By Ephraim Kanarfogel, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University
Shlomo Eidelberg, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York, passed away on October 10, 2010, at the age of ninety-two.
Professor Eidelberg was born in Poland. His father, Rabbi Mordechai Dov Eidelberg, served as one of the last communal rabbis in Plock (Plotsk) prior to the Nazi occupation. Rabbi Eidelberg, who perished during the Holocaust, was the author of the four-volume rabbinic work Hazon la-Mo’ed. He sent young Shlomo to study with the leading rabbinic scholar and rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman of Baranowich, and also made sure that Shlomo received a rich secular education, including the study of Latin.
An ardent Zionist, Shlomo Eidelberg fought in a local Jewish resistance unit during World War II. At the end of the war, he hoped to study for a Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professor Simcha Assaf. However, circumstances forced him to emigrate to the United States, where he earned his doctorate at Yeshiva University in 1952 under Professors Irving A. Agus and Samuel K. Mirsky. His dissertation, on the responsa of Rabbenu Gershom b. Judah of Mainz, formed the basis of his first book, which was published (in Hebrew) in 1955. In that work, Eidelberg presented some seventy-seven responsa by Rabbenu Gershom, culled from a variety of published medieval rabbinic works and from manuscripts as well. Already at this early stage in his career, and well before it was recognized as an essential tool for the study of medieval Jewish intellectual history and literature, Eidelberg made extensive use of manuscript texts and variants, a practice that characterized all of his later published research as well. In addition, Eidelberg carefully annotated each responsum, providing historical background for the Jewish and wider religious and social phenomena that were reflected, making important philological and literary observations and connections, and identifying in great and precise detail little-known figures and locales. Later on, Eidelberg did have the opportunity to teach and to conduct research in Israel, holding visiting appointments at Tel Aviv University and at Haifa University.
The author of dozens of articles in English, German, and mostly Hebrew (that appeared in prestigious Israeli academic journals such as Tarbiz, Zion and Sinai among others), Eidelberg published on a wide variety of themes, ranging from the eleventh through the eighteenth centuries, from the earliest settlement in the northern French town of Troyes to the status of apostates in early modern Germany. Moreover, Eidelberg was the author of three additional books that demonstrated the same impressive broad range and scope: Jewish Life in Austria in the XVth Century as Reflected in the Legal Writings of Rabbi Israel Isserlein and his Contemporaries (1962); The Jews and the Crusaders: the Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (1977; reprinted, 1996),; and R. Juspa Shamash di-Qehillat Vermaiza: ‘Olam ha-Yehudi ba-Me’ah ha-Yod Zayyin. This volume, published by Magnes Press and the Hebrew University, was divided into parallel Hebrew and English sections, and included facsimile reproductions of both the minhagbuch of Worms and the communal pinkas during this period, along with a fascinating array of pictures and illustrations of tombstones, prominent institutions and figures, and other realia of the time.
Eidelberg’s pioneering work served as the starting point for much subsequent scholarship and research. He recognized this and often remarked that he was content to provide original and accurate work that would allow others to have access to Jewish texts that were heretofore unknown. This desire to be of service to academic Jewish studies and scholarship was a hallmark of all of Eidelberg’s work. Indeed, he also edited several collections of primary texts that were intended to be helpful to students and colleagues alike. In 1999 (at the age of eighty one), Eidelberg published two volumes of collected studies (with a number of bibliographic addenda), one in Hebrew and the other in English. In the introduction to the English volume, Eidelberg noted that the two volumes contained many but not all of the articles that he had published since 1953, and pointed to a number of recurring historical themes and arguments that appear throughout his studies.
During his many years at Yeshiva University, where he taught at the Harry Fischel School for Higher Jewish Studies and at Stern College for Women, Professor Eidelberg was known for his devotion to his family (which included a son who tragically predeceased him), and for his concern for the welfare of both his students and his colleagues. To the end of his life, he actively encouraged the younger scholars whom he met at libraries and conferences, displaying a strong interest in their work. May his memory be for a blessing.