Prof. Yaakov Elman Z”L, 1943-2018

I just received the terrible news that Professor Yaakov Elman has passed away. The following funeral details have been sent by Professor Shalom Carmy: Monday, July 30th, 12:30pm at Kehilla Chapels, 60 Brighton 11th Street Brooklyn (click here for directions).


My heart is breaking, my mind is racing, and I find it impossible to collect my thoughts about everything Yaakov meant to me, and his countless colleagues and students. He was a true iluy in a world that no longer realized it needed them, and he was one of the few and true voraciously hungry intellectuals left in a professionalized academia. He combined a chassidishe heart with a litvishe kop, a critical academic sense with the creativity of an original Tosafist. At his utter core was the work-ethic of an old-school masmid who never, ever, stopped learning, writing, mentoring, and doing, whether he lay in a hospital bed after a near fatal car-crash, or sweating during physical therapy in a rehab facility, learning to walk again (and again) after health problems.

One of his many jobs, in a career that spanned meteorology, bookselling, Assyriology, Jewish studies, and more, was publishing and editing. Like J. Z. Smith, he never tolerated the word “unique’ in his students’ prose. And yet, he was himself sui generis. There was, nor will there ever be, anyone like Yaakov at all. He was the one unique exception.

Yehi zichro baruch


6 thoughts on “Prof. Yaakov Elman Z”L, 1943-2018

  1. Howard Sragow says:

    Thank you for posting.

    I’m very saddened, but confident that Prof. Elman’s integrity, humility, wisdom, brilliance and affection for learners will continue to enlighten and inspire generations of people who love Jewish texts.


  2. Yonatan Feintuch says:

    Really devastating news, a real substantial loss for Jewish scholarship and society, and for Torah lovers and studiers everywhere, as well of, of course, his family and close colleagues and students. ‘chaval ‘al de-avdin’!

  3. Elimelekh Milton Polinsky says:

    A tremendous loss to the worlds of Torah and scholarship. I will miss his warmth and friendship. To all who knew him te’nu’hamu.

  4. H Rothstein says:

    Incredibly sad news. He was a brilliant scholar, a true Ben Torah and a very warm and kind human being. He will be missed by people across the entire spectrum of Jews committed to learning and thinking. Condolences to his family and his students.

  5. L Kaye says:

    Such a loss for our field, and for us as people. I remember with admiration how he would frequently say, “I used to think this but now I think that” about an issue or text when he was teaching, it was so exciting to be in his class and hear how his thinking was constantly evolving. Reminds me how some Amoraim say “I used to teach it this way, but now I teach it that way,” a sign of curiosity and a striving for ever better understanding. So many of us in the New York area would not have learned Middle Persian were it not for him and his partnering with MM so we could all learn. I will remember him as curious, open-minded, generous and inspiring.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s