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Ariel Bloch
In Memoriam

Ariel Bloch

Professor in Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus

UC Berkeley
Ariel Bloch spent his entire teaching career in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was professor of Arabic. Bloch was born on May 14, 1933, in Mosbach, Germany. Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies led his parents to flee with him in 1937, when the family took up residence in British-Mandate Palestine. Bloch came of age in Israel, and completed his undergraduate work in Semitic languages at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then went to the University of Münster in post-war Germany for his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern philology.  

Though the focus of his doctoral work was Arabic dialectology, once he arrived at Berkeley in 1965 he was eager to put to use his broad command of Semitic languages, teaching courses in biblical Hebrew and in Aramaic as well as Arabic. Colleagues from those early years remember him as a vivid presence, lively and good-natured, exercising a certain playfulness and at times a zany sense of humor. What may well be his most memorable work is a translation he did in 1994 with the poet Chana Bloch, his wife at the time, of the Song of Songs. He not only complemented her poet’s sensitivity with philological acuteness in the translation proper but also wrote an illuminating commentary to the text that is a model of linguistic precision and lucidity. The couple also collaborated on a translation of modern Hebrew poetry, a selection of poems by Dahlia Ravikovitch, which appeared in 1989. In addition to these two translations, Bloch published several technical studies of the Arabic language in German and in English.   

Ill health cut short Bloch’s teaching career at Berkeley. He was obliged to retire in 1994, after nearly three decades of demonstrating that the same professor could do two fields often kept far apart from one another, Arabic and Hebrew. Seriously disabled, he lived in relative seclusion during his remaining 24 years, but was faithfully attended to by his two sons. Those who knew him remember him for palpably contributing to the intellectual life of his department and of the campus.  

Bloch died on December 14, 2018, and is survived by his sons, Benjamin Bloch and Jonathan Bloch.

Robert Alter