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Bokser, Baruch M.


BOKSER, BARUCH M. (1945–1990), U.S. scholar of rabbinics in the formative period, the first seven centuries c.e.; son of Conservative rabbi and scholar Ben Zion *Bokser. Baruch Bokser was educated at the University of Pennsylvania (B.A., 1966), Jewish Theological Seminary of America (M.H.L./Rabbi, 1971), and Brown University (Ph.D., Religious Studies/History of Judaism, 1974). He taught at Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley, Dropsie College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He devoted his oeuvre to explaining the development of Judaism, identifying the shifts in the way ideas and institutions are presented and assessing the significance that these transformations had for the history of Judaism and the society of the Jews. His books include Samuel's Commentary on the Mishnah: Its Nature, Form, and Content. Part One. Mishnayot in the Order of Zeraim (1975), showing how Babylonian rabbis related to the Mishnah, which won Brown University's Salo Baron Dissertation Prize in 1974; Post-Mishnaic Judaism in Transition: Samuel on Berakhot and the Beginnings of Gemara (1980), tracing the effort to move beyond Mishnah-commentary, linking Samuel's activities to their historical contexts; and The Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism (1984), in which literary analysis leads to historical interpretation of the ritual of Passover. Here he demonstrates how literary analysis leads to a historical interpretation of the development of an important ritual in Judaism. In addition, he edited History of Judaism: The Next Ten Years (1980); and he translated Tractate Pesaḥim of the Palestinian Talmud into English, published posthumously as vol. 13 of The Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation, completed and edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman (1994). The Bokser-Schiffman translation of Pesaḥim became the standard by which renditions of rabbinic texts into English are assessed. He was a master of the scholarly literature on every topic he addressed, and his "Annotated Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Palestinian Talmud" (1970, reprinted in 1981 in J. Neusner, ed., The Study of Ancient Judaism 2:1–119) is the standard bibliography on that subject to 1970. Among his many articles and reviews, some of the more memorable are "The Wall Separating God and Israel" (Jewish Quarterly Review, 778 (1983),349–74), "Rabbinic Responses to Catastrophe: From Continuity to Discontinuity) (Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 50 (1983), 37–61), and "Approaching Sacred Space" (Harvard Theological Review (1984)), which as a sequence assess how rabbis overcame the destruction of the Temple and yet preserved the memory of the lost center. His "Ma'al and Blessings over Food: Rabbinic Transformation of Cultic Terminology and Alternative Modes of Piety" (Journal of Biblical Literature 1981 100:557–74) treats justifications used to support a system of blessings to be recited on eating food. "Hanina ben Dosa and the Lizard: The Treatment of Charismatic Figures in Rabbinic Literature (Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies 1982 C:1–6 1982) and "Wonder-Working and the Rabbinic Tradition" (Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 1985 16:2–13) show that different portrayals of religious leaders are tied to different self-images of rabbis on the degree to which a leader is to stand out from the community or serve as a model for emulation. His oeuvre joined erudition and disciplined imagination to produce an enduring legacy of systematic learning. By the time of his early death, he had attained standing as one of the exemplary and influential scholars of ancient Judaism.

[Jacob Neusner (2nd ed.)]

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