October 16, 1997
Harvard
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  Isadore Twersky, Rabbinical Scholar, Dies

Isadore Twersky, Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy, died Suday, Oct. 12, at Massachusetts General Hospital after a long illness. He was 67.

Twersky, an authority on rabbinical literature and Jewish thought, was known for his work on the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

Born in Boston in 1930, Twersky graduated from Boston Latin School and then attended Harvard, earning a bachelor's degree (magna cum laude) in 1952, a master's in 1953, and a doctorate in 1956. He also received a master's degree from Hebrew College in Brookline. He worked at the University for more than 30 years and served as director of the Center for Jewish Studies from 1978 until 1993.

Jay Harris, the Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies, said that as a scholar Twersky "was a real pioneer, pushing us all to rethink the nature of Jewish spirituality in the medieval period and the modern period."

Twersky had extraordinary expertise in the most difficult areas of Jewish literature -- the rabbinic texts, Bible commentaries, and legal writing of the Middle Ages, Harris said.

These are texts that many scholars ignored because they were viewed as too dry and complicated, Harris said. "But he was able to demonstrate their underlying spiritual nature."

Harris said that Twersky was also "a wonderful colleague, helper, and mentor, who helped to ease my transition into Harvard. He was very solicitous of students and used all his energies to raise funds so that the students had what they needed."

When Twersky stepped down from his post at the Center for Jewish Studies, James Kugel -- the Harry Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature -- wrote a tribute that was published in the Center's newsletter in spring 1996, which read, in part: "Few people in academic life are privileged to have the opportunity to mold an institution from its inception and so shape its course for time to come; fewer, still, are those who can do so in such a way as to win the approval of their colleagues and the admiration of the outside world. Professor Twersky's achievement as the Center's first director is a measure of his own qualities of leadership and learning: whoever pursues Jewish studies at Harvard hereafter will be in his debt."

Twersky, a prolific writer, was noted for his book, An Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), as well as numerous articles. He also edited Harvard Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, Volumes I, II, III.

Twersky won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989 and was a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Among Twersky's survivors are his wife, Atarah; two sons, Mosheh and Mayer; and a daughter, Tzipporah Rosenblatt.

The burial was held in Israel.

 


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