Samuel Iwry, 93, Hebrew scholar, authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls

May 11, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Samuel Iwry, one of the world's leading Hebrew scholars and an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, died of a stroke Saturday at Sinai Hospital. The Mount Washington resident was 93.

Dr. Iwry was born and raised in Bialystok, Poland. He was a direct descendant of Rebbe Israel Baal Shem Tov, who lived from 1700 to 1760 and was founder of Judaism's Hasidic Movement.

He graduated from Warsaw University, the Higher Institute for Judaic Studies and the Teachers College of Wilno, Poland. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he wandered from Warsaw to Moscow to Tokyo, and finally to Shanghai.

"He reached Japan in 1941, and was appointed by David Ben-Gurion, later to become Israel's first prime minister, to serve as Far East representative for the Jewish Agency for Palestine and to negotiate with the British authorities for the escape of thousands of Jewish families in the Far East," said his son, J. Mark Iwry of Bethesda, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"After helping other refugees escape and emigrate to Palestine, he was imprisoned in Shanghai by the Japanese occupying forces and tortured for his activities."

Dr. Iwry's life was saved by a woman he later married, the former Nina Rochman, a hospital administrator who persuaded authorities to release him to a hospital, where he regained his health.

The couple wed in 1946 and settled in Baltimore, where he began work on doctoral studies at the Johns Hopkins University with William Foxwell Albright, the noted Orientalist and archaeologist.

"With his mentor, Professor Albright, he was the first scholar to identify and authenticate the Dead Sea Scrolls, their antiquity and significance, and wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the scrolls," the son said.

Dr. Iwry -- who spoke five Semitic languages, five European languages as well as Latin and Greek -- joined the Hopkins faculty in 1951 and was professor of Near Eastern studies. He retired in 1991. He also was a professor of literature and dean at the Baltimore Hebrew College from 1947 until 1985.

In 1964, he was a awarded a Fulbright scholarship and was visiting professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Haifa.

He was also a well-known lecturer and a leader in the national and international Jewish community, and had been a vice president and member of the executive committee of the World Zionist Organization.

His autobiography, To Wear the Dust of War: From Warsaw to Shanghai to the Promised Land, will be published in August by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin's Press.

He was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Services will be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Iwry is survived by a grandson.

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