Halper, Benzion

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HALPER, BENZION (1884–1924), Hebraist, Arabist, and editor. Halper was born in Zhosli (Zasliai), Lithuania. He emigrated to Germany and from there to England. In 1907 he began studying Semitics at the University of London. While at the university he also studied at Jews' College. In 1910 he spent a year in Egypt under university auspices. During this period he contributed regularly to the Hebrew periodical Ha-Yehudi. In 1911 Halper went to New York and worked as classifier and copyist of genizah fragments in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In 1912 he became a Fellow at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, and from 1913 taught there in the departments of rabbinics and cognate (Semitic) languages. In 1923 he was advanced to the rank of associate professor of cognate languages. He also served the college as custodian of manuscripts. From 1916 to 1924 Halper was editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America.

Among the genizah fragments brought to Dropsie College by Cyrus Adler, Halper discovered a portion of Sefer ha-Mitzvot ("Book of Precepts") by the 10th-century halakhist and philosopher *Ḥefeẓ b. Yaẓli'aḥ. He translated it into Hebrew and published both the original Arabic text and the translation with an introduction and critical notes as The Book of Precepts (1915). His scholarly and at the same time popular anthology, Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature (Hebrew and English, 2 vols., 1921), presented some previously unpublished texts as well as critical notes and a glossary. Under the title Shirat Yisrael (1924), he published an edition and Hebrew translation of Kitab al-Muḥadara wal-Mudhakara (Book of Discussions and Remembrances) by the 12th-century Hebrew poet, Moses *Ibn Ezra, dealing with Hebrew prosody and, more generally, with Jewish life and literature. Halper's last important work was the Descriptive Catalogue of Geniza Fragments in Philadelphia (1924), which identifies and describes in detail nearly 500 fragments. Halper's first major essay, entitled "The Participle Formations of Geminate Verbs" (in zaw, 30 (1910), 42–57, 99–126, 201–28), discussed Hebrew roots from אבב to תפץ. His major studies included "The Scansion of Medieval Hebrew Poetry" (in jqr, 4 (1914), 153–224), "An Autograph Responsum of Maimonides" (ibid., 6 (1916), 225–9), "A Dirge on the Death of Daniel Gaon" (ibid., 10 (1920), 411–20), and analyses of genizah discoveries and Jewish literature in Arabic (in Ha-Tekufah, 1923, 1924, 1928).


C. Adler, in: ajyb, 26 (1924), 459–71; J.N. Simchoni, in: Ha-Tekufah, 23 (1927), 490–500; I.M. Elbogen, ibid., 24 (1928), 541–2.

[Meir Ben-Horin]