Posted in Obituaries

Franz Rosenthal, 1914-2003

Franz Rosenthal, 1914-2003 Posted on April 29, 2003

By William Hallo, Yale University


Franz Rosenthal was born in Berlin on August 31, 1914, and died at Hospice in Branford, CT, on April 8, 2003, at age 88. He was the son of Kurt W. and Elsa (Kirschstein) Rosenthal, who immigrated with him to the USA, but much of the rest of his family, including his brother Gunther, perished in the Nazi death camps. Rosenthal received his Ph.D. in Oriental Studies from the University of Berlin in 1935, and later taught at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. As early as 1938, he won the coveted Lizdbarski Medal for his work on Die aramaistische Forschung : seit Theodor Nöldeke’s Veröffentlichungen (published 1939), although the actual receipt of the award was blocked by the looming war. After enigration, he taught at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, an appointment interrupted by wartime service in uniform as a translator for the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA). In 1948 he was appointed professor of Arabic at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1956 he became the Louis M. Rabinowitz Professor at Yale University, where he remained for the rest of his career, rising to Sterling Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures in 1967. He retired in 1985, having served as chair of the department from 1982-85, and for many years as chair of the advisory committee to the prestigious Yale Judaica Series, an enterprise in which he took a close personal interest. Prof. Rosenthal raised numerous disciples, among them many who specialized in Jewish studies or in the relationship between Jewish and Islamic culture such as Jacob Lassner, Abraham Udovich, Joel Kraemer, Alan Littofsky, Yonah Sabar, Steven Kaufman, Tamar Frank, and Seth Ward. His numerous books dealt with many aspects of Arabic literature and Islamic religion, but such was their relevance for the broader field of humanistic studies that he was awarded honorary degrees and prominent prizes in Israel and elsewhere, and became a fellow of the AAJR as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He was a long-time member of the American Oriental Society and its president from 1964-65, and an honorary member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Societe Asiatique, and the Deutsche Morgenlaendische Gesellschaft. He set a standard for the field of Aramaic with his Aramaic Handbook even while publishing more than a dozen pathbreaking works in his primary field of Arabic studies.