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February 11, 1977 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-02-11

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56 Friday, February 11, 1977


Some Thoughts on the Passing of Prof. Solomon Zeitlin

One does not erect monuments for the
righteous ones. Their words, they keep
their memory alive.
Gen. Rab. 82


(Editor's note: Dr.
Shereshevsky is professor
of Hebrew and Hebrew
Literature at Temple Uni-
versity in Philadelphia.)
With the passing of
Prof. Solomon Zeitlin it
seems that one of the last
— perhaps the last — rep-
resentative of an era in
Jewish history has van--
ished. His greatness was
his vast knowledge of the
Talmud, the Babylonian
and Palestinian alike,
Halakha and Aggada,
which aroused the admi-
ration and envy of those
who had the privilege of
knowing him.
The Talmud — so he
used to assert repeatedly
— is an ocean ruled by
tricky storms and waves
and only a discriminating
captain can lead his ship
onto safe shores.
Indeed, such a reliable
captain was Prof. Sol-
omon Zeitlin. He acquired
this deep mastery of the
Talmudim in his younger
years which he could de-
vote — thanks to his un-
derstanding father — to
the exclusive study of the
Talmud. His teacher,
whom he mentioned with
deep affection those close
to him, was the great
Rogatchover Gaon,
,Josel)h Rosin, whose
mind and illustrious
greatness was compared
by his contemporary tal-
mudic authorities to
those of the Akhronim
(talmudic coryphaei of
the post-Medieval
I had the rare privilege
of having met this
Rogatchover Gaon one
year before his death, in
Dubbeln at the Riga sea
shore. The similarity in
talmudic approach, em-
phasis and personal bear-


7 , 122137 7 , x


ing of the two was an as-
touding phenomenon.
Just as his master, Prof.
Zeitlin's strength lay in
the ability of verbatimly
quoting by heart any pas-
sage of the Talmud, as if
bestowed with a "photo-
graphic memory".
This strength of mem-
ory, however, had also its
negative consequences
which we, his disciples
and close friends, have
now to bear. Prof. Zeitlin
never wrote down any-
thing nor did he use
notes. He dictated his
many articles and books
directly to his typing sec-
retary and thus many of
his ideas and thoughts
which he could not bring
to paper are lost to us by
his passing.
And if at times he could
not remember immedi-
ately a reference in the
Talmudim, he reached
into his memory and
Searched deeper and de-
eper until his efforts suc-
ceeded. •
He then complained
bitterly to have wasted
almost a full day perusing
in his mind one talmudic
tractate after another to
find that reference, an
operation which would
take weeks if not months
for an ordinary mortal.
His greatness was indis-
putably his unusual ex-
pertise and virtuosity in
the,field of talmudic liter-
This great mind, al-
though deeply rooted in
the talmudic world, did
not limit himself to that
world. The uniqueness of
Prof. Zeitlin was his
, equally close acquain-
tance with the classical
literatures of Greece and
Rome and their civiliza-
He used these disci-
plines for the elucidation
and illumination of many
an obscure passage in our
talmudic sources.
Just as. in all ancient
literatures, the hands of
copyists and inter-
polators corrupted the
original text. By means of
internal evidence and a
fine feeling for the an-
cient culture and style,
Prof. Zeitlin restored
many obscure quotations
to their true meaning.
He thus carried both
"the crown of Torah and
the crown of
There are many ih the
rabbinic world whose
knowledge of the Talmud
may be exceptional but
having limited them-
selves exclusively to-the
"four cubits of Halakha",
their heart is not open to
scholarship and secular
On the other hand,'
there are some who may
have attained laurels in
scholarship but severed
themselves from their
roots. Not so with Prof.
Zeitlin. His integrating
and intertwining of his
vast knowledge of Tal-
mud and classical
scholarship made him an
authority and acknowl-


7;1 77'"121

edged teacher of both.
His main emphasis,
however, remained al-
ways the return to the
talmudic source. Thus he
placed "the beauty of
Japhet into the tents of
Seeing in his latter
years — in particular as a
consequence of the
Holocaust which, as he
put it, plucked •off the
floWer of our people —
that talmudic knowledge
in the institutions of
higher learning and uni-
versities was steadily
waning, he deplored with
regret: "Jewish
scholarship is dead".
And in line with the
statement: "Beware of
their (our sages) glowing
coal lest thou be scorched:
for their bite is the bite of
a jackal, and their sting
the sting of a scorpion and
their hiss the hiss of a
serpent — moreover all
their words are like coals
of fire" he scored at many
professors of the -Jewish
field who were not famil-
iar with the original
sources and whose
knowledge of Hebrew was
inadequate to read, an
unvocalized text.
Adhering to the princi-
ple: "Let the Law pierce
the mountain" he did not
refrain from criticizing

the Jewish academic
world and from fighting
for his principles and the
"The truth cannot be
drowned nor outvoted by
counting noses" were his
Thus, he instilled into
his disciples the need to
defend unflinchingly the
truth even if it may turn
out to be most unprofita-
ble. The truth must come
to light.
Only a very flew had the
privilege of knowing him
closely. There were rare
occasions when he talked
about his life. It hap-
pened during car drives
or in the course of some
meals taken in a restau-
He spoke then about his
odyssey prior to his corn-
ing to this country, his
years-as a student in the
Academy of Baron
Guenzberg in Leningrad
where he became a friend
of the late Zalman Shazar
and where he met a large
number of _illustrious
Jewish leaders and
scholars, all of whom are
no more.
He mentioned warmly
renowned scholars, his
contemporaries, known
to us only by their writ-
ings which became
standard works at uni-
versities and institutions
of higher learning. He
never had the time to
write down all these re-
miniscences, important


for Jewish history, and
wanted to do it only after
the completion of his
magnun opus, the "Rise
and Fall of the Judaean
This desire made him
also postpone from day to
day and from week to
week the proper treat-
ment of his illness.
He wanted first to
finish his history and
then attend to himself for
fear there might not be
time left if the order
would be reversed. His in-
tuition was unfortu-
nately right.
He accepted his suffer-
ings in his last weeks with
equanimity. He was al-
ways grateful that at
least his mind was perfect
even if his body was al:-
_ready weakened. He was
rather lonely in his last

months or weeks and felt
this loneliness badly.
The telephone, though
being a fine means of
communication, can be
the most cruel implement
of separation for the one
who wants and needs the
human touch and con-
He used to say, "People
call but I cannot see any-
body". This loneliness in
his last days was ex-
pressed in his desire in his
passing from us.
He explicitly requested
only the bare essentials
and - only the bare
minimum required
quorum at his funeral. No
eulogies, no memorials:

One does not erect monu-
ments for the righteous
ones. Their words, they
keep their memory alive.

Unsettled State of French-Israel Relations
Reflects Two Decades of Wooing the Arabs


(Copyright 1977, JTA, Inc.)

PARIS — Diplomatic
ties between France and
Israel are near the break-
ing point over the release
by a Paris court of Pales-
tinian terrorist Abu
But the Abu Daoud
episode was only the
latest convulsion in the
tortured history of
Franco-Israeli relations
going back more than two
It is a relationship that
has gyrated between


peaks - of friendship and
good will and the depths
of mutual suspicion and
France regarded itself
as the traditional champ-
ion of Arab emancipation
from colonialism until the
Algerian revolt against
French rule broke out in
After that, France and
Israel became the best of
friends and began a long

period of cooperation in
all fields. France was Is-
rael's main supplier of
modern arms and partner
in scientific research.
French technicians
built Israel's first nuclear
power plant at Dimona; it
was an open secret that
the French and Israeli in-
telligence • services
worked in close coordina-
In 1956, France joined
Britain and Israel in the
Suez campaign, an effort
to topple Egyptian Presi-
dent Gamal Abdel Nasser
and, from the point of
view of French interests,
to weaken the Algerian
revolt which Nasser abet-
But when the Algerian -
war ended in 1962 with
Algerian independence,
France, under Gen.
Charles DeGaulle, cooled
perceptibly toward Is-
rael. The strong-willed
DeGaulle was irritated
when Israel refused to
support certain of his
policies and, especially,
when it rejected his ad-
Matters came to a head
on the eve of the 1967
Six-Day War when De-
Gaulle warned the then
Israeli Foreign Minister
Abba Eban that France
would consider as the ag-
gressor "whoever shoots
Three months after the
Six-Day War DeGaulle
added what some called
"insult to injury" when,
at a Paris press confer-
ence, he -described Jews

as "an elite pegple,
domineering and sure of
Relations were further
exacerbated as France
tried to regain its former
position of influence in
the Arab world. DeGaul-
le's successor, President
Georges Pompidou,
elected in the summer of
1969, continued that pol-
-Throughout the Pom-
pidou presidency, France
and Israel eyed each other
with suspicion. France ac-
cused Israel of
inspiring "anti-French
Israel saw every
French diplomatic initia-
tive as guided by anti-
Israel sentiments.
When non-Gaullist Val-
ery Giscard D'Estaing
was elected to the Presi-
dency in the summer of
1974, chances seemed to
improve for a normaliza-
tion of relations with Is-
But Israeli anger and
suspicions were aroused
again when Giscard spoke
at- a press conference of
the Palestinians' right to
"a national homeland of
their own" and when
French Foreign Minister
Jean Sauvagnargues
shook hands with PLO
chieftain Yasir Arafat in
Nevertheless, Franco-
Israeli relations improved
during the past year.
Sauvagnargues visited Is-
rael, the first French

Foreign Minister to do so,
and Israeli Foreign Minis-
ter Yigal Allon made a re-
turn visit to France.
More interchanges on
the ministerial level fol-
lowed and these were ac-
companied by concrete
gestures of good Will by
France such as its sup-
port of Israel's associa-
tion with the European
Common Market.
But the Abu Daoud af-
fair suddenly reversed
this trend. Overnight,
France reverted to the
role of "an enemy which
cannot be trusted."
Even optimists concede
that it will take years be-
fore Franco-Israeli rela-
tions are restored to
where they were before
Daoud was freed.


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