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Scheiber, Sándor

(1913–1985), rabbi and scholar, rector of the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest. Sándor Scheiber was a descendant of rabbis on both sides of his family; he studied at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest and was ordained in 1938. At the same time, he attended Pázmány Péter University, earning a doctorate of philosophy in 1937. He was a student of the famous Jewish scholar and head of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest, Bernát Heller.

Between 1938 and 1940, Scheiber did research and studied medieval Hebrew manuscripts at libraries in England. From 1941 to 1944, he served as rabbi of Dunaföldvár. In 1943, he was conscripted for forced labor service but was rescued from a transit camp just before his unit left. The following year he went to Budapest, remaining during the German occupation and working as a cataloger at the Jewish museum. In October 1944, he was conscripted again into forced labor.

Beginning in 1945, Scheiber played a significant role in reactivating the rabbinical seminary, where he taught literature and biblical studies. He was its joint director from 1950, with Ernő Róth, and served as sole director from 1956 until his death. Between 1949 and 1951, he was an associate professor (Privat-Docent) of comparative folklore at the University of Szeged and during the last two years of his life a titular professor at the same institution. Although he was frequently offered positions abroad—including the directorship of the library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—he rejected these opportunities.

Scheiber received honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the Protestant (Calvinist) Theological Academy of Debrecen, Baltimore Hebrew College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Hebrew University. Because he was an observant Jew, he was ignored all his life by official state institutions: the Hungarian Academy of Sciences never elected him to be a member. Nonetheless, he was an internationally known scholar of Judaic studies as well as of comparative folklore, famous for his work in literary history, Oriental studies, art history, archeology, and the history of religion.

As an editor and publisher, Scheiber took particular interest in Jewish sacred folklore, the history of Hungarian Jewry, and the connections between Hungarian folklore and world literature. He wrote significant works on János Arany and Kálmán Mikszáth, and kept a diary, written in the form of letters to his brother. After 1933, he published as many as 1,600 works; one of the most important is his Geniza Studies (1981), summarizing the results of 40 years of research. He also published the Kaufmann Haggadah (1957), Immánuel Löw’s Fauna und Mineralien (1969) and Studien zur jüdischen Folklore (1975), as well as Ignác Goldziher’s Tagebuch (Diary; 1977), the Maimúni Kódex (1984), the Heller Bernát Emlékkönyv (Memorial Volume; 1943), the Lőw Immánuel Emlékkönyv (Memorial Volume; 1947), and the Ignace Goldziher Memorial Volume II (1958).

In 1970, Scheiber reactivated the Évkönyv (Yearbook) series of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest. He also edited the Magyar-Zsidó Oklevéltár (Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, vols. 5–7 with Fülöp Grünwald between 1959 and 1963; 9–18 from 1965 on his own) and the series Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek Monográfiái (Monographs of Hungarian Jewish Communities; from 1966). In 1983, he received the title of doctor of linguistics from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for his life’s work. Books on Jewish topics from his library are now part of the Eastern collection of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Suggested Reading

Róbert Dán, Occident and Orient. A Tribute to the Memory of Alexander Scheiber (Budapest, 1988); István Hahn, “Scheiber Sándor tudományos munkássága,” MIOK Évkönyv (1984): 3–12; Nathaniel Katzburg, Beszélgetések Scheiber Sándorral (Budapest, 2000); Sándor Scheiber, Folklór és tárgytörténet, 3 vols. (Budapest, 1977–1984), vol. 2 includes bibliography of his works; Vilmos Voigt, “Scheiber Sándor,” Ethnographia 1 (1988): 128–130.



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó