Professor Hyam Maccoby

Additional notice of the stormy petrel of biblical scholarship
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The Independent Online

Non-specialist broad-brush writers, if we are lucky, benefit from expert friends who are happy to comment on aspects of our drafts, writes Anthony Rudolf. Who needed Google or the British Library when Hyam Maccoby [obituary by Rabbi Albert H. Friedlander, 3 May], my expert on Judaic matters (or maven, to use the Yiddish word) and a friend and mentor of 30 years' standing, was at the other end of a phone line?

He never complained (except once at an ill-chosen moment during Wimbledon) when this Jewish ignoramus would phone up, at all hours, to obtain clarification of a Talmud source or a Bible concordance, or to run past him a wild speculation about this or that Jewish concept, or to check whether a particular custom had the force of law.

Hyam Maccoby was one of the last survivors of a dying breed: Anglo-Jewish traditionalists of great learning and tolerance, non- and indeed anti-fundamentalist. Other names that come to mind include the late Chaim Raphael and the nonagenarian Reverend Harry Levy whose Sabbath afternoon salons still grace Hampstead, as well as Hyam's wife Cynthia, although she would snort at the "Anglo", being a granddaughter of old man Davidoff, who became known as "Davies the Jew" when he arrived in Wales from der Heim a hundred years ago.

It is good to know that Maccoby completed a new book shortly before illness made work impossible. It is desperately sad that he was too ill even to watch the Mel Gibson film and give us the benefit of his deep knowledge and concern. We will remember his stories, however, such as the time his rabbi grandfather, a celebrated maggid (wandering preacher), was arrested on London Bridge under suspicion of being Jack the Ripper. He was only released from custody when the Chief Rabbi of the day explained that this was not their man.