורה) is how she is described on her gravestone. Nevertheless, Nechama's scholarly contributions to the study of the Bible, and, especially, its commentaries, were significant (see below in the Works section). Regarding her pedagogical approach, much has been written. See the many articles in Pirkei Nechama: 341-448, and the literature cited in the bibliography of Levenson: Contextualizing. 12 The couple had no children. 13 The following is a partial list of Nechama's works. For a full bibliography, see R. Ben-Meir, "ביבליוגרפיה של כתבי נחמה ליבוביץ" , in Pirkei Nechama: 703-710. 14 עיונים בספר בראשית (Jerusalem, 1966), עיונים חדשים בספר שמות (Jerusalem, 1970), עיונים חדשים בספר ויקרא (Jerusalem, 1983), עיונים בספר במדבר (Jerusalem, 1996), עיונים בספר דברים (Jerusalem, 1994). These volumes were also published in English and French translations (Eliner Press). All of the volumes are subtitled "בעקבות פרשנינו הראשונים והאחרונים" ("in the footsteps of our medieval and modern commentators"). The title (עיונים – "Studies") and subtitle capture essential traits of Nechama's work. These volumes are not composed as straightforward commentaries, but as study units that guide the learner through topics while employing questions and select passages from commentaries. Nechama takes the learner on a journey of comparison and contrast among the commentaries, ending with her own insights and ideas forged out of the complexities of the earlier sources.
Despite her loyalty towards earlier commentators, her humble temperament, and a focus on pedagogy, Nechama's commentary was innovative in several significant ways (see Levenson: Contextualizing: 47-8):
She was the first to distinguish parallels between "New Criticism" literary theory and certain modes of traditional Jewish exegesis (which before Nechama were commonly discounted as being unscientific and distant from peshat). Indeed, Nechama can be credited for revitalizing interest not only in the Bible itself, but also in the exegetical contributions of Midrash. Nechama's approach, focusing on literary aspects of the received text, and adopting the New Critics' "close reading" method, enabled Orthodox Torah learners to feel comfortable in moving forward beyond the discourse of source criticism. Nechama also made important inroads in identifying the methodologies of various commentators, especially Rashi (see below in this section). Furthermore, her open-minded use of an extremely broad range of commentaries – regardless of background, religion, or acceptance within Orthodox circles – was unique in the Orthodox world.
The volumes on Bereshit, Shemot, and Vayikra were largely based on weekly pamphlets originally published 1955-1961 (and then republished in annual collections). These pamphlets, and the subsequent volumes based on them, were intended to be accessible to a broader audience than Nechama's earlier Gilyonot (see below).
15 These worksheets were intended to guide the learner in independent study of the weekly parashah (and haftarah) and commentaries, providing questions without answers. Nechama would mail a copy to anyone who requested, and she personally reviewed and commented on answers sent by recipients. The Gilyonot achieved great popularity among many sectors of Israeli society, both religious and secular, and were instrumental in reviving interest in Torah study. In 1963, a volume was published with that year's Gilyonot, complete with answers and explanations, and intended mainly for teachers. The Gilyonot are now available at http://www.nechama.org.il. 16 Authored with M. Weiss, Jerusalem, 1958. This work is based on the format of the Gilyonot. 19 An Open University course written in conjunction with Prof. Moshe Ahrend and published in 1990 in two volumes. 20 Nechama's doctoral thesis, which analyzed the influence of German background and Jewish commentary on these translations. 21 For a full bibliography see R. Ben-Meir, "ביבליוגרפיה של כתבי נחמה ליבוביץ", in Pirkei Nechama: 703-710.