Obituary: Prof. Yaakov Elman

Shalom Berger's picture

Obituary: Prof. Yaakov Elman

H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Prof. Yaakov Elman (1943-2018),  Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg Chair in Talmudic Studies at Yeshiva University.  Prof. Elman founded the field now known as Talmudo-Iranica, which seeks to understand the Babylonian Talmud in its Middle-Persian context.  

 Prof. Elman boasted one of the most unusual careers in the field of Jewish Studies. After finishing his BS at City College, he spent eight years as Staff Meteorologist at Weather Routing in NY.  He then spent ten years managing a Hebrew bookstore and sixteen years as Associate Editor of Ktav Publishing House.   During this time, he earned an MA in Assyriology at Columbia and a Ph.D. in Talmud from NYU (1986). After receiving his Ph.D., while still working at Ktav, he joined the faculty at Yeshiva University, his academic home for the rest of his life.  In his fifties, Prof. Elman took up the study of Middle Persian at Harvard in order to understand the Talmud in the context of Persian civilization.  He subsequently published dozens of articles that illuminate Talmudic discussions from this perspective, and that compare Jewish and Zoroastrian civilizations.  His influential methodology has already made a substantial influence, particularly as seen in the work of his student, Prof. Shai Secunda.   

Prof. Elman published over 80 scholarly articles available on ( as well as books, translations, and popular articles.  His scholarship literally ranged from the Bible to the twentieth century work of Rav Isaac Hutner.   For all of his accomplishments,  he was modest, almost to a fault, and was widely respected for his remarkable human qualities, even amidst adversity. He will be greatly missed.

H-Judaic conveys deepest condolences to his family and students.

Jonathan D. Sarna

Chair, H-Judaic