Prof. Jonah Frankel z”l
Prof. Jonah Frankel z”l, one of the most important scholars of the modern study of midrash, has died in Jerusalem. Frankel is responsible for changing the way that midrashic literature is studied all over the world. A summary of his contribution can be found at the Talmud Blog. Here is an excerpt:
His greatest and lasting contribution to scholarship, however, was his introduction of methods taken from the study of literature to reading rabbinic stories. In many articles and then later, in books, Frankel applied the methods of New Criticism to stories that were supposed to be “history” or at best “folklore”. He insisted that they were nothing but “high literature” and that they deserved the best tools the discipline could give them. As such, he is the intellectual grandfather of almost every innovation in rabbinics since. Although New Criticism fell out of fashion and other methods took over, Frankel got his wish: rabbinic literature is recognized as “literature,” studied in university departments of Hebrew literature, and by literary scholars who do not specialize in Jewish Studies. ‘The Oven of Akhnai’, Rabbi Johanan and Resh Laqish, and Honi the Roofer (not circle-drawer) are household names not merely in academic circles, but also in almost every synagogue, study circle, adult education curriculum and beit midrash. Frankel’s work endures, and so his lips truly are speaking in the grave at this very moment. We hope to be able to host a “yeshivah on his grave,” here at the Talmud blog, in the future.
Below is an obituary that appears in Monday’s edition of Makor Rishon. The obituary was written by Shmuel Faust, whose recent book Agadata is an excellent example of using Frankel’s method of reading midrash in a manner that enriches our understanding of the midrashic text. The book also contains a very good introduction that surveys the modern study of midrash.
Update: In Friday’s Musaf Shabbat Shmuel Faust has a longer article about Jonah Frankel. (H) Faust links to this interview (H) with Frankel by Tamar Kadari that was also published in Musaf Shabbat. In the interview Frankel tells how with some money that he received for his bar mitzvah from a relative he bought Siddur Rav Saadia Gaon!