Eulogy for David Daube

March 1, 1999

Adar 13, 5759

Rabbi Raphael Asher

Congregation Bnai Tikvah

Walnut Creek, California

The life and work of David Daube is a book that needs to be written, but one that poses immense challenges to the biographer. To which influences does one attribute this amazing creativity: to the flourishing academic life in Weimar Germany, or to its cataclysmic ending; to the rarefied atmosphere at Cambridge and Oxford or to the orthodox faith and practice which he clung to in their illustrious halls; to the scholarly legal dialogues he engaged in in the stacks at Boalt Hall; or to the spiritual and cultural passions that he shared with his dear Helen in the streets, bookstores and coffee houses of San Francisco?

Creativity, especially of Professor Daube’s proportions, is nearly impossible to chart. How much more so his personal vitality, his many kindnesses and charms. One often hears these qualities attributed to a certain European manner and decorum, but when I visited him just a year ago last Purim, I was deeply impressed that these were a part of his essential self. The vigorous stamina and the academic acuity had receded, but a kind Jewish man of ethical and spiritual refinement still radiated warmth and integrity before my eyes. These qualities attracted heads of state and an academic elite from around the globe, but they also engaged the man in the street, the cleaning lady on the F bus from San Francisco to Berkeley and generations of his students for whom he always had time for a coffee, a stimulating walk, or an unrehearsed rendition of a Hebrew melody from his youth.

Helen affectionately used the term "troubadour" to describe her husband’s charisma. The term suits him well, with its image of merry wanderings and the magnetic draw of his melodies in any key. The future biographer will no doubt discover that this music derived from the orthodox German synagogue, from the chants of scripture that he learned as a boy, from the songs around the dinner table led by his beloved parents, Jacob and Selma, and by the older brother Benjamin he adored. He may have even picked up a resonant theme from the MaHaRam, a renowned Talmudic scholar whose memory as a Daube ancestor the family has kept alive.

Now we can feel certain that the many melodies of David Daube – professor and scholar, beloved husband and friend, father and grandfather – will endure for future generations. The Jewish world and the academic world can reflect on his boldness and vision. Helen will always treasure David’s all-embracing spirit. His three sons, Jonathan, Benjamin and Michael, stepson and stepdaughter Eric and Tina, and 6 grandchildren, Max, Nicholas and Kira, Andrew, Catherine and Matthew, can reflect on the personal affections and the many sparks of family devotion that need not dim.

Zichrono livracha – may his memory abide with you as a perpetual blessing.