Midreshei Philo by the Late Dr. S. Belkin

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The late Dr. Samuel Belkin, president of Yeshiva University, was one of the few Jewish scholars who devoted themselves to the study of the writings of Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher. In publications in English and Hebrew, Belkine endeavored to show that Philo, who died about 20 years before the destruction of the Second Temple was familiar with much of the Halakha and the Aggada taught by the sages of Israel.

Belkin continued to occupy himself with Philo, even after he had become head of Yeshiva R. Yitzchak Elchanan and Yeshiva college, which under his leadership expanded and developed into Yeshiva University, though, naturally he could not devote to his studies as much time as he did before.

Following Dr. Belkin’s death in 1976, Yeshiva University decided to publsh in several volumes all of his studies – those which had appeared in print as well as those that remained in manuscript — relating to the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher.

The first three volumes were to contain Dr. Belkin’s “Questions and Answers” on Genesis and Exodus, in which Philo presents a literal as well as an allegoric explanation to the texts of the first two books of the Torah.

The “Questions and Answers,” like all other writings of Philo, were originally written in Greek. The original – with the exception of some fragmnets – was lost a long time ago. however, an incomplete Armenian version of this work has survived. The Armenian version was edited and translated into English by Ralph Marcus and was published in 1953.

Belkin wrote an extensive commentary on the”Midrashic” part of the “Questions and Answers” in which he explained Philo’s views, brought together from all of Philo’s writing material relevant to the verses under discussion and compared Philo’s exegesis with that of the Talmudic and Midrashic sages as well as with the interpretations of the great medieval commentators.

Talmudic and Midrashic literature has preserved no remnant of the Derashot delivered by our sages in the Land of Israel during the period of the Second Temple. Dr. Belkin has discovered, embedded in the writings of Philo, Derashot the Alexandrian had delivered on Sabbaths on a variety of subjects. About 50 of these Derashot will be published in the fourth f the six projected volumes. The gathering of these Derashot constitutes a major contribution to the study of the development of the Derasha in Israel.

Volume five of the series will include various dissertations, such as a discussion of the methods of exegesis employed by Philo and an essay on his division of the commandments.

The last volume will discuss Philo’s influence on certain midrashim and the parallels found in them.

Midreshei Philo vol. 1 (The English title page of the Hebrew volume reads: The Midrash of Philo, the oldest recorded Midrash written in Alexandria by Philo before the formulations of Tannaitic literature), which appeared a short time ago, in the first of the three volumes offering Belkin’s commentary on select portions of Philo’s “Questions and Answers” on Genesis and Exodus. It covers Parashiyot Bereshit, Noah and Lekh Lekha.

The volume was edited by Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, a member of the faculty of Yeshiva University and a prolific author who has published a large number of works by early rabbinic authorities.

In his beautifully written introductory essay, Hurvitz, who had been very close to Dr. Belkin and has assisted him in the editing of his Philo studies, describes the life, the ideas and ideals of the late president of Yeshiva University and explains at length the importance and significance of Dr. Belkin’s researches and views on Philo.

The volume opens in the memory of the author with the Hebrew translation by Aaron Mirsky, of a passage from Philo’s work, “The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain” which describes the Tzaddik (reighteous man) as Yesod Olam (foundation of the world).

The Jewish Press, Friday, January 5, 1990