Prof. Yair Zakovitch to receive Israel Prize in Bible Studies

"Yair Zakovitch is one of the most original biblical scholars in Israel and around the world," said the committee in its decision.

Prof. Yair Zakovitch (photo credit: EDUCATION MINISTRY)
Prof. Yair Zakovitch
(photo credit: EDUCATION MINISTRY)
Prof. Yair Zakovitch of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was announced as the recipient of the Israel Prize in Bible Studies on Tuesday, by Education Minister Yoav Gallant.
“Yair Zakovitch is one of the most original biblical scholars in Israel and around the world. In his works he explored the literary aspects of the Bible, and the intra-biblical interpretation and the evolution after the Bible,” said the Israel Prize Committee in its decision.
“In his essays he developed a special method for identifying interrelationships between the books of the Bible, through word games and weaving motifs,” added the committee. “He has published many important books and articles in Hebrew and English and has taught many students. Zakovitch also contributed greatly to bringing the Bible closer to the general public in his publications and lectures.”
In the coming weeks, the recipients of Israel Prizes for the study of social work and criminology, the study of mathematics and computer science, Hebrew literature and poetry for authors and translators, the study of life sciences, the art of cinema, the study of Hebrew literature and lifetime achievement will be announced as well.
Zakovitch was born in Haifa in 1945 to parents from Eastern Europe. After finishing his service in the IDF in 1966, Zakovitch began studying for his bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, literature and the Hebrew language at what is now known as the University of Haifa.
His dissertation was on the subject of the accepted forms of style in the midrashim (biblical interpretations) on names and the importance of midrashim on duplicated midrashic name derivations for understanding the phenomenon of midrashim on names and their history.
Zakovitch went on to complete his doctorate in 1978 after which he began teaching at the Hebrew University, reaching the title of professor in 1993 and holding the Father Takeji Otsuki Professor of Bible Studies chair at the university. He retired in 2010, but still teaches at the Bible Department on a voluntary basis.
He combined the approaches of his two teachers, Isaac Leo Seeligmann and Meir Weiss, to develop his own method, which he used to write his first book; The Life of Samson (Judges 13-16) A Critical Literary Analysis which combined critical reading with “close reading” and attention to the place of each detail in the expression of the content of the work.
One of Zakovitch’s main areas of study was “Bible as literature,” including developing models of analysis and explanation. Among other methods, Zakovitch used “circles of interpretation” in Biblical literature, the changing interpretation of a story against the background of its expanding connections, which allows for a literary reading of the various stages of the work, while pointing to the influence of its meanings revealed upon expansion of the contexts in which it is planted.
Zakovitch also engaged in research on the early interpretation of the Bible.
Zakovitch is currently engaged in writing a commentary on the Book of Psalms which will join his commentaries on Ruth, Song of Songs, Jonah and Lamentations.
The professor has also served as head of the Biblical Studies Department at Hebrew University, as well as head of the Institute of Jewish Studies, and Dean of Humanities. He also served as the head of the Biblical Studies Committee of the Education Ministry.
Zakovitch has been invited for lectures and conferences around the world and has taught at the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Harvard University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Notre Dame, University of California, Berkeley and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.