Passing of Prof. Menahem Schmelzer

Shalom Berger's picture
H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Prof. Menahem Schmelzer (1934-2022), Albert B. and Bernice Cohen Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature and Jewish Bibliography at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.  Prof. Schmelzer, as his student Dr. Debra Reed Blank wrote in the introduction to one of two festschriftn dedicated to him "exemplified that generation of American Judaica scholars born in pre-World War II Europe:  polymaths distinguished by their command of multiple languages and literatures, broad classical education, and yeshiva-style mastery of the traditional Jewish corpus.  Schmelzer's erudition is widely recognized within the worlds of Judaic manuscripts, codicology, early printing, and bibliography.  His mastery of piyyut has brought him particular recognition...Less known is his command of the non-poetical material, an area within which he is regarded as the scholar's scholar, the go-to source when questions of text, context, and analysis arise...."   
Prof. Schmelzer served as JTS librarian from 1965-1987, leading the library's recovery effort following the devastating fire of 1966. Subsequently, he served on the JTS faculty, where he was a beloved figure.  His scholarly output was extraordinary: his Academia Page lists 11 books, 71 articles and 11 reviews (see  
Avinoam Stillman has favored us with the following necrology:  

"We are sorry to inform you that Professor Menahem Schmelzer has passed away after a prolonged illness. He passed in his home, with his family nearby.


Menahem Schmelzer was the Albert B. and Bernice Cohen Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature and Jewish Bibliography at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He was a member of the JTS faculty since 1961 and served as librarian from 1964 to 1987.


Professor Schmelzer was born in 1934 in Kecel, Hungary. The family – Ferenc, Margit, Menahem, and his younger brother Otto – all survived the Holocaust in labor camps. After WWII, they moved to Budapest and he studied in several yeshivot, including in Hajdúhadház and Erlau. After graduating from the Jewish High School of Budapest in 1952, he enrolled in Eötvös Loránd University where he studied ancient history and languages. In 1953, he was arrested by the Communist regime for his activities in Bnei Akiva. Following Stalin’s death, he was released from prison in 1954. Forbidden from resuming his university studies, he enrolled at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, becoming a favored student of Alexander Scheiber.


 During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he fled to Switzerland. From 1956-1958, he studied at the University of Basel; from 1958-1960 he attended the University of Copenhagen, where he earned his MA. From 1960-1961 he worked at the manuscript division of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. In 1961 he married Ruth Blum, and the young couple moved to New York, where he joined the Jewish Theological Seminary and began his work at the JTS  Library, one of the world’s most important collections of Judaica. He completed his dissertation, entitled “The Poetic Work of Rabbi Isaac Ibn Giat,” in 1965. In 1966 he was appointed head Librarian; he oversaw the recovery from the JTS Library fire of 1966 and the renovation of the Library, which opened in a new building in 1982.


Professor Schmelzer is remembered as a scholar’s scholar whose name graces the “acknowledgements” section of countless important monographs. His generous erudition and gentlemanly manners endeared him to innumerable people from all walks of life. He was a true ish sefer, a link in the chain connecting the Jewish life and learning of pre-war Europe to post-war Israel and the USA. Alongside his work as Librarian, he published on a wide variety of subjects, from critical editions of liturgy and Hebrew poetry to pioneering treatments of Jewish book culture and history. His many publications can be found at


He is survived by his wife Ruth, his children Naomi, Shai, and Becky, and their families. The funeral will be held at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, at 9:30am, Monday, December 12. Information and a livestream are available here:"

H-Judaic extends deepest condolences to Prof. Schmelzer's family, colleagues, and legions of friends and students around the world.

Jonathan D. Sarna

Chair, H-Judaic 


Categories: Obituary
Keywords: Necrology