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Naphtali Herz Tur-Sin

(1886 – 1973)

Naphtali Herz Tur-Sinai (Harry Torczyner) was a Hebrew philologist and Bible scholar.

Born in Lemberg, Tur-Sinai was raised in Vienna. He studied at the University of Vienna, 1905–09, and the Rabbinical Seminary, where his teachers included Meir Friedmann and Heinrich Mueller. His first teacher, however, was his father, an important patron of Jews in science, literature, and art and among the first active Zionists. In 1910 Tur-Sinai was appointed lecturer at the University of Vienna on the basis of his work on accents and vowels in Semitic languages. That same year he went to Jerusalem where he was elected a member of the *Va'ad ha-Lashon and taught Bible and Hebrew at a high school. From 1913 to 1919 he lectured in Semitic languages at the University of Vienna, and from 1919 to 1933 taught Bible and Semitic philology at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. In 1933 he settled in Jerusalem and was professor of Hebrew language at the Hebrew University. He was one of the presidents of the Va'ad ha-Lashon and president of the *Academy of the Hebrew Language from its founding in 1953. The following are among his publications: Deutsch-Hebraeisches Woerterbuch (together with S.M. Laser; 1927); substantial contributions to the new Jewish translation of the Bible into German (1935–37; see *Bible: Translations); commentary on the Book of Job (1941; 19542); and The Lachish Letters (1938), a deciphering of the Lachish letters. In addition to editing the periodical Leshonenu from 1934 to 1954, he edited and completed E. *Ben-Yehuda's dictionary from vol. 10 (1944), and translated essays by *Aḥad Ha-Am into German (1916; 1923). Among his works in German are Das Buch Hiob (1920); Die Bundeslade und die Anfaenge der Religion Israels (1922; 19302); and Die Entstehung des semitischen Sprachtypus (1916), where he sought to establish new origins of the Hebrew language, and which met with the opposition of most scholars.

In his writings, Tur-Sinai did not shrink from daring conjectures, but at the same time he continually criticized his own views and publicly repudiated assumptions of whose invalidity he had become convinced. A summary of his studies is given in the three volumes of Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer (1951–56), and a collection of his expositions on the Bible are published in Peshuto shel Mikra (1962–68). Tur-Sinai's approach to the problems of the Bible was formed against the background of the documentary theory in its classical form, which, however, he explicitly rejected. In his view the Bible in our possession is merely a collection of remnants of ancient works that spoke of early times. Within the framework of these ancient stories the laws, parables, poems, and prophecies were interwoven. Accordingly, the life of David was intertwined with the Psalms, and the life of Solomon with apothegms from the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and with poetry from the Song of Songs. Our Book of Job is an adaptation of ancient stories about Job and his friends (who lived in Edom). The skeleton of the story was fleshed out by many poetic sections in the form of polemics placed in the mouth of Job and his comforters. Tur-Sinai maintained that the original language of the book was Aramaic and that our Hebrew translation was made by one who did not sufficiently understand Aramaic. He believed, moreover, that anonymous texts, fragmentary and corrupt, formed the bases for fixing the biblical texts and assembling the canon during the Babylonian exile and later. Hence, in an effort to reconstruct the original version, his many bold suggestions for textual emendation derived from linguistic novellae – the majority of which did not gain acceptance. From his research in the Ugaritic writings, Tur-Sinai concluded that the content of the Bible is very ancient.


S.I. Feigin, in: Haolam, 26 (1938), 56f., 75f., 96–98; idem, Anshei Sefer (1950), 78–130, 417–23; J. Klausher, in: Leshonenu, 15 (1947), 3–9, bibl. of his writings; ibid., 10–26, 21 (1957), 149–54; Pirsumei ha-Ḥevrah la-Ḥakirat ha-Mikra be-Yisrael, 81 (Sefer Tur-Sinai; 1960), 7–10 (first pagination).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.