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Blau, Lajos

(1861–1936), Talmudic scholar, historian, and rector of the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest. Born in Putnok, Hungary, Lajos (Ludwig) Blau studied at the Pressburg yeshiva and attended the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest. After his ordination he joined the seminary’s faculty, and when Vilmos Bacher died in 1913, Blau succeeded him as rector until his own retirement in 1932.

From 1891 to 1930, Blau edited Magyar Zsidó Szemle, a Hungarian quarterly devoted to Jewish scholarship. In 1911, he launched the Hebrew-language academic journal Ha-Tsofeh, the only scholarly publication of its type in Europe at that time. It appeared until 1931, with the exception of the World War I years. In Magyar Zsidó Szemle Blau called for stronger Jewish communal involvement and investment in Jewish scholarship. He also welcomed the establishment of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and other Jewish institutions; he saw their potential for widening and disseminating research in Jewish studies. At a festive gathering for rectors of European rabbinical seminaries in 1929 (which marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Breslau seminary), Blau was elected chair of the committee to promote international cooperation among seminaries.

In response to rising antisemitic propaganda and legislation at turn-of-the century and post–World War I Hungary, Blau devoted part of his literary activities to explicit and implicit polemics and apologetics. Such considerations played a part in his plan, conceived together with Simon Hevesi and Michael Guttmann, to translate the Babylonian Talmud into Hungarian. The project was never realized, however, due to the outbreak of World War I.

Blau was one of the most significant and prolific Judaica scholars of his era. His wide scope of interests included the history of the written transmission of the Hebrew Bible, ancient Jewish law, magic, Jewish papyrology, and Hebrew paleography. His immense bibliography contains close to 1,500 reviews of scholarly literature, most of which he published in the 40 volumes of Magyar Zsidó Szemle that he edited. A major proportion of his reviews deal with books on general philology and history, for which he wrote glosses from a Jewish perspective. Unfortunately, most of these erudite reviews remained unnoticed in Jewish scholarship abroad, as they were written in Hungarian. His chief published works were, however, in German (paralleled by Hungarian editions in most cases) and are still consulted by contemporary scholars.

Early on, Blau recognized the importance of archaeological and papyrological findings, and he accordingly wrote pioneering studies that were among the first to utilize these sources. Among his works in that area are Papyri und Talmud in gegenseitiger Beleuchtung (Papyri and Talmud in Mutual Elucidation; 1913); “Prosbol im Lichte der griechischen Papyri und der Rechtsgeschichte” (Prosbol in Light of the Greek Papyri and of the History of Law; in Festschrift zum 50-jährigen Bestehen der Franz Josef—Landesrabbinerschule in Budapest, Budapest, 1927); and “Early Christian Archaeology from the Jewish Point of View” (Hebrew Union College Annual 3 [1926]: 157–214). His main works are also characterized by the comparative method, analyzing Jewish legal and cultural history against the backdrop of neighboring societies and cultures: Das altjüdische Zauberwesen (Ancient Jewish Magic; 1898); Studien zum althebräischen Buchwesen und zur biblischen Literaturgeschichte (Studies in Ancient Hebrew Booklore; 1902); and his two-volume Die jüdische Ehescheidung und der jüdische Scheidebrief (Jewish Divorce and the Jewish Letter of Divorce; 1911–1912).

Suggested Reading

David Samuel Loewinger, “Yehudah Aryeh Bloi,” in Ḥokhmat Yisra’el be-ma‘arav Eropah, ed. Simon Federbusch, pp. 59–84 (Jerusalem, 1958); David Samuel Loewinger, “Ludwig Blau,” in The Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest, 1877–1977: A Centennial Volume, ed. Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, pp. 162–177 (New York, 1986); Tamás Turán, “Blau Lajos tudománya: Hatvan év múltán,” afterword to Az óhéber könyv—A héber bibliakánon, by Lajos Blau (Budapest, 1996).