Respected Biblical commentators are rarely university professors or radio personalities. Even less common is for them to be female. And while her credentials were certainly not the norm, Nehama Leibowitz was unique beyond even that.
Born in 1905, in Riga (Latvia), Leibowitz received a full and comprehensive education alongside her older brother, Yeshayahu (who became a professor of chemistry and a well-known philosopher). In Berlin, where her family relocated in 1919, Leibowitz continued her education and eventually received her doctorate from the University of Marburg. In 1930, with her new husband, Lipmann Leibowitz, she moved to Israel and began her brilliant career as a teacher.
As her career progressed from the Mizrachi Women’s Teachers Seminary to Tel Aviv University, hundreds of students were impacted by her courses on the Bible and its commentators. Since so many alumnae of her classes wished to continue studying with her, Leibowitz created gilyoh’noht (stenciled pages of questions) on the weekly Torah portion that she began distributing in 1942. Over time, thousands of men and women were receiving her “pages.” Many of them were in direct contact with her, answering the Biblical questions and receiving her responses to their answers.
Leibowitz utilized an incredibly wide range of Biblical commentaries, both ancient and modern, even referring to recent Biblical literary critics. Her work not only inspired thousands to study the sacred texts, but also re-established the importance of Biblical scholarship to many who had previously focused only on Talmud.
Even after she retired from the university, she continued teaching in her home. By the time Leibowitz died in 1997, much of her work had been published. Ever humble, she always insisted that her students refer to her merely as Nehama, and on her tombstone it is written, simply: Nehama Leibowitz-Teacher.
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