Birnbaum, Solomon Asher

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BIRNBAUM, SOLOMON ASHER (1891–1989), Yiddish philologist and Hebrew paleographer. Birnbaum was born in Vienna, the son of Nathan *Birnbaum, and is the father of Jacob Birnbaum, a key initiator of the U.S. Soviet Jewry Movement. After World War i service, he specialized in Oriental languages. Appointed lecturer in Yiddish at Hamburg University (1922), he was the first in any university to hold a teaching post for Yiddish. He emigrated to England (1933) and then to Toronto (1970). He taught Hebrew paleography at London University's School of Oriental and African studies (1936-57) and Yiddish at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (1939-58).

Birnbaum wrote over 150 major articles on Yiddish, other Jewish languages, and Hebrew paleography, in German, Yiddish, and later mostly in English. He wrote Praktische Grammatik der jiddeschen Sprache (1918, 19662, 19793, 19844), the first fully systematic Yiddish grammar, Die Yiddische Sprache (1974, 19862), and Yiddish, A Survey and a Grammar (1979), as well as Life and Sayings of the Baal Shem (1933). His Hebrew Scripts (part 2, 1954-57, part 1, 1972), the first comprehensive work on Hebrew paleography with hundreds of illustrations and detailed paleographical examinations, charted the evolution of Hebrew script. He wrote The Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls and Paleography (1952). Due out in 2007 was S.A. Birnbaum, A Lifetime of Achievement: 63 Jewish Linguistic and Paleographic Studies, ed. C. Timm.


S. Hiley, "S.A. Birnbaum," in: D.B. Kerler (ed.), History of Yiddish Studies (1991); Rejzen, Leksikon (1956); J. Spalek and S. Hawrylchak (eds.), Guide to Archival Materials of German-speaking Emigration to U.S.…, 3/1 (1997).