Jacob Milgrom
Jacob Milgrom Photo by Milgrom family
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With the passing of Professor Jacob Milgrom on Saturday in Jerusalem, Israel has lost its second leading Bible scholar in three weeks. Both Milgrom, who immigrated in 1994, and Professor Moshe Greenberg, who died last month at 81, were American-born Conservative rabbis and academics recognized as preeminent authorities in their field. Milgrom was 87.

"He was a master in the understanding of biblical cult and ritual and became the paradigm of research in this field - his works are cited by everyone," said Professor Shalom Paul, a native Philadelphian and former chairman of Hebrew University's Bible department.

"Jacob Milgrom's Torah was his life," his longtime student and friend Baruch J. Schwartz said at the funeral Monday in Jerusalem. "Not only did he devote his life to the study of Torah, the theologically profound insights that emerged from his research became a part of his own existential truth, a truth that he sought to put into practice as well."

Schwartz, a Hebrew University Bible teacher, also praised Milgrom's devotion to his students, noting that he encouraged them to become confident but self-critical scholars in their own right. He incorporated in his research hundreds of his students' suggestions, always citing them by name, he said.

"Milgrom was indefatigable," added Schwartz, who was born Philadelphia. "At the time of his death he was looking forward to a scholarly event scheduled to take place two years hence at which his forthcoming commentary on Ezekiel would be discussed. It never occurred to him that he might not make it."

Born in 1923 in Brooklyn, Milgrom spent most of his career at the University of California in Berkeley, where he headed the department of Near Eastern studies. He was widely recognized as the leading authority on Leviticus and especially for his understanding of the complicated laws of ritual purity. Milgrom, who upon moving to the capital's Talbiye neighborhood lectured at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, was also known for his commentary on the Book of Numbers and his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Milgrom was a neighbor and close friend of Philadelphia-born Moshe Greenberg, who for 26 years taught at Hebrew University before he died on May 15 in Jerusalem. The first Bible scholar to receive the prestigious Israel Prize, Greenberg was best known for his definitive commentary on the Book of Ezekiel. Milgrom had recently finished a commentary on the final chapters of Ezekiel, in an effort to complete Greenberg's work.

Milgrom is survived by his wife Jo - who teaches art and Judaism at the Schechter Institute - their children Shira, Jeremy, Eitan and Asher as well as 14 grandchildren.