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This past Thursday, December 4, 2008, the community of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars and, more widely, the world of biblical and early Judaic Studies scholars, suffered the loss of a great colleague and a close friend. Professor Joseph M. Baumgarten left this world for the academy on high after succumbing to a long and difficult bout with cancer. He was buried on the following Sunday in his beloved city of Jerusalem where he and his late wife had maintained an apartment. Professor Baumgarten was a major scholar whose contributions to the study of Jewish law (halakhah) in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as other aspects of scrolls research were pioneering and central to the development of Qumran Studies as we know it today.

Joseph Baumgarten came to this country as a result of the rise of Nazi Germany and the Anschluss, Germany’s annexation of his home country, Austria. His mother and father had moved to Vienna where he was born on September 7, 1928. They were East European Jews who sought a better future in the modern, German-speaking, cosmopolitan Vienna. The entry of the Germans on March 12, 1938 spelled the end of Austria's Jewish community and propelled the Baumgarten family to immigrate to United States in March, 1939 with the assistance of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

Joe, as he was called, enrolled in Mesifta Torah Vodaath, a prominent Brooklyn yeshiva, where he was ordained a rabbi in 1950. It was here that he first established his relationship with Jonas Greenfield, who eventually became a prominent Semitics scholar at the Hebrew University. Greenfield contributed much to bring about the reorganization of the Dead Sea Scrolls publication project and was involved in the publication of the Judean Desert documents. In 1953 Baumgarten married Naomi Rosenberg who had been born in Yonkers, New York in 1933. The two were inseparable until her death in 2007. Her understanding of the significance of his work and her willingness to sacrifice for it were clearly major factors in his success. She earned a doctorate in psychology and worked throughout her life as a clinical psychologist.

From 1945-50 Baumgarten attended Brooklyn College where he majored in mathematics. He graduated on June 11, 1950, receiving his BA summa cum laude and he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. It was a natural, therefore, for him to continue his math studies and he came to Baltimore, intending to find a comfortable home at Ner Israel Rabbinical College while studying mathematics at Johns Hopkins. As Joe later related the story, and his family heard him tell the same story that he told me, upon arrival at Hopkins he decided to visit the great Orientalist William Foxwell Albright. At this initial interview, Albright took a few photos of Dead Sea Scrolls out of his drawer and asked Baumgarten what he thought of them. Before he knew it, his plans had changed and he enrolled in Semitic Studies. He remained at Hopkins from 1952-57 where he was the William S. Raynor Fellow in Semitic Languages. He taught Aramaic during those years and he was awarded his Ph.D. in 1954. His dissertation was entitled “The Covenant Sect and the Essenes.” In those years he also worked extensively on the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot).

Beginning in 1953, he began to teach at the Baltimore Hebrew College, initially as an instructor in the high school division. From 1955 on he served as Professor of Post-Biblical and Rabbinic Literature, Baltimore's senior expert in these fields. At the same time he served as a congregational rabbi, from 1959 on leading the Bnai Jacob Congregation. In maintaining his dual commitment to academic scholarship and the congregational rabbinate, he was continuing his modus operandi as a student--combining continuing rabbinical studies with his progress at the university. Baumgarten was one of the last American rabbis to succeed in maintaining both roles at the highest of levels, a challenge that he met naturally and with ease. Throughout his life he was a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, a major organization of Orthodox rabbis.

He served as visiting professor at Towson State College, University of Maryland, and the University of the Negev (now Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) in Israel.[1] He was in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1990, and in 1992-93 he was a fellow at the Annenberg Institute (now the Center for Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia. He returned to the Institute in Jerusalem as a Fellow in Fall, 2001.  In Jerusalem and in Philadelphia he was part of research teams dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls and distinguished himself not only for his own research but also for the help he provided other scholars while he was preparing important Dead Sea Scrolls texts for publication.

Baumgarten published articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls from 1953 through 2006.[2] In 1977, he brought together his early work in Studies in Qumran Law.[3] The collection of these materials established Baumgarten as a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar of first level in an era in which serious research was not done by many outside the official publication team. A glance at this research will show that Baumgarten sought to follow in the footsteps of important Jewish scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including those who had worked on the Damascus Document even before the study of the Qumran Scrolls. His approach brought it all together through familiarity with the published scrolls materials as a whole and with the important discoveries and developments in the field of Second Temple Judaism and Talmudic studies that had taken place in the first half of the 20th century . Already in these initial essays brought together in the 1977 volume, Baumgarten had staked out his field as the study of Qumran halakhah. Although he wrote some articles regarding other aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and although he was totally familiar with the entire range of Qumran texts, a glance at his list of articles shows that halakhah constituted the central foundation of his research plan. It was therefore natural, after the re-organization of the publication process and the allocation of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls to new editors, that Baumgarten would take an important role--indeed the leading role--in publishing the legal texts. In the early attempts to solve the publication problem, John Strugnell, with the cooperation of J.T. Milik, handed over the Cave 4 fragments of the Damascus Document to Baumgarten along with the leadership role regarding the other halakhic texts. As soon as he received his assignments, Baumgarten began, from1992, to publish a long series of articles that constituted the spadework for an entire volume of the series Discoveries in the Judean Desert, containing the long-awaited fragments of the Damascus Document (Zadokite Fragments)[4] and taking a significant role in the publication of another volume of halakhic texts.[5] At the same time, together with his student, Daniel R. Schwartz, Baumgarten published a translation and commentary on the Damascus Document in the series edited by J.H. Charlesworth.[6] While he continued to publish on related areas of Qumran Studies as well, these new halakhic texts from Cave 4 and their exposition remained his major focus. Indeed, he served as one of the editors of a volume of studies on the Damascus Document text published by the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University.[7]

The large number of articles he published, especially on difficult, technical Qumran legal texts, testifies to an amazing amount of energy that he was able to bring to bear on his work even while occupying a second job as a rabbi. His unbelievable enthusiasm for the significance of the Qumran texts and his strong intellectual curiosity clearly propelled him to overcome a difficult teaching schedule that for many would have been an excuse to minimize research. In this respect, Baumgarten serves as a shining example in leaving behind so significant a record of publications.

To recognize his immense contribution, it was decided to dedicate the proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies (IOQS) as a “volume in honour of Joseph M. Baumgarten, one of the scholars who has contributed the most to the publication and analysis of the legal texts and issues found in or related to the Dead Sea Scrolls." The editors noted that "Joe helped define this whole significant area of research…." They further noted that "what makes his achievement so remarkable, in retrospect, is the fact that, like so many other aspects of Qumran studies, it had to be created in something of a vacuum."[8]

Those who encountered Joseph Baumgarten in the academic world knew that he was a great scholar and a person of utmost integrity. Those who encountered him in the context of the Jewish community knew him as a person of deep religious commitment and utmost traditional Talmudic scholarship. Those who encountered him in both contexts had the opportunity to experience a seamless combination of the two forms of scholarship that in his person were unified as one. He was universally loved and respected throughout his career, and this has been reflected in the outpouring of sorrow at his passing by so many friends.

When I began studying the halakhah of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he was the only person in the field. I knew his name but had not yet met him. Very early in my career, it must have been in the mid-70s, I attended a meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature to present what was then my first paper. As I was talking, I noticed a fellow standing near the door who had entered just before I began. He was holding his proverbial tan lined raincoat and the hound’s-tooth checked hat that he usually wore. I do not even remember what the subject of my presentation was, but I do remember meeting him. Right after the session ended he came up to me. He introduced himself as "Joe" Baumgarten, welcomed me into the small circle of students of Qumran halakhah, and immediately dispelled any fear I might have that he would see me as an unwelcome competitor. Within fifteen minutes I was meeting his beloved wife Naomi who somehow or other was waiting for him in the hall. This was the beginning of years of friendship and collegiality. It was not long before my wife, Marlene, met the Baumgartens and, as our children grew older, she started to join me at various meetings and spent a considerable amount of time with Naomi while Joe and I were busy with our sessions.

Academically, Baumgarten set the example for those of us who apply Talmudic material and methodology to the scrolls, a method and a skill that had virtually gone into disuse in the earlier years of scrolls research. His work exemplified the judiciousness and the depths of Talmudic learning that were necessary for such research to be of true value. His work on the Damascus Document not only brought its manuscripts to publication but provided the basis for understanding it within the framework of the history of Judaism. In his later years he participated in conferences in which days of papers were given following the methods he had espoused, and it is to a great extent due to the example of his scholarship that this field has developed as well as it has.

Joseph Baumgarten is survived by his children Rachel Neuberger, Menachem Baumgarten, Judy Silverman, Shraga Baumgarten, Devora Friedman, and Mindi Hauer, as well as many loving grandchildren and great grandchildren.

May his righteous memory be for a blessing!

[1] International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés,. Vol. II (The Arts, Sciences, and Literature), Part 1: A-K (ed. Herbert A. Strauss and Werner Röder; Munich etc.: K. G. Saur, 1983), p. 63. This reference was called to my attention by Daniel R. Schwartz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I also thank Meir Baumgarten, a grandson, for providing me with some information.

[2] A complete list of publications can be gleaned from the bibliography of F. García Martínez in M. Bernstein, García Martínez, J. Kampen, Legal Texts and Legal Issues, Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies, Cambridge 1995, Published in Honour of Joseph M. Baumgarten (STJD 23; Leiden: Brill, 1997) xix-xxv, F. García Martínez and D.W. Parry, A Bibliography of the Finds in the Desert of Judah, 1970-95 (STDJ 19; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 24-29 (nos. B.151-204) and from the Internet bibliography of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Hebrew University.

[3] (SJLA 24; Leiden: EJ Brill, 1977).

[4] J. M. Baumgarten, Qumran Cave 4.XIII: The Damascus Document (4Q266–273) (DJD XVIII ; Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).

[5] J. Baumgarten et al., Qumran Cave 4.XXV: Halakhic Texts ( DJD XXXV; Oxford: Clarendon, 1999).

[6] J.M. Baumgarten, "Damascus Document." In The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations. Vol. 3: Damascus Document II, Some Works of the Torah, and Related Documents (ed. J.H. Charlesworth and H.W.M. Rietz; The Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006) 4-57.

[7] J.M. Baumgarten, E.G. Chazon, and A. Pinnick, eds. The Damascus Document: A Centennial of Discovery. Proceedings of the Third International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, 4-8 February 1998 (STJD 34. Leiden: Brill, 1999).

[8] Legal Texts and Legal Issues, vii. This volume includes a beautiful tribute (xv-xviii), "Joseph M. Baumgarten: An Appreciation,” by D.R. Schwartz who studied with him at the Baltimore Hebrew College.

Citation: Lawrence H Schiffman, " Joseph M. Baumgarten, 1928-2008," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Dec 2008]. Online:


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