Ehrlich, Arnold Bogumil

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EHRLICH, ARNOLD BOGUMIL (1848–1919), biblical exegete. Ehrlich was born in Wlodawa in Russian Poland. As a youth he studied in a ḥeder and then a yeshivah, married at an early age, and had two daughters. Despairing of his narrow Jewish world, Ehrlich, still quite young, divorced his wife, and, in 1865, went to Germany. There he worked as a librarian in the Semitics department of the Berlin Royal Library. In Leipzig, under the influence of Christian missionaries and tempted by the greater opportunities available to Christians, Ehrlich converted to Christianity. He worked with Franz *Delitzsch (1813–99) in the missionary Institutum Judaicum, helping to translate the New Testament into Hebrew (1877) for the purpose of a Christian mission to the Jews. At the age of 30, Ehrlich migrated to the U.S., married again, and raised a family under difficult economic conditions, working at various jobs including social work, portraiture, and Hebrew teaching. According to Richard J.H. *Gottheil, when Ehrlich reached New York in 1876 he called on Rabbi R. Gustav Gottheil of Temple Emanu-El (Richard's father), confessed that he had been converted to Christianity at the age of 23 while working for Delitzsch, and expressed a desire to be reaccepted formally into the Jewish faith. He accordingly appeared before a bet din on March 7, 1876, and was readmitted to the Jewish community after making the necessary declarations in both German and English (which are quoted by Richard in his biography of his father). The proceedings were duly recorded. Ehrlich, who weighed three hundred pounds, never obtained a real academic post. On the one hand, Jews with academic influence suspected his Christian connections, while on the other hand Christians probably saw him as too much of an East European Jew. In 1884 he published a chrestomathy containing selections from the Talmud and the Midrashim, "for youths and students." His main work, however, was devoted to biblical exegesis. From 1899 to 1901 his Hebrew commentary on the Bible Mikra ki-Feshuto was published in Berlin in three volumes (of the four he planned; repr. 1969). He subscribed the title page with the pseudonym "Shabbetai b. Yom Tov ibn Boded." In the introduction he explained that he had written the commentary in Hebrew so that the Hebrew reader would study his words and comments. His book, however, received only scant attention. The Jewish press on the whole reacted to the book with exceptionally sharp criticism (also because of his skeptical attitude to tradition and his attacks on the medieval commentators), and the Christian scholars, who had great difficulty with Modern Hebrew, almost completely disregarded the commentary. The publication of his German commentary on the Book of Psalms (1905), which included a new translation, was a turning point in his life. It served as an introduction to his German commentary on the Bible, which like his Hebrew one consists of notes on the Bible, Randglossen zur hebraeischen Bibel (7 vols., 1908–14). Ehrlich included part of the material from his Hebrew commentary, but in an expanded form, as well as new interpretations arrived at since its publication; many of his earlier opinions are changed here. Although Ehrlich does not mention the Documentary Hypothesis, he employs evidence from language, religious concepts, and institutions to assign relative "late" and "early" dates to specific passages. Historical assessments such as the denial of Egyptian enslavement and of the Exodus are buried in comments to individual verses. He concentrates on textual criticism and reconstructions, and his very numerous emendations (especially in his German commentary) are at times conjectural (such as haplography or dittography, letters having a similar appearance in the ancient or in the square script, the use of abbreviations, glosses, etc.), and in most cases are not based on ancient translations. His comments, which are distinguished by their originality, at times have the quality of homiletics and are derived from Ehrlich's innovating spirit; yet through his sound linguistic instinct and fine linguistic differentiations he succeeded in illuminating and explaining, with great acumen and profundity, many verses and linguistic usages. Ehrlich's exegetical work is an important contribution to modern biblical exegesis. Ehrlich's work was highly influential on the Jewish translation produced by the Jewish Publication Society in 1917 and its successor of 1962–82.


S. Bernfeld, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 5 (1899), 547–52; B.Z. Halpern, in; Miklat, 2 (1920), 417–26; T. Friedlaender, in: The Nation, 110 (1920), 41; M. Haran (Diman), in: Bitzaron, 22 (1950), 190, 193–196; J. Bloch, in: jba, 12 (1953–5), 23; A.B. Ehrlich, Mikra ki-Feshuto, 1 (19692), introd. by H.M. Orlinsky; R.J.H. Gottheil, The Life of Gustav Gottheil: Memoir of a Priest in Israel (1936), 75–77; R.M. Stern, in: aja, 23 (1971), 73–85; G. Kressel, in: Hadoar (Sept. 17, 1971), 665–6. add. bibliography: S.D. Sperling, Students of the Covenant (1992), 45–47; E. Greenstein, in: dbi, 1, 323–24.

[Raphael Weiss /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]