Matitiahu Tsevat 1913- 2010
Within five months of each other, Professor Matitiahu Tsevat, age 96 (died March 13, 2010), and his wife, Miriam (Krieg), age 93 (died August 22, 2010), of Cincinnati, Ohio, passed away, leaving a grieving community of family, scholars, and friends.
A Service of Remembrance was held for Professor Tsevat on March 19, 2010, in which faculty colleagues at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, served as readers and offered words of remembrance and musical selections from Professor Tsevat’s favorite composers; J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart and F. Liszt were played.
Born in Kattowitz, Germany, on July 15, 1913, Professor Tsevat studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau, then, when night began to fall in Europe, at the Hebrew Teachers College in Jerusalem and at the Hebrew University.
Coming to the United States after World War II, Professor Tsevat rendezvoused in New York with Miriam, and they were married there in 1949. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Cincinnati, where Professor Tsevat studied Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
In 1953 Prof. Tsevat received his doctoral degree from HUC-JIR. Initially he had joined the staff of HUC as the special librarian of the Semitic collection of Klau Library, Cincinnati. Subsequently he was invited to join the faculty and became assistant and then associate professor at HUC-JIR. From 1964 to 1966, he served as Director of Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem. He returned to the Cincinnati campus of the College in 1966 to become Professor of Bible and then became Julian Morgenstern Professor of Bible at HUC-JIR.
Professor Tsevat’s living legacy was the large number of students he worked with at HUC-JIR’s Rabbinic School and School of Graduate Studies and many excellent essays in learned journals. His major book is The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies: Essays on the Literature and Religion of the Hebrew Bible (New York: Ktav; Dallas: Institute for Jewish Studies, 1980). He focused on the books of Job and Samuel, as well as Isaiah and Psalms, among others, for his main scholarly endeavors.
The author of this article, a friend of Professor Tsevat’s for more than four decades, recalls sitting many a morning and afternoon at Professor Tsevat’s dining room table, where the senior Bible scholar agreed to review what he had written. I also recall the words of Professor Chanan Brichto, a colleague on the faculty of HUC-JIR, Cincinnati: “Matt Tsevat is the leading Bible scholar of this generation.” Professor Brichto was undoubtedly thinking of the profound knowledge that Professor Tsevat had of the biblical text, versions, and ancient Near Eastern texts; of the sophisticated insights that Professor Tsevat brought to bear on biblical interpretation; and of his honesty and modesty in his lifelong effort to understand the Bible and its context. To remember Professor Tsevat’s off-the-record critiques of contemporary ideological models of biblical exegesis is an eye-opener. “How much do these models reckon with rock-bottom facts?” he would ask. His answer: “Historically, we have very little.” Beyond the knowledge and love of his field, Professor Tsevat and his wife were lifelong lovers of music, literature, art, learning of all kinds, and nature.
On February 15, 1999, The Midwest Region of the Society of Biblical Literature, The Middle West Branch of the American Oriental Society, and the American Schools of Oriental Research–Midwest, honored Professor Matitiahu Tsevat “for his numerous contributions to our field, his outstanding scholarship and his inspired teaching.”
Matitiahu Tsevat is survived by his sons, Joel (Jody) and David (Susan Plummer), and his granddaughters, Rebecca and Danielle. He is also survived by a sister, Chana Urbach, of Jerusalem. He was preceded in death by his son, Daniel, and a brother, Eliezer.
He was laid to rest in the United Jewish Cemetery in Clifton, in Cincinnati.