By David Berger, Yeshiva University
Arthur Hyman was born on April 10, 1921, in Schwäbisch Hall, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In 1935, at the age of 14, three years before Kristallnacht, he immigrated with his family to the United States. He pursued undergraduate studies at St. John’s College, Annapolis, which had recently adopted its Great Books curriculum (B.A., 1944). He pursued his graduate studies at Harvard University (M.A., 1947; Ph.D., 1953), studying there under Harry Austryn Wolfson, and he concurrently studied rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary (ordination and M.H.L., 1955) under Saul Lieberman. He taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary (1950-1955), Dropsie College (1955-1961), and Columbia University (1956-1991). His main academic affiliation, however, was with Yeshiva University, where he taught from 1961 until the year before his passing, was Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy, and served as Dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies (1992-2008). He also held visiting positions at Yale University, the University of California at San Diego, the Catholic University of America, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Bar-Ilan University. His doctoral students included Warren Zev Harvey, David Geffen, and Charles Manekin at Columbia, and Basil Herring and Shira Weiss at Yeshiva. Hyman received wide recognition for his scholarly accomplishments. He was granted honorary doctorates by the Jewish Theological Seminary (1987) and Hebrew Union College (1994). He served as president of both the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale (1978-1980) and the American Academy for Jewish Research (1992-1996). He embraced the broadening impact of the Association for Jewish Studies and came to serve on its Board of Directors. He was married to Ruth Link-Salinger from 1951 until her death in 1998, and they had three sons: Jeremy Saul, Michael Samuel, and Joseph Isaiah. From 2000 until his death he was married to Batya Kahane. He died in New York City on February 8, 2017.
His death marks the passing of a generation of outstanding scholars whose erudition is virtually unmatched in our age. This reality can be brought home by a perusal of the preface to his critical edition and English translation of the medieval Hebrew translation of De Substantia Orbis, an otherwise lost Arabic work by the premier Muslim philosopher Averroes. One finds the matter-of-fact assertion that he chose the Hebrew version rather than the medieval Latin translation because of the closeness of Hebrew to Arabic, but that he regularly examined the Latin text, sometimes preferred it, and in some cases based his translation upon it. Mastery of both the language and content of the medieval philosophical corpus in Arabic, Latin, and Hebrew is simply taken for granted. Even the acknowledgments in that preface transport us into an age when giants walked the earth. Hyman thanks his teachers Harry Wolfson and Saul Lieberman, his colleagues Salo Baron, Paul Oskar Kristeller and Shlomo Pines, and the former President of the Israel Academy of the Sciences and Humanities that co-sponsored the work–Gershom Scholem.
When he was invited to deliver the Aquinas lecture at Marquette University, he chose a theme that he regularly taught at Yeshiva. The lecture was published as a book entitled Eschatological Themes in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2002). His co-authored textbook Philosophy in the Middle Ages, which has appeared in three editions, has played a central role in courses on the history of philosophy and a revolutionary role in placing Jewish philosophy near the heart of academic instruction in the field. At Yeshiva, he established a new journal, Maimonidean Studies, where many articles of great importance have appeared. He himself wrote numerous influential articles about Maimonides, of which the most cited is “Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles” ( in Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann), but both his teaching and his scholarship ranged well beyond Maimonides and even the Middle Ages. In the twilight of his life, his undergraduate alma mater St. John’s College presented him with its 2014 Alumni Award of Merit.
He was, however, more than a great scholar and influential teacher. He was a model of sober judgment, ethical behavior, academic leadership, and devotion to Judaism and the Jewish community. In the narrower context of his own university, his self-sacrifice for a greater good was thrown into bold relief at the most critical moment in the history of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva. In 1992, the university announced its intention to close the school for financial reasons. There was a crescendo of protest from students and from the Modern Orthodox community as a whole, and major philanthropists rescued the school. But a school does not live on bread–literal or figurative–alone. The revived institution needed a wise, steady, and energetic hand at the helm, and at an age when most people were at the cusp or beyond the cusp of retirement, Dr. Hyman, recognizing the profound importance of Revel for the mission of Modern Orthodoxy, agreed to assume the leadership of a graduate school that he guided with precisely such wisdom for more than a decade and a half.
But his leadership was marked by more than wisdom. To encounter him was to encounter a paragon of dignity and character. He treated everyone with consummate respect. While almost all deans refer to their office administrators by their first names–and there is nothing wrong with this–Dr. Hyman referred to his as Mrs. Washington. (I should add that she more than merited this respect.) I attempted to capture this point in a sentence that I wrote for the obituary that was placed in the New York Times: “A world-renowned scholar, he wore his learning with grace, generosity, and nobility of spirit.”
The first paragraph of this obituary (with some insignificant modifications and the addition of one sentence) is borrowed with the author’s permission fromWarren Zev Harvey’s “Dean of Historians of Jewish Philosophy: Necrology for Professor Arthur Hyman (1921-2017),” at http://seforim.blogspot.com/2017/02/dean-of-historians-of-jewish-philosophy.html, which is very much worth reading in its entirety. Substantial sections of the remainder are taken from my eulogy, which can be found at http://www.thelehrhaus.com/timely-thoughts/2017/2/11/hyman-eulogy.