Milestones, People

Ariel Bloch, a pioneer in the fusion of Arab and Hebrew studies, dies at 85

By John Hickey

Ariel Bloch

Ariel Bloch, here with grandson Zander and daughter-in-law Trang Vo, spent three decades teaching and writing in Berkeley.

Ariel Bloch, who used his career at UC Berkeley as a way to fuse Arab and Hebrew culture, died in Richmond on Dec. 14 at the age of 85 after a lengthy illness.

A professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Bloch specialized in Arabic linguistics, but he took on Hebrew and Aramaic as subspecialties and did what he could to encourage a multilingual balance of both of the languages and the cultures.

“In many departments, those are factions where people don’t talk to each other,” says Chana Kronfeld of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, a longtime colleague of both Bloch and his first wife, Chana Bloch. “Because of Ariel, we do talk to each other. The way we do it is to encourage multilingual context to go against the monolingual rule.

“Culturally it’s very meaningful, having a joint literary dialogue. Today we in Berkeley are training the next generation of scholars for whom the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the Koran is crucial. And Ariel was one of the first to do it in a rigorous scientific way.”

Ariel Bloch

Ariel Bloch during his time on the UC Berkeley faculty.

Born in Mosbach, Germany, in 1933, Bloch moved to Palestine in 1937. He was educated in Semitic languages at Hebrew University, then returned to Germany to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Münster in ancient Middle Eastern philology. He came to Berkeley in 1965 and taught courses in Arabic dialectology, Aramaic and biblical Hebrew, as well as the structure of modern Hebrew, over the course of three decades, retiring in 1995.

He and Chana Bloch, a poet, translator and professor emerita of English at Mills College, raised two sons, Benjamin and Jonathan, in Berkeley, and collaborated several times, including on 1989’s translation of Dahlia Ravikovitch’s The Window, New and Selected Poems and six years later on an authoritative translation of the biblical Song of Songs.

“That’s a Modern Library Classics inductee, sort of a books Hall of Fame,” Kronfeld says of 1995’s Song of Songs translation. “That book is special.”

The Bloch family said a memorial service has not yet been scheduled.