Blau, Joshua

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BLAU, JOSHUA (1919– ), scholar of biblical Hebrew grammar, Middle Arabic, and *Genizah manuscripts. Born in Cluj, Transylvania, Blau studied in the Jewish Gymnasium in Budapest and Baden. He had barely spent a year in Jewish studies at the Rabbinical Seminary and Semitic languages at the University of Vienna when he had to flee the country in 1938 after its occupation by the Nazis. He immigrated to Palestine with his parents, where he continued his academic studies in Hebrew, Bible, and Arabic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (M.A., 1942). In 1948 he presented his dissertation on The Grammar of Judeo-Arabic, but was only awarded a Ph.D. two years later, after the War of Independence, during which he served in the army and took part in battles in Jerusalem.

In 1956 he was appointed senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a year later lecturer at the Hebrew University (professor from 1962), where he taught until his retirement in 1986.

Blau was a member of the Academy of Hebrew Language from the 1950s, was its president in 1981–93, and editor of its journal, Leshonenu, in 1981–99. Blau was also a member of the Israeli Academy for Sciences and Humanities from 1968 and head of Humanities, 1989–95; honorary fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society; and corresponding fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.

Blau's research focused on the fields of biblical Hebrew grammar, Semitic languages, and medieval Arabic. His books Torat ha-Hegeh ve-ha-Ẓurot ("Phonology and Morphology of Biblical Hebrew," 1971), Oẓar Leshon ha-Mikra ("A Concordance and Dictionary of the Bible," with S.A. Loewenstamm and M.Z. Kaddari, vol. 1 (1957), 2 (1960), 3 (1968)), Dikduk ha-Aravit ha-Yehudit shel Yemei ha-Beinayim ("Grammar of Judeo-Arabic of the Middle-Ages," 1962, updated 1980) and others (see below) along with hundreds of articles brought him the fame as the leading authority on Judeo-Arabic and a prominent expert on other branches of Semitic languages. Blau described the rise of Judeo-Arabic in The Emergence and Linguistic Background of Judaeo-Arabic: A Study of the Origins of Middle Arabic (1965, 19993), and also published A Grammar of Christian Arabic (3 vols., 1966–67). In these works Blau provided a solid foundation for research into medieval Judeo- and Christian-Arabic. These linguistic types had never been sufficiently studied or assessed before, because they were outside the scope of Muslim culture. In his studies, Blau provided a profound analysis and thorough description of a full-fledged and unique literature. He also showed the importance of this layer of Arabic in the crystallization of general standard Arabic as it has come down to us. Together with Prof. Simon Hopkins, he discovered an early phonetic method of Judeo-Arabic spelling, which enables us to reconstruct the very beginnings of Judeo-Arabic culture. Blau's research project on Middle Arabic will be completed with the publication of his immense Dictionary of Medieval Judeo-Arabic Texts.

Another important achievement of Blau's consists in his annotated critical edition of Teshuvot ha-Rambam ("Responsa of Maimonides") in three volumes (1958, 1960–61) with a Hebrew translation of the Arabic original, and an additional volume (1986).

Blau was founding president (1983–99) of the Association for Medieval Judeo-Arabic, which holds an international biannual conference.

Blau also contributed to the field of education. Thousands of high school and college students learned Hebrew grammar from his series Dikduk Ivri Shittati, Yesodot ha-Taḥbir, and Yesodot Torat ha-Lashon (2 vols.).

Blau was awarded the Ben-Zvi Prize in 1980; the Wilhelm Bacher Medal (Hungary) in 1999; the Mark Lidzbarski Medal in 2000; the Rothschild Prize in 1992; and the Israel Prize in 1985.

A list of Blau's publications up to 1991 is to be found in Hebrew and Arabic Studies in Honour of Joshua Blau, Presented by Friends and Students on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (ed. H. Ben-Shammai; 1993), pp. 1–34. Subsequently he published over 60 articles and three books: Iyyunim be-Valshanut Ivrit (1996), Topics in Hebrew and Semitic Linguistics (1998), and A Handbook of Early Middle Arabic (2003).

Blau's father, Pinchas (Paul), was one of the founders of the Hungarian Zionist daily newspaper *Uj Kelet at the end of World War i.


The Hebrew University of JerusalemGeneral Information (2000), 66; J. Blau, Mi-Transilvani'ah li-Yerushalayim (2000); Perasei Rotshild li-Shenat 1992, 5; Perasei Yisrael ha-Tashmah (1985), 8–9.

[Aharon Maman (2nd ed.)]