Saul Lieberman

Saul Lieberman

Saul Lieberman (May 28, 1898 - March 23, 1983), also known as Rabbi Shaul Lieberman or The "Gra"sh" ("Gaon Rabbeinu Shaul"), was a rabbi and a scholar of Talmud. He served as Professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary for over 40 years, and was for many years, head of the Harry Fischel Institute in Israel and also president of the American Academy for Jewish Research. He was an honorary member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. In 1971 he was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies and in 1976 he received the Harvey Prize of the Haifa Technion.


Born in Motol (now Motal'), near Pinsk, Belarus (then Russian empire), he studied at the Orthodox Yeshivot of Malch and Slobodka. While studying at the Slabodka Yeshiva, he befriended Rabbi Yitzchak Ruderman and Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, both of whom would become leaders of great Rabbinical seminaries in America. In the 1920s he attended the University of Kiev, and, following a short stay in Palestine, continued his studies in France. In 1928 he settled in Jerusalem. He studied talmudic philology and Greek language and literature at the Hebrew University, where he was appointed lecturer in Talmud in 1931. He also taught at the Mizrachi Teachers Seminary and from 1935 was dean of the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research in Jerusalem.

In 1940 he was invited both by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner to teach in the Orthodox Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, and by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America to serve as professor of Palestinian literature and institutions. Lieberman chose the offer by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Lieberman's decision was motivated by a desire to "train American Jews to make a commitment to study and observe the mitzvot." {Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox} In Chaim Dalfin’s "Conversations with the Rebbe" (LA: JEC, 1996), pp. 54-63, Prof. Haim Dimitrovsky relates that when he was newly hired at JTS, he asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch whether he should remain in the Seminary, and the response was "as long as Lieberman is there." In 1949 he was appointed dean, and in 1958 rector, of the Seminary's rabbinical school.


In 1929 Lieberman published "Al ha-Yerushalmi", in which he suggested ways of emending corruptions in the text of the Jerusalem Talmud and offered variant readings to the text of the tractate of Sotah. This was followed by: a series of text studies of the Jerusalem Talmud, which appeared in Tarbiz; by "Talmudah shel Keisaryah" (1931), in which he expressed the view that the first three tractates of the order Nezikin in the Jerusalem Talmud had been compiled in Caesarea about the middle of the fourth century C.E.; and by "Ha-Yerushalmi ki-Feshuto" (1934), a commentary on the treatises Shabbat, Eruvin, and Pesahim of the Jerusalem Talmud.

His preoccupation with the Jerusalem Talmud impressed him with the necessity of clarifying the text of the tannaitic sources (rabbis of the first two centuries of the common era), especially that of the Tosefta, on which no commentaries had been composed by the earlier authorities and to whose elucidation only few scholars had devoted themselves in later generations.

He published the four-volume "Tosefet Rishonim", a commentary on the entire Tosefta with textual corrections based on manuscripts, early printings, and quotations found in early authorities (currently this work is available in two volumes). [ [] ] He also published "Tashlum Tosefta", an introductory chapter to the second edition of M. S. Zuckermandel's Tosefta edition (1937), dealing with quotations from the Tosefta by early authorities that are not found in the text.

Years later, Lieberman returned to the systematic elucidation of the Tosefta. He undertook the publication of the Tosefta text, based on manuscripts and accompanied by brief explanatory notes, and of an extensive commentary called "Tosefta ki-Feshutah". The latter combined philological research and historical observations with a discussion of the entire talmudic and rabbinic literature in which the relevant Tosefta text is either commented upon or quoted. Between 1955 and 1973, ten volumes of the new edition were published, representing the text and the commentaries on the entire orders of Zera'im, Mo'ed and Nashim. Furthermore, in 1988, three volumes were published posthumously on the order of Nezikin, including tractates Bava Kama, Bava Metziah, and Bava Basrah. The entire set was republished in the 1990s in thirteen volumes, and again in 2001 in twelve volumes.

In "Sifrei Zuta" (1968), Lieberman advanced the view that this halakhic Midrash was in all likelihood finally edited by Bar Kappara in Lydda.

His two English volumes, which also appeared in a Hebrew translation, "Greek in Jewish Palestine" (1942) and "Hellenism in Jewish Palestine" (1950), illustrate the influence of Hellenistic culture on Jewish Palestine in the first centuries C.E. [The English edition of both books is currently available in one volume. [] ]

Other books of his were "Sheki'in" (1939), on Jewish legends, customs, and literary sources found in Karaite and Christian polemical writings, and "Midreshei Teiman" (1940), wherein he showed that the Yemenite Midrashim had preserved exegetical material which had been deliberately omitted by the rabbis. He edited a variant version of the Midrash Rabbah on Deuteronomy (1940, 19652). In his view that version had been current among Sephardi Jewry, while the standard text had been that of Ashkenazi Jewry. In 1947 he published "Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi" which he identified as a fragment of a work by Maimonides on the Jerusalem Talmud. Lieberman also edited the hitherto unpublished Tosefta commentary "Hasdei David" by David Pardo on the order Tohorot. The first part of this work appeared in 1970.

A number of his works have appeared in new and revised editions. Lieberman served as editor in chief of a new critical edition of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (vol. 1, 1964), and as an editor of the Judaica series of Yale University, where he worked closely with Herbert Danby, the Anglican scholar of the Mishnah. He also edited several scholarly miscellanies.

He contributed numerous studies to scholarly publications as well as notes to books of fellow scholars. In these he dwelt on various aspects of the world of ideas of the rabbis, shed light on events in the talmudic period, and elucidated scores of obscure words and expressions of talmudic and midrashic literature.

He also published a heretofore unknown Midrashic work that he painstakingly pieced together by deriving its text from an anti-Jewish polemic written by Raymond Martini, and various published lectures of Medieval Rabbis. This Midrashic text was lost on account of vigorous church censorship and suppression. Lieberman's work was published while he headed Machon Harry Fishel.

Jacob Neusner, a leading scholar of the history of rabbinic Judaism, criticized the bulk of Lieberman's work as idiosyncratic in that it lacked a valid methodology and was prone to other serious shortcomings ("see" Sources below). However, ten years earlier, in an article published shortly after his death, Lieberman strongly criticized Neusner's lack of scholarship in the latter's translation of three tractates of the Yerushalmi. ["See" Saul Lieberman, "A Tragedy or a Comedy" Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 104(2), April/June 1984] Indeed, Neusner has been accused of being biased against Lieberman, ["See" [] note 8 and accompanying text.] presumably due to Lieberman's strong criticism of Neusner's scholarship.

Lieberman clause, a solution to the Agunah issue

Personal Paradox

Although deeply involved in the Seminary, Lieberman often seemed to be on the very right wing of the movement. Personally Orthodox and fully observant of Halacha, he would not pray in a synagogue which did not have separate seating for men and women. Lieberman insisted that all services at the Seminary have a mechitzah even though the great majority of Conservative synagogues did not. He also frowned upon egalitarian participation by women in the Seminary synagogue services even though the Conservative movement at large was moving towards that goal.


Lieberman was married for several years to the daughter of Laizer Rabinowitz, rabbi of Minsk. [Making of a Godol, improved edition p. 1190 (Private Printing Publishers, 2005).] After her death, he married Judith Berlin (August 14, 1904–1978), who was a daughter of Orthodox Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan), leader of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionism) movement. Judith Lieberman studied at Hunter College and then at Columbia University under Professor Hates and Professor Muzzey. She served from 1941 first as Hebrew principal and then as dean of Hebrew studies of Orthodox Shulamith School for Girls in New York, the first Jewish day school for girls in North America. Among her publications were Robert Browning and Hebraism (1934), and an autobiographical chapter which was included in "Thirteen Americans, Their Spiritual Autobiographies" (1953), edited by Louis Finkelstein.

Lieberman had no children. ["See" Making of a Godol, improved edition p. 820.]


Lieberman died on March 23, 1983 while flying to Jerusalem for Passover. ["See" Saul Lieberman, "A Tragedy or a Comedy" Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 104(2), April/June 1984, p. 319 n.38, and [] ]



* "Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox". Marc B. Shapiro. University of Scranton Press. 2006. ISBN 1589661230
* "Saul Lieberman: the man and his work" / Elijah J. Schochet and Solomon Spiro. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2005.
* Saul Lieberman, "Rabbinic Interpretation of Scripture" and "The Hermeneutic Rules of the Aggadah" in "Hellenism in Jewish Palestine" JTS, NY, 1994
* "Seventy Faces" Norman Lamm, "Moment" Vol. II, No. 6 June 1986/Sivan 5746
* "Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America", Vol. II, p.450, 474, JTS, NY, 1997
* Article by Rabbi Emmanuel Rackman published in "The Jewish Week" May 8, 1997, page 28.
* Jacob Neusner, "Why There Never Was a “Talmud of Caesarea.” Saul Lieberman’s Mistakes." Atlanta, 1994: Scholars Press for South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism.

External links

* [ Saul Lieberman (1898-1983)] , Jewish Virtual Library.
* [ Saul Lieberman Institute for Talmudic Research]
* [ The Lieberman Institute for Talmudic Research]
* [ The Lieberman Talmud Database at Yale University Library]

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