Funeral Details

Dr. Norman Golb


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Norman Golb, Notable University of Chicago Semitics Scholar, is dead.
A figure who began his life in a densely packed immigrant neighborhood in Chicago and rose to become one of the world's leading Hebrew manuscript and Semitics scholars has passed away days before his 93rd birthday. Norman Golb was born in Albany Park in 1928. His parents, from the Ukraine, met after their families had settled in that northwest Chicago neighborhood along with thousands of other Jewish immigrants.
A part-time actor in the Yiddish theater, Golb’s father Joseph sustained his family during the Depression by working as a barber, and later for the City of Chicago’s water department. Golb’s mother Rose née Bilow was a homemaker and part-time sales clerk at the old Fair department store. Golb received his first advanced training in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic texts, as well as Latin and Greek, at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute (1948–50). He went on to study archaeology, the history of ancient Palestine, and several of the newly found Dead Sea Scroll texts at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1954, at the age of twenty-six.
After a year spent studying Arabic at Dropsie College (Philadelphia) and two years in Jerusalem, Golb lectured in Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin (1957–58). He then moved to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he taught Arabic, Hebrew, and medieval Jewish philosophy for five years (1958–63).
In 1963 he was appointed to a position in the University of Chicago's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and at the Oriental Institute, in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic studies. In 1988, he was named Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization.
Golb did pathbreaking historical research for over half a century. He was a master in three main areas: the Dead Sea Scrolls and Judaism in late antiquity, the Jews in the Arab world during the Middle Ages, and medieval European history.
His linguistic and palaeographical expertise, as well as his versatility in Jewish history were exceptional, indeed unique. He made numerous discoveries, including the first documentary proof that Khazars converted to Judaism, and the presence of a major Jewish community in medieval Rouen (France).
In 1985, Golb was awarded the Grand Medal of the City of Rouen. In 1987 he was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Rouen, and was awarded the Medal of the Region of Haute Normandie. In 2006 he was granted honorary citizenship by the commune of Oppido Lucano (Basilicata, Italy) for his research on Obadiah the Proselyte and related topics.
Golb's discoveries also became the basis for the international best-selling novel The Convert, by the award-winning Flemish author Stefan Hertmans.
Golb received many research awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships. He spent long research stays working on the famous Cairo Genizah documents in St. Petersburg and the Cambridge University Library; he was made a life member of Cambridge University's Clare Hall. His scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls was pioneering and highly publicized.
Golb was one of the last surviving figures in a generation of American Jewish intellectuals who came from working-class roots and ended up enriching world knowledge and academic debate to an extraordinary degree. He and his wife Ruth (Magid), a special education teacher in private practice and Chicago's public schools, were also active in city and local Hyde Park affairs for well over a half-century, while maintaining close ties to friends and colleagues in England, France, and Israel.
Norman Golb is survived by his wife; by three children: Joel, Judith Golb, and Raphael; by a granddaughter, Dana Vowinckel, a sister Harriet Baker, two nieces, and many cousins.
To keep everyone safe and healthy, the interment service will be private. To attend the funeral live stream Wednesday 3PMCT, please visit our website.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the charity of your choice.
Arrangements by Chicago Jewish Funerals - Skokie Chapel, 847.229.8822,


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A great, innovative scholar, working in various fields, always original, innovative, challenging.
Yehi zikhro barukh. Requiescat in pace.

Benjamin Kedar
December 29, 2020
Norman was a wonderful friend and a real Mensch, an original, creative, and imaginative scholar in several fields of Jewish history, literature, and culture. חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין!
יהי זכרו ברוך לעולם ועד

Isaac Kalimi
December 29, 2020
Within our family of numerous cousins, many of them intelligent and capable, Norman is, to my mind, the quintessential example of how rewarding, absorbing, and fruitful the life of the mind can be. The significant discoveries he made warranted the significant honors he garnered.... One of my few lasting childhood memories is connected to his wedding day. I had been chosen to serve as Norman and Ruth's flower girl. But apparently I had a misconception of my role: rather than strewing the flowers along the path that the bride and groom would walk, I threw them at the guests. Or is that memory itself a misconception? ... In any case, our entire family has great reason to be proud of Norman's brilliant contributions to world history -- all the more so when we remember the very modest circumstances of his and Daniel's and Harriet's youth.

Avis Lang
December 29, 2020
Norman had a great and open heart. He always gave me to feel loved and welcome. I met him usually in conferences and he always gave me the feeing that I am not alone. He wad a Mentsh and I will remember him with a smile.

Elinoar Bareket
December 30, 2020
I am very sorry to hear of Uncle Norman's passing. He was a very smart man who was always fun to be around.

Hope Gale
December 30, 2020
Words are insufficient to express my admiration and esteem for Dr Golb. He will always be an example to me, not only of academic and scholarly excellence, but also of grace, kindness, and empathetic encouragement. Thank you, Dr Golb, for the time that you gave to me; and thank you, Mrs. Golb, Rapahel, Joel, and Judith, for allowing me to share some of your precious time with this very special man.

Michael Wechsler
December 30, 2020
Norman Golb taught from the fullness of his commitments: Judaism, scholarship and pedagogy. We who had the privilege of sitting at his feet knew that we were not merely in the presence of a great scholar but also a caring teacher. What a privilege to be so challenged and so encouraged by such a talmid hakham. To Ruth, Joel, Raphael, Judith and family, I hope that our sharing in your sense of loss affords a modicum of solace in your time of grief. יהי זכרו ברוך

Joshua Holo
December 30, 2020
Professor Golb was a scholar – ‘a Hebraist and Judeo-Arabist’ – and a gentleman. As a scholar, he sought intellectual truth and did not fawn before popular opinion. This led him to innovative understandings in various areas of Jewish history. His scholarship, and not only his personal background, led him to be a proud and unapologetic Jew, one who appreciated the Jewish contribution to general civilization. Also, he was a philologist of the old school, and one of the few who initiated his students into palaeography, the study of manuscripts, always going back to the sources. In various areas, he put me on to my feet, being a true 'Doktorvater'.
But in addition to all that, he was a gentleman, a caring and warm human being, who took a personal interest in his students. At times, he apologetically encouraged me to make sure to look after my health; and he showed a delicate concern for my financial well-being, too. Inter alia, he will live on as a blessing in us, his students, and in our students.

Israel Sandman
December 30, 2020
i miss him so much already.,..but i will keep in close touch with Ruth Golb, beloved wife....mili appell

million appell
December 30, 2020
For the last two years of my undergrad education, Prof. Norman Golb's little office in UChicago's Oriental Institute became my home, of sorts. I took more classes with him than I did with any other lecturer or professor. He was my academic rebbe, of sorts.
Prof. Golb is not well known in Israeli academia, and in the United States, I fear he will be remembered for the controversies as opposed to his work.
I cannot think of any other scholar of Jewish Studies who was as careful, meticulous and unafraid as he was. As a teacher, he was kind, generous, paitient and demanding. He sought to raise a generation of students who understood that the ability to read text- meticulously, painstakingly, word by word, vowel by vowel - is the foundation of the study of history.
I left academia mostly because the Israeli academic world is terrible (oh, lets be honest, most of the academic world is terrible), but also because I did not feel like I was doing the type of work I expected of myself, and I expected it of myself, because I knew Prof. Golb expected it from me. He was no longer my teacher at that point, so it shouldn't have mattered, but it did. If I was going to be doing history, I ought to have been doing it right.
There are so few scholars like him left in the world. Everyone wants a new theory, everyone wants a new paradigm, to reveal new-old worlds, but very few have the patience or ability to know that in order to do so you must love the work of it- word by word, vowel by vowel, unceasing, rigorous and completely unafraid.
יהי זכרו ברוך

Tiki Krakowski
December 31, 2020
I have wonderful memories of the Passover seders my uncle Norman used to lead.
Uncle Norman also loved good food, and my aunt Ruth is a wonderful gourmet cook.
Once at a restaurant with them, I remember my uncle having a beet and goat cheese salad, and him telling me how much he loved beet salads. We wanted to have them over for dinner, I wanted to make a beet salad for him, but regretfully it did not happen. Let us celebrate Norman, and a life well lived.
Ellen and Bob `

Ellen Swirsky
December 31, 2020
Mrs. Golb, Joel, Judith, Raphael, Dana & Harriet:

So sad to learn of Norman's departing this life. Norman was "not for an age, but for all time." His profound legacy shall never be forgotten.

Daniel J. Grasse
Geary, New Brunswick

Daniel Grasse
January 3, 2021