The Renascence of Hebrew Literature (1743-1885) by Nahum Slouschz

Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Blain Nelson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. THE RENASCENCE OF HEBREW LITERATURE (1743-1885) BY NAHUM SLOUSCHZ _Translated from the French_ * * * * * TRANSLATOR’S NOTE The modern chapter in the history of Hebrew literature herewith presented to English readers was written by Dr. Nahum Slouschz as
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Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Blain Nelson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.



_Translated from the French_

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The modern chapter in the history of Hebrew literature herewith presented to English readers was written by Dr. Nahum Slouschz as his thesis for the doctorate at the University of Paris, and published in book form in 1902. A few years later (1906-1907), the author himself put his Essay into Hebrew, and it was brought out as a publication of the _Tushiyah_, under the title _Korot ha-Safrut ha-‘Ibrit ha- Hadashah_. The Hebrew is not, however, a mere translation of the French book. The material in the latter was revised and extended, and the presentation was considerably changed, in view of the different attitude toward the subject naturally taken by Hebrew readers, as compared with a Western public, Jewish or non-Jewish.

The present English translation, which has had the benefit of the author’s revision, purports to be a rendition from the French. But the Hebrew recasting of the book has been consulted at almost every point, and the Hebrew works quoted by Dr. Slouschz were resorted to directly, though, as far as seemed practicable, the translator paid regard to the author’s conception and Occidentalization of the Hebrew passages revealed in his translation of them into French.


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In Italy–Moses Hayyim Luzzatto

In Germany–The Meassefim

In Poland and Austria–The Galician School

In Lithuania–Humanism in Russia

The Romantic Movement–Abraham Mapu

The Emancipation Movement–The Realists

The Conflict with Rabbinism–Judah Leon Gordon

Reformers and Conservatives–The Two Extremes

The National Progressive Movement–Perez Smolenskin

The Contributors to _Ha-Shahar_

The Novels of Smolenskin

Contemporaneous Literature



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It was long believed that Hebrew had no place among the modern languages as a literary vehicle. The circumstance that the Jews of Western countries had given up the use of their national language outside of the synagogue was not calculated to discredit the belief. The Hebrew, it was generally held, had once been alive, but now it belonged among the dead languages, in the same sense as the Greek and the Latin. And when from time to time some new work in Hebrew, or even a periodical publication, reached a library, the cataloguer classified it with theologic and Rabbinic treatises, without taking the trouble to obtain information as to the subject of the book or the purpose of the journal. In point of fact, in the large majority of cases they were far enough removed from Rabbinic controversy.

Sometimes it happened that one or another Hebraist was overcome with astonishment at the sight of a Hebrew translation of a modern author. And he stopped at that. He never went so far as to enable himself to pass judgment upon it from the critical or the literary point of view. To what purpose? he would ask himself. Hebrew has been dead these many centuries, and to use it is an anachronism. He considered it only a curiosity of literature, literary sleight of hand, nothing more.

The bare possibility of the existence of a modern literature in Hebrew seemed so strange, so improbable, that the best-informed circles refused to entertain the notion seriously–perhaps not without some semblance of a reason for their incredulity.

The history of the development of modern Hebrew literature, its character, the extraordinary conditions fostering it, its very existence, are of a sort to surprise one who has not kept in touch with the internal struggles, the intellectual currents that have agitated the Judaism of Eastern Europe in the course of the past century.

So far from deserving a reputation for casuistry, modern Hebrew literature is, if anything, distinctly rationalistic in character. It is anti-dogmatic and anti-Rabbinic. Its avowed aim is to enlighten the Jewish masses that have remained faithful to religious tradition, and to interpenetrate the Jewish communities with the conceptions of modern life.

Since the French Revolution the ghetto has produced valiant champions of every good cause, politicians, legislators, poets, who have taken part in all the movements of their day. But it has also given birth to a legion of men of action sprung from the people and remaining with the people, who, in the name of liberty of conscience and in the name of science, fought the same battles upon the field of traditional Judaism that the others were fighting outside.

A whole school of literary humanists undertook the work of emancipating the Jewish masses, and pursued it for several generations with admirable zeal. Hebrew became an excellent instrument of propaganda in their hands. Thanks to their efforts, the language of the prophets, inarticulate for nearly two thousand years, was developed to a striking degree of perfection. It was shown to be a flexible medium, varied enough to serve as the vehicle for any modern idea.

The great wonder is that this modern literature in Hebrew made itself without teachers, without patrons, without academies and literary _salons_, without encouragement in any shape or form. Nor is that all. It was impeded by inconceivable obstacles, ranging from the fraudulence of an absurd censorship to the persecution of fanatics. In such circumstances, only the purest idealism, and the most disinterested, could have ventured to enter the lists, and could have come off the victor.

While the emancipated Jew of the Occident replaced Hebrew by the vernacular of his adopted country; while the Rabbis were distrustful of whatever is not religion; and rich patrons refused to support a literature that had not the _entree_ of good society,–while these held aloof, the _Maskil_ (“the intellectual”) of the small provincial town, the Polish vagabond _Mehabber_ (“author”), despised and unknown, often a martyr to his conviction, who devoted himself heart, soul, and might to maintaining honorably the literary traditions of Hebrew,–he alone remained faithful to what has been the true mission of the Bible language since its beginnings.

It is a renewal of the ancient literary impulse of the humble, the disinherited, whence first sprang the Bible. It is a repetition of the phenomenon of the popular prophet-orators, reappearing in modern Hebrew garb.

The return to the language and the ideas of an eventful past marks a decisive stage in the perturbed career of the Jewish people. It indicates the re-awakening of national feeling.

The history of modern Hebrew literature thus forms an extremely instructive page in the history of the Jewish people. It is especially interesting from the point of view of social psychology, furnishing, as it does, valuable documents upon the course taken by new ideas in impregnating surroundings that are characteristically obdurate toward intellectual suggestions from without. The century-long struggle between free-thinking and blind faith, between common sense and absurdity consecrated by age and exalted by suffering, reveals an intense social life, a continual clashing of ideas and sentiments.

It is a literature that offers us the grievous spectacle of poets and writers who are constantly expressing their anxiety lest it disappear with them, and yet devote themselves unremittingly to its cultivation, with all the ardor of despair. At their side, however, we see optimistic dreamers, worthy disciples of the prophets. In the midst of the ruin of all that made the past glorious, and in the face of the downfall of cherished hopes, they lose not an iota of their faith in the future of their people, in its speedy regeneration.

What we have before us is the issue of the supreme internal struggle that engaged the great masses of the Jews torn from their moorings by the disquietude of modern existence. A fervent desire for a better social life took possession of all minds. The conviction that the eternal people cannot disappear seems to have regained ground and to have been stronger than ever, and the current again set in the direction of auto-emancipation.

It is the true literature of the Jewish people that we are called upon to examine, the product of the ghetto, the reflex of its psychic states, the expression of its misery, its suffering, and also its hope. The people of the Bible is not dead, and in its very own language we must seek the true Jewish spirit, the national soul.

Let not the reader expect to find perfection of form, pure art, in its often monotonous lyric poetry, or its prolix, didactic novels. The authors of the ghetto felt too much, suffered too much, were too much under the dominance of a life of misery, a semi-Asiatic, semi-mediaeval _regime_, to have had heart for the cultivation of mere form. Does the Song of Songs fall short of being a literary document of the first order because it does not equal the dramas of Euripides in artistic completeness? It is conceded that the proper aim of the artist is art, finished and perfect art, but to the philosopher, the social investigator, the important thing is the advance of ideas.

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The object of the writer in presenting this essay to the public was not to presume to give a detailed exposition of the development of modern Hebrew literature, accomplishing itself under the most complex of social and political conditions and in a social _milieu_ totally unknown to the public at large. That would have led too far. It was not even possible to give an adequate idea of all the authors requiring mention within the limited frame adopted perforce. Besides, nothing or almost nothing existed in the way of monographs that might have facilitated the task. [Footnote: In point of fact, all that can be cited are the following: the admirable biographical essays on Mapu, Smolenskin, etc., by Reuben Brainin; those of S. Bernfeld on Rapoport, etc., these two critics writing in Hebrew; and the sketch of our subject by M. Klausner, in the Russian language. Besides, mention may be made of an article in the _Revue des Revues_, by M. Ludvipol, of Paris. In spite of the diversity of schools and the conditions giving rise to them, which are here to be treated for the first time from the point of view of a modern history of literature, the reader will readily convince himself that the subject lacks neither coherence nor unity. It is superfluous to say that in this first attempt at a history of modern Hebrew literature, the grouping of movements and schools borrowed from the Occidental literatures is bound to have only relative value.]

The aim set up by the present writer is merely to follow up the various stages through which modern Hebrew literature has passed, to deduce and specify the general principles that have moulded it, and analyze the literary and social value of the works produced by the representative writers of the epoch embraced.

In a word, the object is to show how Hebrew poetry was emancipated from the tradition of the Middle Ages under the influence of the Italian humanists, how it underwent a process of modernization, and served as the model for a literary renascence in Germany and Austria. [Footnote: Especially Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, in his “Glory to the Righteous”, published in 1743, which has been made the point of departure in the present inquiry.] In these two countries Hebrew letters were enriched and perfected from the point of view of form as well as content. Finally, due to favorable circumstances, the Hebrew language captured its place as the literary and national language among the Jews of Poland, and particularly of Lithuania.

In this progress eastward, Hebrew literature has never been faithless to its mission. Two currents of ideas, more or less distinct, characterize it. On the one hand is the intellectual emancipation of the Jewish masses, which had fallen into ignorance, and, as a consequence, the conflict with prejudice and Rabbinic dogmatism; and, on the other hand, the awakening of national sentiment and Jewish solidarity. These two currents of ideas finally flow together in contemporaneous literature, in the creation of the national Jewish movement in its various modifications. During a period of about twenty years, since 1882, the course of events has forced the national emancipation of the Jewish masses upon their educated leaders. By the same token, Hebrew has been assigned a dominating position in all vital questions agitating Judaism, and there has been brought about a literary development that is truly significant.

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In its precise sense, the term Renascence cannot be applied to the movement that asserted itself in Hebrew literature at the end of the fifteenth century, as little as the term Decadence can be applied to the epoch preceding it.

Long before Dante and Boccaccio, as far back as the eleventh century, Hebrew literature, particularly in Spain, and to a certain extent also in the Provence, had reached a degree of development unknown in European languages during the Middle Ages.

Though the persecutions toward the end of the fourteenth and the fifteenth century crushed the Jewish communities in Spain and in the Provence, they yet did not succeed in annihilating completely the intellectual traditions of the Spanish and French Jews. Remnants of Jewish science and Jewish literature were carried by the refugees into the countries of their adoption, and in the Netherlands, in Turkey, even in Palestine, schools were founded after a short interval.

But a literary revival was possible only in Italy. Elsewhere, in the backward countries of the North and the East, the Jews, smarting from blows recently inflicted, withdrew within themselves. They took refuge in the most sombre of mysticisms, or, at least, in dogmatism of the narrowest kind. The Italian Jewish communities, thanks to the more bearable conditions prevailing around them, were in a position to carry on the literary traditions of Jewish Spain. In Italy thinkers arose, and writers, and poets. There was Azariah dei Rossi, the father of historical criticism; Messer Leon, the subtle philosopher; Elijah Levita, the grammarian; Leon of Modena, the keen-witted rationalist; Joseph Delmedigo, of encyclopedic mind; the Frances brothers, both poets, who combated mysticism; and many others too numerous to mention. [Footnote: For the greater part of these writers, see Gustav Karpeles, _Geschichte der judischen Literatur_, 2 vols., Berlin, 1886.] These, together with a few stray writers in Turkey and the Netherlands, imparted a certain degree of distinction to the Hebrew literature of the sixteenth and the seventeenth century. Heirs to the Spanish traditions, they nevertheless were inclined to oppose the spirit and particularly the rules of Arabic prosody, which had put manacles upon Hebrew poetry. Their efforts were directed to the end of introducing new literary forms and new concepts into Hebrew literature.

They did not meet with notable success. The greater number of Jewish men of letters, whose knowledge of foreign literatures was meagre, were destined to remain in the thrall of the Middle Ages until a much later time. As to the unlettered, they preferred to make use of the vernacular, which presented fewer difficulties than the Hebrew.

The task of tearing asunder the chains that hampered the evolution of Hebrew in a modern sense devolved upon an Italian Jew of amazing talent. He became the true, the sovereign inaugurator of the Hebrew Renascence.

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto was born at Padua, in 1707. He was descended from a family celebrated for the Rabbinic scholars and the writers it had given to Judaism, a celebrity which it has continued to earn for itself down to our own day.

His education was strictly Rabbinic, consisting chiefly of the study of the Talmud, under the direction of a Polish teacher, for the Polish Rabbis had attained to a position of great esteem as early as Luzzatto’s day. He lost little time in initiating his pupil into the mysteries of the Kabbalah, and so the early childhood years of our poet were a sad time spent in the stifling atmosphere of the ghetto. Happily for him, it was an Italian ghetto, whence secular learning had not been banished completely.

While pursuing his religious studies, the child became acquainted with the Hebrew poetry of the Middle Ages and with the Italian literature of his own time. In the latter accomplishment lies his superiority to the Hebrew scholars of other countries, who were shut off from every outside influence, and held fast to obsolete forms and ideas.

From early youth Luzzatto showed remarkable aptitude for poetry. At the age of seventeen he composed a drama in verse entitled “Samson and Delilah”. A little later he published a work on prosody, _Leshon Limmudim_ (“The Language of Learners”, Mantua, 1727), and dedicated it to his Polish teacher. The young man then decided to break with the poetry of the Middle Ages, which hampered the development of the Hebrew language. His allegorical drama, _Migdal ‘Oz_ (“The Tower of Victory”), inspired by the _Pastor fido_ of Guarini, was the first token of this reform. Its style is marked by an elegance and vividness not attained since the close of the Bible. [Footnote: Though it was widely circulated in manuscript, _Migdal ‘Oz_ did not appear in print until 1837, at Leipsic, edited by M. H. Letteris.] In spite of its prolixity and the absence of all dramatic action, it continues to this day to make its appeal to the fancy of the literary. A poetic breath animates it, and it is characterized by the artistic taste that is one of the distinctions of its author.

It was a new world that _Migdal ‘Oz_, by its laudation of rural life, disclosed to the votaries of a literature the most enlightened representatives of which refused to see in the Song of Songs anything but religious symbolism, so far had their appreciation of reality and nature degenerated.

In imitation of the pastorals of his time, though it may be with more genuine feeling, Luzzatto sings the praises of the shepherd’s life:

“How beautiful, how sweet, is the lot of the young shepherd of flocks! Between the folds he leads his sheep, now walking, now running hither and thither. Poor though he is, he is full of joy. His countenance reflects the gladness of his heart. In the shade of trees he reposes, and apprehends no danger. Poor though he is, yet he is happy….

“The maiden who charms his eyes, and attracts his desire, in whom his heart has pleasure, returns his affection with responsive gladness. They know naught but delight–neither separation nor obstacle affrights them. They sport together, they enjoy their happiness, with none to disturb. When weariness steals over him, he forgets his toil on her bosom; the light of her countenance swiftly banishes all thought of his travail. Poor though he is, yet he is happy!” (Act III, scene I.)

Alas, this call to a more natural life, after centuries of physical degeneration and suppression of all feeling for nature, could not be understood, nor even taken seriously, in surroundings in which air, sunlight, the very right to live, had been refused or measured out penuriously. The drama remained in manuscript, and did not become known to the public at large.

It was Luzzatto’s chief work that exercised decisive influence on the development of Hebrew literature. _La-Yesharim Tehillah_ (“Glory to the Righteous”), another allegorical drama, which appeared in 1743, is considered a model of its kind until this day. It introduced a new epoch, the modern epoch, in the history of Hebrew literature. The master stands revealed by every touch. Everything betrays his skill–the style, at once elegant, significant, and precise, recalling the pure style of the Bible, the fresh and glowing figures of speech, the original poetic inspiration, and the thought, which bears the imprint of a profound philosophy and a high moral sense, and is free from all trace of mystical exaggeration.

From the point of view of dramatic art, the piece is not of the highest interest. The subject, purely moral and didactic, gives no opportunity for a serious study of character, and, as in all allegorical pieces, the dramatic action is weak.

The theme was not new. Even in Hebrew and before Luzzatto, it had been treated several times. It is the struggle between Justice and Injustice, between Truth and Falsehood. The allegorical personages who take part in the action are, arrayed on one side, Yosher (Righteousness) aided by Sekel (Reason) and Mishpat (Justice), and, on the other side, Sheker (Falsehood) and her auxiliaries, Tarmit (Deceit), Dimyon (Imagination), and Taawah (Passion). The two hostile camps strive together for the favor of the beautiful maiden Tehillah (Glory), the daughter of Hamon (the Crowd). The struggle is unequal. Imagination and Passion carry the day in the face of Truth and Righteousness. Then the inevitable _deus ex machina_, in this case God Himself, intervenes, and Justice is again enthroned.

This simple and not strikingly original frame encloses beautiful descriptions of nature and, above all, sublime thoughts, which make the piece one of the gems of Hebrew poetry. The predominant idea of the book is to glorify God and admire the “innumerable wonders of the Creator.”

“All who seek will find them, in every living being, in every plant, in every lifeless object, in all things on earth and in the sea, in whatsoever the human eye rests upon. Happy he who hath found knowledge and wisdom, happy he if their speech hath fallen upon an attentive ear!” (Act II, scene I.)

But the Creator is not capricious. Reason and Truth are His attributes, and they appear in all His acts. Humanity is a mob, and two opposing forces contend for the mastery over it: Truth with Righteousness on one side, Falsehood and her ilk on the other. Each of these two forces seeks to rule the crowd and prevail in triumph.

The Reason personified by the poet has nothing in common with the positive Reason of the rationalists, which takes the world to be directed by mechanical and immutable laws. It is supreme Reason, obeying moral laws too sublimated for our powers of appreciation. How could it be otherwise? Are we not the continual plaything of our senses, which are incapable of grasping absolute truths, and deceive us even about the appearance of things?

“Truly, our eyes are deluded, for eyes of flesh they are. Therefore they change truth into falsehood, darkness they make light, and light darkness. Lo, a small chance, a mere accident, suffices to distort our view of tangible things; how much more do we stray from the truth with things beyond the reach of our senses? See the oars in the water. They seem crooked and twisted. Yet we know them to be straight….

“Verily, man’s heart is like the ocean ceaselessly agitated by the battling winds. As the waves roll forward and backward in perpetual motion, so our hearts are stirred by never-ending pain and trouble, and as our emotions sway our will, so our senses suffer change within us. We see only what we desire to see, hear only what we long to hear, what our imagination conjures up.” (Act II, scene i.)

This philosophy of externalism and of the impotence of the human mind threw the poet, believer and devotee of the Kabbalah, into a most dangerous mysticism. He continued to write for some time: an imitation of the Psalms; a treatise on logic, _Ha-Higgayon_, not without value; another treatise on ethics, _Mesilat Yesharim_ (“The Path of the Righteous”); and a large number of poetic pieces and Kabbalistic compositions, the greater part of which were never published; and this enumeration does not exhaust the tale of his literary achievements. [Footnote: The greater part of Luzzatto’s works have never been published.] Then his powers were used up, the tension of his mind increased to the last degree; he lost his moral equilibrium. The day came when he strayed so far afield as to believe himself called to play the role of the Messiah. The Rabbis, alarmed at the gloomy prospect of a repetition of the pseudo-Messianic movements which time and again had shaken the Jewish world to its foundations, launched the ban against him. His fate was sealed by his ingenious imitation of the Zohar, written in Aramaic, of which only fragments have been preserved. Obliged to leave Italy, Luzzatto wandered through Germany, and took up his abode at Amsterdam. He enjoyed the gratification of being welcomed there by literary men among his people as a veritable master. At Amsterdam he wrote his last works. But he did not remain there long. He went to seek Divine inspiration at Safed in Palestine, the far-famed centre of the Kabbalah. There he died, cut off by the plague at the age of forty.

Such was the sad life of the poet, a victim of the abnormal surroundings in which he lived. Under more favorable conditions, he might have achieved that which would have won him universal recognition. His main distinction is that he released the Hebrew language forever from the forms and ideas of the Middle Ages, and connected it with the circle of modern literatures. He bequeathed to posterity a model of classic poetry, which ushered in Hebrew humanism, the return to the style and the manner of the Bible, in the same way as the general humanistic movement led the European mind back upon its own steps along the paths marked out by the classic languages. No sooner did his work become known in the north countries and in the Orient than it raised up imitators. Mendes and Wessely, leaders of literary revivals, the one at Amsterdam, the other in Germany, are but the disciples and successors of the Italian poet.

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The intellectual emancipation of the Jews in Germany anticipated their political and social emancipation. That is a truth generally acknowledged. Long secluded from all foreign ideas, confined within religious and dogmatic bounds, German Judaism was a sharer in the physical and social misery of the Judaism of Slavic countries. The philosophic and tolerant ideas in vogue at the end of the eighteenth century startled it somewhat out of its torpor. In the measure in which those ideas gained a foothold in the communities, conditions, at least in the larger centres, took on a comfortable aspect, with more or less assurance of permanent well-being. The first contact of the ghetto with the enlightened circles of the day gave the impetus to a marked movement toward an inner emancipation. Associations of _Maskilim_ (“intellectuals”) were formed at Berlin, Hamburg, and Breslau. “The Seekers of the Good and the Noble” (_Shohare ha-Tob weha-Tushiyah_) should be mentioned particularly. They were composed of educated men familiar with Occidental culture, and animated by the desire to make the light of that culture penetrate to the heart of the provincial communities. These “intellectuals” entered the lists against religious fanaticism and casuistic methods, seeking to replace them by liberal ideas and scientific research. Two schools, headed respectively by the philosopher Mendelssohn and the poet Wessely, had their origin in this movement–the school of the _Biurists_, deriving their name from the _Biur_, a commentary on the Bible, and the school of the _Meassefim_, from _Meassef_, “Collector.” [Footnote: A specimen of the _Biur_ appeared at Amsterdam, in 1778, under the title _’Alim le-Terufah_.] The former defended Judaism against the enemies from without, and combated the prejudices and the ignorance of the Jews themselves. The Meassefim took as their sphere of activity the reform of the education of the young and the revival of the Hebrew language. The two schools agreed that to elevate the moral and social status of the Jews, it was necessary to remove first the external peculiarities separating them from their fellow-citizens. A new translation of the Bible into literary German, undertaken by Mendelssohn, was to deal the death blow to the Jewish-German (_judisch-deutsch_) jargon, and the _Biur_, the commentary on the Bible mentioned above, produced by the co-operation of a galaxy of scholars and men of culture, was expected to sweep aside all mystic and allegoric interpretations of the Scriptures and introduce the rational and scientific method.

The results achieved by the Biurists tended beyond a doubt toward the elevation of the mass of the Jews. One of these results was, as had been hoped for, the dislodgment of the Jewish-German by the spread of the pure German. The influence wielded by the Biurists, so far from stopping with the German Jews, extended to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.

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In 1784-5, two Hebrew writers, Isaac Euchel and Mendel Bresslau, undertook to publish a magazine, entitled _Ha-Meassef_ (“The Collector”), whence the name Meassefim. The enterprise was under the auspices of Mendelssohn and Wessely. A double aim was to be served. The periodical was to promote the spread of knowledge and modern ideas in the Hebrew language, the only language available for the Jews of the ghetto; and at the same time it was to promote the purification of Hebrew, which had degenerated in the Rabbinical schools. Its readers were to be familiarized with the social and aesthetic demands of modern life, and induced to rid themselves of ingrained peculiarities. Besides its success in these directions, it must be set to the credit of _Ha- Meassef_, that it was the first agency to gather under one banner all the champions of the _Haskalah_ in the several countries of Europe. It supplied the link connecting them with one another. [Footnote: Properly speaking, the term Haskalah includes the notion at once of humanism and humanitarianism.]

From the literary point of view _Ha-Meassef_ is of subordinate interest. Its contributors were devoid of taste. They offered their readers mainly questionable imitations of the works of the German romantic school. The periodical brought no new talent truly worthy of the description into notice. Whatever reputation its principal writers enjoyed had been won before the appearance of _Ha-Meassef_. They owed their fame primarily to the favor acquired for Hebrew letters through the efforts of Luzzatto’s disciples. [Footnote: Since the appearance of _La-Yesharim Tehillah_ by Luzzatto, imitations of it without number have been published, and for the eighteenth century alone allegorical dramas by the dozen might be enumerated.] Of the poems published in _Ha-Meassef_ but a few deserve notice, and even they are nothing more than mediocre imitations of didactic pieces in the style of the day, or odes celebrating the splendor of contemporary kings and princes. A poem by Wessely forms a rare exception. It extols the residents of Basle, who, in 1789, welcomed Jewish refugees from Alsace. And if we turn from its poetry to its historical contributions, we find that the biographies, as of Abarbanel and Joseph Delmedigo, are hardly scientific; they occupy themselves with external facts to the neglect of underlying ideas. On the whole, _Ha-Meassef_ was an engine of propaganda and polemics rather than a literary production, though the campaign carried on in its pages against strait-laced orthodoxy and the Rabbis did not reach the degree of bitterness which was to characterize later periods–moderation that was due to its most prominent contributors. Wessely exhorted the editors not to attack religiousness nor ridicule the Rabbis, and Mendelssohn devoted his articles to minor points of Rabbinic practice, such as the permissibility of vaccination under the Jewish law.

The French Revolution precipitated events in an unexpected way. The tone of _Ha-Meassef_ changed. It held that knowledge and liberty alone could save the Jews. More aggressive toward the Rabbis than before, it attacked fanaticism, and gave space to trite poems, glorifying a life, for instance, in which women and wine played the prominent part (1790). Six years after its first issue, _Ha-Meassef_ ceased to appear, not without having materially advanced the intellectual emancipation of the German Jews and the revival of Hebrew as a secular language. [Footnote: The first series of _Ha-Meassef_ ran from 1784-1786 (Konigsberg), and from 1788-1790 (Konigsberg and Berlin). An additional volume began to appear in 1794, at Berlin and Breslau, under the editorship of Lowe and Wolfsohn, and was completed in 1797. The second series ran from 1809 to 1811 at Berlin, Altona, and Dessau, under Shalom Hacohen. [Trl.] ] So important was this first co-operative enterprise in Hebrew letters, that it imposed its name on the whole of the literary movement of the second half of the eighteenth century, the epoch of the Meassefim.

Two poets and five or six prose writers more or less worthy of the name of author dominated the period.

Naphtali Hartwig Wessely (born at Hamburg in 1725; died there in 1805) is considered the prince of the poets of the time. Belonging to a rather intelligent family in easy circumstances, he received a modern education. Though his mind was open to all the new influences, he nevertheless remained a loyal adherent of his faith, and occupied strictly religious ground until the end. He devoted himself with success to the cultivation of poetry, and completed the work of reform begun by the Italian Luzzatto, to whom, however, he was inferior in depth and originality.

Wessely’s poetic masterpiece was _Shire Tiferet_ (“Songs of Glory”), or the Epic of Moses (Berlin, 1789), in five volumes. This poem of the Exodus is on the model of the pseudo-classic productions of the Germany of his day; the influence of Klopstock’s _Messias_, for instance, is striking.

Depth of thought, feeling for art, and original poetic imagination are lacking in _Shire Tiferet_. Practically it is nothing more than an oratorical paraphrase of the Biblical recital. The shortcomings of his main work are characteristic of all the poetry by Wessely. On the other hand, his oratorical manner is unusually attractive, and his Hebrew is elegant and chaste. The somewhat labored precision of his style, taken together with the absence of the poetic temperament, makes of him the Malherbe of modern Hebrew poetry. He enjoyed the love and admiration of his contemporaries to an extraordinary degree, and his chief poem underwent a large number of editions, becoming in course of time a popular book, and regarded with kindly favor even by the most orthodox– testimony at once to the poet’s personal influence upon his co- religionists and the growing importance of the Hebrew language.

Wessely wrote also several important works on questions in Hebrew grammar and philology. The chief of them is _Lebanon_, two parts of which appeared, each separately, under the title _Gan Na’ul_ (“The Locked Garden”, Berlin, 1765); the other parts never appeared in print. They bear witness to their author’s solid scientific attainments, and it is regrettable that their value is obscured by his style, diffuse to the point of prolixity. Besides, Wessely contributed to the German translation of the Bible, and to the commentary on the Bible, both, as mentioned before, works presided over by Mendelssohn, to whom he was attached by the tie of admiring friendship.

Wessely’s chief distinction, however, was his firm character and his love of truth. His high ethical qualities were revealed notably in his pamphlet _Dibre Shalom wa-Emet_ (“Words of Peace and Truth,” Berlin, 1781), elicited by the edict of Emperor Joseph II ordering a reform of Jewish education and the establishment of modern schools for Jews. Though well on in years, he yet did not shrink from the risk of incurring the anger of the fanatics. He openly declared himself in favor of pedagogic innovations. With sage-like modesty and mildness, the poet stated the pressing need for adopting new educational methods, and showed them to be by no means in opposition to the Mosaic and Rabbinic conception of the Jewish faith. In the name of _Torat ha-Adam_, the law for man as such, he set forth urgent reforms which would raise the prestige of the Law as well as of the Jews. He hoped for civil liberty, the liberty the Jews were enjoying in England and in the Netherlands. However, this courageous course gained for him the ban of the fanatics, the effect of which was mitigated by the intervention of the Italian Rabbis in favor of Wessely. On the other hand, it made him the most prominent member of the Meassefim circle; he was regarded as the master of the Maskilim.

Among the most distinguished of the contributors to _Ha-Meassef_ is the second writer acclaimed poet by popular consent. David Franco Mendes (1713-1792) was born at Amsterdam, of a family escaped from the Inquisition. Like most Jews of Spanish origin, his family clung to the Spanish language. He was the friend and disciple, and likewise the imitator, of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. What was true of Eastern Europe, that the Hebrew language prevailed in the ghetto, and had to be resorted to by all who would reach the Jewish masses, did not apply to the countries of the Romance languages. Here Hebrew had little by little been supplanted by the vernacular. Mendes, who paid veritable worship to Hebrew literature, was distressed to see the object of his devotion scorned by his co-religionists and the productions of the classic age of France preferred to it. In the preface to his tragedy, “Athaliah’s Recompense” (_Gemul Athaliah_, Amsterdam, 1770), he set himself the task of demonstrating the superiority of the sacred language to the profane languages. Yet this very tragedy, in spite of its author’s protestations, is nothing more than a _rifacimento_ of Racine’s drama, and rather infelicitous at that, though it must be admitted that Mendes’ style is of classic purity, and some of his scenes are in a measure characterized by vivacity of action. His other drama, “Judith”, also published at Amsterdam, has no greater merit than “Athaliah’s Recompense.” Besides these dramas, Mendes wrote several biographical sketches of the learned men of the Middle Ages for _Ha-Meassef_.

It were far from the truth to say that Mendes succeeded in rivalling the French and Italian authors whom he set up as models for himself. Nevertheless he was endorsed and admired by the literary men of his time as the heir of Luzzatto.

* * * * *

An enumeration of all the writers and all the scholars who, directly or indirectly, contributed to the work of _Ha-Meassef_, would be wearisome. Only those who are distinguished by some degree of originality will be set down by name.

Rabbi Solomon Pappenheim (1776-1814), of Breslau, was the author of a sentimental elegy, _Arba’ Kosot_ (“The Four Cups”, Berlin, 1790). The poem, inspired by Young’s “Night Thoughts,” is remarkable for its personal note. In his plaints recalling Job’s, this Hebrew Werther mourns the loss, not of his mistress–that would not have been in consonance with the spirit of the ghetto–but of his wife and his three children. The elegy came near being a popular poem. Its vapid sentimentality and its affected and exaggerated style were to exercise a baneful influence upon the following generations. It is the tribute paid by Hebrew literature to the diseased spirit of the age. Pappenheim wrote, besides, on Hebrew philology. His work, _Yeri’ot Shelomoh_ (“The Curtains of Solomon”), is an important contribution to the subject.

Shalom Hacohen, the editor of a second series of _Ha-Meassef_, published in 1809-1811 (Berlin, Altona, and Dessau), deserves mention. He won considerable fame by his poems and articles, which appeared in the second series of _Ha-Meassef_ and in _Bikkure ha-‘Ittim_ (“The First Fruits of the Times”), and especially through his historical drama, “Amal and Tirzah” (Rodelheim, 1812). The last, a naively conceived piece of work, is well fitted into its Biblical frame. Hacohen is one of the intermediaries between the German Meassefim and their successors in Poland. [Footnote: Another writer of the epoch, Hartwig Derenburg, whose son and grandson have brilliantly carried on, in France, the literary and scientific traditions of the family, was the author of a widely-read allegorical drama, _Yoshebe Tebel_ (“The Inhabitants of the World”, Offenbach, 1789).]

Mendelssohn, the master admired and respected by all, contributed, as was mentioned before, only minor controversial articles to _Ha- Meassef_. His preface to the _Biur_ and his commentary on Maimonides’ treatise on logic are in good style. His philosophical works, “Jerusalem” and “Phaedon,” translated into Hebrew by his disciples, were largely instrumental in giving prevalence to the idea that the Jewish people is a religious community rather than a nation. This circumstance explains the banishment of Hebrew from the synagogue by his less religious followers, such as David Friedlander, and the attacks of Herz Homberg on traditional Judaism in his pamphlet “To the Shepherds of Israel” (_El Ro’e Yisrael_).

The chief editor of _Ha-Meassef_, Isaac Euchel (1756-1804), became known for his polemic articles against the superstitions and obscurantism of the fanatics of the ghetto. Euchel wrote also a biographical sketch of Mendelssohn, which was published at Vienna in 1814.

There were also scientific writers among the Meassefim. Baruch Lindau wrote a treatise on the natural sciences, _Reshit Limmudim_ (“The Elements of the Sciences”, Brunn, 1788), and Mordecai Gumpel Levisohn, the learned professor at the University of Upsala, was the author of a series of scientific essays in _Ha-Meassef_, which contributed greatly to its success.

Up to the time we are speaking of, Poland had supplied the Jewish people with Rabbis and Talmudists, and when the German Jews became imbued with the new spirit, their Polish brethren did not lag behind. Polish authors are to be found among the Meassefim, and several of them deserve special notice.

Kant’s brilliant disciple, the profound thinker Solomon Maimon, published only his exegetical works and his ingenious commentary on Maimonides in Hebrew. Another Polish writer, Solomon Dubno (1735-1813), one of the first to co-operate with Mendelssohn in his _Biur_, was a remarkable grammarian and stylist. Among other things he wrote an allegorical drama and a number of poetic satires. Of the latter, the “Hymn to Hypocrisy”, published in _Bikkure To’elet_, is a finished production.

Judah Ben-Zeeb (1764-1811) published in Berlin a Manual of the Hebrew Language (_Talmud Leshon ‘Ibri_), planned on modern lines, a work contributing greatly toward spreading a knowledge of philology and rhetoric among the Jews. His Hebrew-German Dictionary and his Hebrew version of Ben Sira are well known to Hebraists.

Isaac Satanow (1732-1804), a Pole residing at Berlin, was a curious personage, interesting alike for the variety of his productions and the oddity of his mental make-up. He possessed a surprising capacity for assimilation. It was this that enabled him to excel, whether he imitated the style of the Bible or the style of mediaeval authors. Hebrew and Aramaic he handled with the same ingenious skill. All his works he attributed to some ancient author. His collection of Proverbs, bearing the name of the Psalmist Asaph (_Mishle Asaph_, Berlin, 1789 and 1792, in three books), would cut a respectable figure in any literature.

A few specimens of his _Mishle_, or maxims, follow:

“Truth springs from research, justice from intelligence. The beginning of research is curiosity, its essence is discernment, and its goal truth and justice” (7: 5, 6).

“On the day of thy birth thou didst weep, and those about thee were glad. On the day of thy death thou wilt laugh, and those about thee will sigh. Know then, thou wilt one day be born anew to rejoice in God, and matter will no longer hinder thee” (15: 5, 6). [Footnote: A play upon words: _Geshem_ in Hebrew means both “matter” and “rain.”]

“Rule thy spirit lest others rule thy body” (24:2).

“Pincers are made by means of pincers; work is helped on by work, and science by science” (34:23).

“Think not what is sweet to thy palate is sweet to thy neighbor’s palate. Not so; for many are the beautiful wives that are hated by their husbands, and many the ill-featured wives that are beloved” (43:6,7).

“Every living being leaves off reproducing itself in its old age; but falsehood plays the harlot even in her decrepitude. The older she grows, the deeper she strikes root in the ground, the more numerous becomes her lying progeny, the further does it spread abroad. Her lovers multiply, and those who pay respect to the old adhere to her, that her name be not wiped from the face of the earth” (42:29-31).

Satanow pleaded for the language of the Mishnah as forming part of the Hebrew linguistic stock, but the moment was not propitious to the reform of the prevailing literary style suggested by him.

On the whole, as was intimated before, the literary movement called forth by the Meassefim produced nothing, or almost nothing, of permanent value. The writers of this school acted the part of pioneers and heralds. Being primarily iconoclasts and reformers, they disappeared, with but few exceptions, as soon as their task was completed and the emancipation of the Jews was an accomplished fact in Western Europe. They survived long enough, however, to see the movement with which they were identified sweep away, along with the traditions of the past, also the Hebrew language, the only relic dear to them, the only Jewish thing capable of awakening a responsive thrill in their hearts.

Passionate humanists, and not very clear-sighted, they permitted themselves to be dazzled by modernity and promises of light and liberty, and forswore the ideal of the re-nationalization of Israel, so placing themselves outside the fellowship bond that united, by a common hope, the great masses of the Jews who were still attached to their faith and to their people.

Writers of no consequence in many cases, and of no originality whatsoever, failing to recognize the grandeur of Israel’s past, the Meassefim despised their Jewish surroundings too heartily to seek inspiration in them. For the most part they were shallow imitators, second-rate translators of Schiller and Racine. The language of the Jewish soul they could not speak, and they could not formulate a new ideal to take the place of the tottering traditions of the past and the faltering hope of a Messianic time. An entire generation was to pass before historical Judaism came into its own again, through the creation of a pure “Science of Judaism” and the conception of the mission of the Jewish people.

Nevertheless the movement called into being by the Meassefim caused considerable stir. For the first time the Rabbinic tradition, petrified by age and ignorance, was assailed, in the sacred language at that, and the attack was launched in the name of science and life. For the first time the _Haskalah_, Hebrew humanism, declared war on whatever in the past trammelled the modern evolution of Judaism. In vain the Meassefim, save the exceptional few, refrained scrupulously from violent declamation against primary dogmatic principles. In vain their master Mendelssohn, contravening good sense and historical Judaism, went so far as to proclaim these principles sacrosanct. The secularization of Jewish literature and Jewish life had made a breach in the ghetto wall. Thereafter nothing could oppose the march of new ideas. The Rabbis of the period saw it clearly; hence the stubbornness of their opposition.

Beginning with this time a new class appeared among the Jews of the ghetto, the class of the _Maskilim_, or men of lay learning and letters, a class with which the Rabbis have since had to reckon, with which, indeed, they have had to share their authority over the people.

So far as the Hebrew language is concerned, the Meassefim succeeded in purifying it and restoring it to its Biblical form. Wessely and Mendes obliterated the last vestiges of the Middle Ages, and many of the litterateurs of the period bequeathed models of the classic style to posterity. But the return to the manner of the Bible had its disadvantages. It went to extremes, and led to the creation of a pompous, affected style, the _Melizah_, which has left indelible traces in neo-Hebrew literature. In the effort to guard the Biblical style against the Rabbinisms which had impaired the elegance of the Hebrew language, the purists had gone beyond the bounds of moderation. To express the most prosaic thought, the simplest ideas, they drew upon the metaphors and the elevated diction of the Bible. This rage for academic correctness is responsible for the reputation, not merited by Hebrew literature, that it lacks originality, that it is no more than a _jeu d’esprit_, a jumble of quibbling conceits.

Italian men of letters also took part in the literary movement of the end of the eighteenth century. Two of them are worthy of mention by name. The first is the poet Ephraim Luzzatto (1727-1792), whose love sonnets, written in a sprightly style, sound a lyric note. The other is Samuel Romanelli, the author of a melodrama, much admired by his contemporaries, and of a “Journey to Arabia.”

In France, also, especially in Alsace, there were collaborators of the German Meassefim, the best known among them Ensheim. Besides, France harbored the only poet of the period who can lay claim to originality, but he was not of the school of the Meassefim. Elie Half an Halevy (1760-1822), of Paris, the grandfather of Ludovic Halevy, by far surpasses the other poets of his day in poetic temperament and fertility of imagination. Unluckily, we do not possess all the poems written by Halevy, who, moreover, was not a very prolific author. In what has come down to us his talent is abundantly proved by the charm of his individual style and the wealth of his images. The reader feels that the breath of the Revolution has blown through his pages. His “Hymn to Peace” (_Shir ha-Shalom_), published at Paris in 1804, is the apotheosis of Napoleon, whom the poet hails as “liberty rescued” and “beautiful France”, the home of liberty. This unique poem is characterized by unbounded love for France and the French, the beautiful country, the free, high-mettled people, bearing love of country in its heart and in its hand the avenging sword, and cherishing hatred against “tyranny on the throne, which had changed a terrestrial Paradise into a charnel house.” The poet extols the dictator not only because he is a “friend of victory”, but because he is at the same time and still more a “friend of science.” He salutes the victorious armies. Although they bring destruction and misery in their wake, they bear before them the standard of science, civilization, and progress.

The cry of liberty wakened a loud echo in the ghettos of even the most backward countries. Hebrew literature contains a number of curious mementos, tokens of the ardent hopes which the French Revolution and the Napoleonic conquests evoked in the breast of the Jews, whose character has little enough affinity with the rule of despotism. In numerous Hebrew hymns and songs they welcomed the armies of Napoleon as of the savior Messiah. [Footnote: To name but a few among the many: an ode by the celebrated Rabbi Jacob Meir in Alsace, an ancestor of the family of the Grand-Rabbin Zadoc Kahn; another ode composed at Vienna by the Polish grammarian Ben-Zeeb; and the hymns sung in the synagogue at Frankfort (1807), at Hamburg (1811), etc. The Revolutionary Code published at Amsterdam in 1795 is also worthy of mention.] Before the first flush of joy died away, the reaction set in, and their hopes were blighted. The Jews relapsed into their olden social misery. Nevertheless, the clash between received notions and the new conceptions had contributed not a little to produce a ferment of ideas and create new tendencies in the ghetto, at last aroused from its millennial slumber.

* * * * *




The Polish scholars domiciled in Germany entered, as we have seen, into the work of the Meassefim. Presently it will appear that the movement itself was transferred to Poland, where it produced a much more lasting effect than elsewhere.

In the West of Europe Hebrew was destined to vanish little by little, and make room for the languages of the various countries. In the Slavic East, on the other hand, the neo-Hebrew gained and spread until it was the predominating language used by writers. By and by a profane literature grew up in it, which extends to our day without a break.

From the sixteenth century on, the Jewry of Poland, isolated in destiny and in political constitution, comprised the greater part of the Jewish people. The agglomerations of Jews in Poland, originating in many different countries, and fused into one mass, enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. Their fortunes were governed and their life regulated by a political and religious organization administered by the Rabbis and the representatives of the _Kahal_, the “community.” This organization formed a sort of theocratic state known as “The Synod of the Four Countries” (Poland, Little Poland, Little Russia, and, later, Lithuania, with its autonomous synod). Constituting almost the whole of the Third Estate of a country three times the size of France, the Jews were not only merchants, but also, and more particularly, artisans, workingmen, and even farmers. They were a people apart, distinct from the others. The restricted ghettos and small communities of the Occident widened out, in Poland, into provinces with cities and towns peopled by Jews. The Thirty Years’ War, which had cast a large number of German Jews into Poland, produced the effect of giving a definite constitution to this social organism. The new-comers quickly attained to controlling influence in the Jewish communities, and succeeded in foisting their German idiom upon the older settlers. One of their distinguishing traits was that they pushed the study of the Law to the utmost. The Talmud schools in Poland and the Polish Rabbis soon acquired a reputation unassailed in the whole of the Diaspora. Despised and maltreated by the Polish magnates, condemned, by reason of a never-ceasing stream of immigration and the meagre resources of the country, to a bitter struggle for existence, the Jews of Poland centred all their ambition in the study of the Law, and consoled themselves with the Messianic hope. Empty casuistry and dry dogmatism sufficed for the intellectual needs of the most enlightened. A piety without limit, the rigorous and minute observance of Rabbinical prescriptions, and a cult compounded of traditional and superstitious practices accumulated during many centuries, filled the void left in their minds by the wretched life of the masses. To satisfy the cravings of the heart, they had the homilies of the _Maggidim_ (“preachers”), a sort of popular instruction based on sacred texts, tricked out with Talmudic narratives, mystic allusions, and a variety of superstitions.

By the dreadful insurrection of the Cossacks in the Ukraine, half a million of Jews lost their lives. The terror that followed the uprising during the latter part of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century threw the Jewish population of the southern provinces into sad confusion. At that moment the _Hasidim_ [1] with their Oriental fatalism, and their worship of the _Zaddik_ (“Saint”), whom they revered as a wonder-worker, appeared upon the scene and won the Jews of a large part of Poland to their standard. Then there ensued a period of moral and intellectual degradation, which coincided precisely with the epoch in which the civilizing influence of the Meassefim was uppermost in Germany. [Footnote 1: Literally, the “pious.” A sect founded in Wolhynia in the second half of the eighteenth century, the adherents of which, though they remained faithful to the Rabbinic law, placed piety, mystic exaltation, and a worship of holy men in opposition to the study of the Talmud and the dogmatism of the Rabbis.]

The reforms of Emperor Joseph II planned for the Jews in the part of Poland annexed by Austria, especially the extension of compulsory military service to them, were looked upon by the ignorant masses as a dire misfortune. They rebelled against every change, and placed no belief in the promises made by the authorities to better their condition. They were terrorized by the severity of the measures taken against them, and, impotent to carry on a struggle against authority, they threw themselves into the arms of Hasidism, which preached the merging of self in a mystic solidarity. This meant the cessation of all growth, social as well as religious. Superstition established itself as sovereign mistress, and the end was the utter degeneration of the Austrian-Polish section of Jews.

In order to guard against the danger with which the spread of the new sect was fraught, and enlighten at least the more intelligent of the people, the intellectual Jews of Poland took up the work of the Meassefim, and constituted themselves the champions of the _Haskalah_, the liberal movement. They became thus the lieutenants of the Austrian government. By and by their activity assumed importance, and in time modern schools were established and literary circles were formed in the greater part of the villages of Galicia.

Even into Russian Poland the campaign against obscurantism was carried, by men like Tobias Feder and David Samoscz; the former the author of an incisive pamphlet against Hasidism, as well as numerous philological and poetical publications; the latter a prolific writer, the author of a collection of poems entitled _Resise ha-Melizah_ (“Drops of Poetry”, 1798).

The movement was aided and abetted by rich and influential Jews. Joseph Perl, the founder of a modern school and several other educational institutions, is a typical representative of these friends and patrons of progress. [Footnote: Perl was the author of a parody on Hasidism, published anonymously under the title _Megalle Temirin_ (“The Revealer of Mysteries”). A monograph upon parodies, a literary form widely cultivated in Hebrew, which was long a desideratum has recently been written by Dr. Israel Davidson (“Parody in Jewish Literature”, New York, Columbia University Press, 1908). The Hebrew parody is distinguished particularly for its adaptation of the Talmudic language to modern customs and questions. It was made the vehicle of polemics and of ridicule, as in the case of Perl’s pamphlet, or of satire on social conditions, as in the “Treatise of Commercial Men”, which appeared at Warsaw, and the “Treatise America”, published at New York, etc. Frequently it was meant merely to divert and amuse, as, for instance, _Hakundus_, Wilna, 1827, and numerous editions of the “Treatise Purim.”]

_Ha-Meassef_ was succeeded by a progeny of periodical literature, scientific and literary. After the _Bikkure ha-‘Ittim_ (“The First Fruits of the Times”), edited by Shalom Hacohen, Vienna, 1820-1831, came the _Kerem Hemed_ (“The Delicious Vineyard”), edited by Goldenberg, at Tarnopol, 1833-1842; the _Ozar Nehmad_ (“The Delightful Treasure”), edited by Blumenfeld; _He-Haluz_ (“The Pioneer”), founded in 1853 by Erter, together with Schorr, the witty writer and bold reformer; _Kokebe Yizhak_ (“The Stars of Isaac”), edited by I. Stern, at Vienna, 1850-1863; _Bikkure ha-Shanah_ (“The First Fruits of the Year”, 1844); _Peri To’elet_ (“Successful Labor”, 1821- 1825); “Jerusalem”, 1845; “Zion”, 1842; _Ha-Zefirah_ (“The Morningstar”), 1824; _Yeshurun_. 1847, etc. These collections of essays are of a much more serious character than ever _Ha-Meassef_ attained to. As a rule they display more originality and more scientific depth.

To attract the intelligent among the Polish Jews, permeated as they were with deep knowledge of Rabbinic literature, more was needed than witty sallies and childish conceits in an affected style. The appeal had to be made to their reason, to their convictions, their constant longing for intellectual occupation. Their minds could be turned away from a most absurd mysticism only by setting a new ideal before them, calculated to engage feelings and attract hearts yearning for consolation, and left unsatisfied by the pursuit of the Law, the nourishment given to all who thought and studied in the ghetto.

Two men, the most eminent of the Jewish humanists in Austrian Poland, succeeded in meeting the spiritual needs of their compatriots. The Rabbi Solomon Jehudah Rapoport, one of the founders of the Science of Judaism, the pursuit that was to replace Rabbinic scholasticism, and the philosopher Nahman Krochmal, the promoter of the idea of the “mission of the Jewish people”, a substitute for the mystic, religious ideal–they were the two who transformed the literary movement inaugurated in Germany into a permanent influence.

* * * * *

Solomon Jehudah Rapoport (1790-1867), called “the father of the Science of Judaism”, was born at Lemberg of a family of Rabbis. His studies were purely Rabbinic, but his alert mind grasped every opportunity of acquiring other knowledge, and in this incidental way he became familiar first with French and then with German. The influence of the philosopher Krochmal, with whom he came in close personal contact, shaped his career as a writer and a scholar. In 1814, at Lemberg, he wrote, in Hebrew, a description of the city of Paris and the Isle of Elba, to satisfy the curiosity which the events of the time had aroused in the Polish ghetto. In imitation of Mendes, whose writings exercised some influence upon him, he later published a translation of Racine’s “Esther” (_Bikkure ha-‘Ittim_, 1827), and of a number of Schiller’s poems. But he did not stop at that. His profound study of the Jewish scholars and poets of the Middle Ages turned his mind to historical investigations. In the _Bikkure ha-‘Ittim_ and the _Kerem Hemed_ he published a series of biographical and literary studies, in which he shows himself to be possessed of large critical sense and keen judgment. In its sobriety and precision his style has not been excelled. These studies of his gave new direction to the eager minds of the age. As a result, Jost, Zunz, and Samuel David Luzzatto devoted themselves to the thorough examination of the Judaism of the Middle Ages. The outcome was a new science, the Science of Judaism.

Rapoport published also a pamphlet against the Hasidim and their wonder- working Rabbis, and various articles on the necessity of promoting knowledge and civilization among the Jews. In this way he brought upon himself the hatred of the fanatics. Appointed Rabbi at Tarnopol at the instigation of Perl, the patron of Jewish science, he was forced to leave the city by the intrigues of the Hasidim. He went to Prague, to become Rabbi in that important community, and there he ended his days.

The disciple and successor of the German Meassefim, Rapoport inherited from them the conviction which characterized the Jewish _Maskil_, that science alone and modern civilization can raise the intellectual level and improve the political situation of his co-religionists. All his life he fought for the Haskalah. He loved knowledge with disinterested devotion, and not merely because it was an instrument to promote the political emancipation of the Jews. The work of assimilation set on foot in the Occident, he realized, was not applicable in the East of Europe, and would even be useless there. No vain illusions on the subject possessed him. He was very much wrought up against such religious reforms in Judaism as, he believed, would inevitably split the people into sects, and sow the seed of disunion and indifference to national institutions. This appears strikingly in his campaign against Schorr, the editor of _He-Haluz_, and Judah Mises, and especially in his pamphlet _Tokohat Megullah_ (“Public Reproach”), which appeared in Frankfort in 1846. To those who faltered, having lost faith in the future of Judaism, Rapoport addresses himself in several of his writings, especially in the introduction to “Esther”, holding up his own ideals before them. Love of my nation, he says in effect, is the cornerstone of my existence. This love alone has the power to confirm my faith, for the national sentiment of the Jew and his religion are closely linked with each other. And not only this national sentiment and this religion are inconceivable the one without the other, but a third factor is joined with them so intimately as to be indispensable–it is the Holy Land.

The desire to explain rationally the Jew’s love for his ancient land suggested to Rapoport, long before Buckle and Lazarus, the theory of the influence of climate on the psychology of nations. In his sketch of Rabbi Hananel (_Bikkure ha-‘Ittim_, 1832), he explains the psychologic traits of the Jewish people by the fact that they resided in a temperate climate and in a country situated between Asia and Africa. Thence was derived the tendency to maintain equilibrium between feeling and reason which characterizes the Jew. Under favorable conditions, and if the Roman conquest had not intervened, the Jews would have reached the highest degree of this equilibrium, and become a model nation. That is why Palestine is the political and spiritual fatherland of the Jew, the only country in which his genius can develop untrammelled; that is why Palestine is so indissolubly attached to the destinies of Israel, and is so dear to every Jewish heart. But even in the exile, “in the darkness of the Middle Ages, the Jews were the sole bearers of light and knowledge”. This is what Rapoport strove to demonstrate in his works on the scholars of the Middle Ages, and in his Talmudic encyclopedia, _’Erek Millin_ (Prague, 1852), which, unfortunately, was not finished.

In this fashion Rapoport, who did not hesitate to write on Bible criticism in Hebrew, the first to use the ancient language for the purpose, endeavored to reconcile the reason of a modern mind with the faith and the Messianic hope of an orthodox Rabbi.

* * * * *

It is a significant phenomenon that the Science of Judaism, the ideal meant to replace the dry study of the Law, and fill the void left in the Jewish mind by the course of recent developments, took firm hold upon the Polish Jews, the very bodyguard of Rabbinism, of which, in point of fact, it is but a modern and rational transformation.

Yet this new science, founded on the study of Israel’s glorious past, and warmly welcomed by the intellectual and the cultivated in Western Europe, could not entirely satisfy the intelligent in Polish Jewry. In an environment wholly Jewish, having no reason to nurse illusive hopes of imminent assimilation with their neighbors, from whom they were divided by every possible circumstance, beginning with moral notions and ending with political fortune, the Polish Jews resigned themselves to a sort of Messianic mysticism. But the mystic’s explanation of the phenomenon of the existence of Judaism also failed to satisfy their yearnings. What they sought was a warrant in reason itself justifying the permanence of Judaism and its future. The arguments set forth by Maimonides and Jehudah Halevi contained no appeal for the modern soul. A philosopher was needed, one who should solve the problem of the existence of the Jewish people and its proper sphere from the vantage- ground of authoritative knowledge. Such a philosopher arose in Galicia itself.

Nahman Krochmal (1785-1840), the originator of the idea of the “mission of the Jewish people”, was born at Brody. His chief work, published posthumously through the efforts of Zunz, the _Moreh Nebuke ha- Zeman_ (“The Guide of the Perplexed of Modern Times”), is the most original piece of philosophic writing in modern Hebrew. Krochmal led the sad life of the Polish-Jewish scholar–void of pleasures and filled to overflowing with privation and suffering. His whole time was consecrated to Jewish science. He led a retired life, and while he lived nothing of his was published. On account of the precarious state of his health, he never left the small town in which he was born. However, his house became the foregathering place of the votaries of Jewish science. Especially young men eager to learn came from everywhere to sit at the feet of the master. The influence which he thus exerted during his life was reinforced and perpetuated after his death by the publication of the “Guide of the Perplexed of Modern Times”, in 1851, at Lemberg.

The studies contained in this work, for the most part unfinished sketches, form a curious collection. Limitations of space forbid more than a summary of its contents, and an analysis of its chief principles.

The need of finding a philosophic explanation of Divine existence forced Hegel to formulate the axiom, that reason alone constitutes the reality of things, and absolute truth is to be found in the union of the subjective and the objective–the subjective corresponding to the concrete state of every being, that is, matter, which forms his actual reason, and the objective corresponding to his abstract state, that is, the idea, which forms his absolute reason.

On this Hegelian axiom of actual reason and absolute reason, Krochmal builds up his ingenious system of the philosophy of Jewish history. He is the first Jewish scholar who views Judaism, not as a distinct and independent entity, but as a part of the whole of civilization. At the same time, while it is attached to the civilized world, it is distinguished by qualities peculiar to itself. It leads the independent existence of a national organism similar to all others, but it also aspires to an absolute, spiritual expression, consequently to universalism. The result of this double aspect is that while Jewish _nationality_ forms the element peculiar to the Jewish people, its civilization, its intellect are _universal_, and detach themselves from its peculiar national life. Hence it comes that Jewish culture is essentially spiritual, ideal, and tends to promote the perfection of the human kind. Krochmal in this way arrives at the following three conclusions:

1. The Jewish nation is like the phoenix, constantly arising to new life from its ashes. It comprises within itself the three elements of Hegel’s triad: the idea, the object, and the intelligence. The successive resurrections of the Jewish people follow an ascendant progression, which tends toward the spiritually absolute. Starting as a political organism, it soon developed into a dogmatically religious sect, only to be transformed into a spiritual entity. Krochmal–though he does not say it explicitly–sees in religion only a passing phenomenon in the history of the Jewish people, exactly as its political existence was but a temporary phase.

2. The Jewish people presents a double aspect to the observer. It is national in its particularism, or its concrete aspect, and universal in its spiritualism. The national genius of all other peoples of antiquity was narrowly particularistic. That is why they were submerged. Only the Jewish prophets conceived of the absolutely and universally spiritual and of moral truth, and therein lies the secret of the continued existence of the Jewish people.

3. With Hegel Krochmal admits that the resultants from the historical development of a people form the quintessence of its existence. [Footnote: See chapters IX, XVI, and others; also M. Bernfeld, _Da’at Elohim_ (“The Knowledge of God”); and M. Landau, _Die Bibel und der Hegelianismus_ (Dissertation).] But what he does not believe is that the essential element in the existence of a people is the resultant. The process of historical evolution is in itself an adequate reason for its existence. More rational than Hegel himself, Krochmal thus avoids the contradiction which follows from the mystical definition of existence in the Hegelian system.

For the German metaphysician, existence is the interval between not being and being, that is, the period of _becoming_. Krochmal simply eliminates this more or less materialistic notion of the _interval_. He substitutes the moral effects produced incidentally to the course of historic action, for the idea of effects posterior to the same action, the effects called the resultants. The more or less materialistic manner in which historic action develops replaces with him the idea of the transition period, the period of becoming, as a mysterious intermediary between actual reason and absolute reason.

Proceeding from these axioms, Krochmal, at a time in which _Volkerpsychologie_ and sociology were embryonic sciences, explains the phenomena of Jewish history as well as the phenomena of the religious and spiritual evolution of mankind, and does it with remarkable originality and profundity.

Krochmal’s ideas produced an effect not to be exaggerated upon the intelligent among the Polish Jews, who had thrown off the trammels of dogmatism and mystic hope, but were in a hesitating state of mind, casting about for the reason of their very existence as Jews. His book offered them an explanation, based on modern science and yet in accord with their Jewish essence as revealed by history and therefore satisfying to their national pride.

Thus Krochmal opened up a way for the seekers after enlightenment in future generations. On the ideas of the master, his successors built up their conceptions of the Jewish people. Abraham Mapu, the father of the historical novel in Hebrew, drew his inspiration from the “Guide”, and in our days the well-known essayist Ahad ha-‘Am has seized upon certain of Krochmal’s principles, notably the importance to be attached to the spiritual element in the life of the Jewish people. [Footnote: R. Brainin, in his biography of Mapu, p. 64, Warsaw, 1900.]

These two leaders, Rapoport and Krochmal, stimulated a whole school of writers, whose works established the fortune of the Hebrew language in Galicia. With more or less originality, all departments of literature and science were cultivated.

Very soon, however, the times ceased to be propitious to serene thinking and investigation of the past. Hasidism, triumphant, having conquered the whole of Russian-Poland, threatened to crush all thought and reason at the very time in which the _Kulturkampf_ was battering at the gates of the Polish ghetto. Rapoport, we have seen, contended with Hasidism in a witty pamphlet. After him, there appeared a satirist of great talent, who waged pitiless war with its partisans and with all the powers of darkness.

Isaac Erter, of Przemysl (1792-1841), was the friend and disciple of Krochmal. An infant prodigy, he spent all the years of his early childhood in the exclusive study of the Law. When he was thirteen years old, his father married him to a girl of eighteen, whom he had not set eyes upon before the day of their marriage. She did not live long. Erter went on with his Rabbinic studies, and married a second time. A lucky chance brought him in contact with a Maskil who led him to the study of Hebrew grammar, and he became a devotee of the Haskalah. Encouraged by Rapoport and Krochmal, with whom he had entered into relations, he published his first satire on Hasidism. It evoked considerable comment. Persecuted by the fanatics on account of it, he could not continue to follow his vocation as teacher of Hebrew. He was obliged to quit his native city, and he went to Brody, where the circle of Maskilim welcomed him with delight. Otherwise his life at Brody was full of hardships. His wife, as courageous as she was intelligent, urged him to equip himself for some serious profession. Accordingly, at the age of thirty-three, he went to Buda-Pesth to study medicine, and five years later he returned to Brody fortified with his diploma as a physician. Thereafter he occupied an independent position, and he could dare wage uncompromising warfare with obscurantism and the mystics. He published numerous articles in the periodicals of the day. After his death, they were collected by the poet Letteris in one volume bearing the title _Ha- Zofeh le-Bet Yisrael_ (“The Watchman for the House of Israel”).

Erter as satirist and critic of morals is a writer of the first order. For vivacity, his style, at once incisive and elegant, may be compared with that of his contemporaries Heine and Borne. He possesses not a few traits in common with these two writers. More serious and positive than Heine, he pursues a steady aim in his satires. Tears mingle with his laugh, and if he castigates, it is in order to chasten. More original and more poetic than Borne, he thinks clearly and to the point, and the effect of his thought is in no way impaired by his stilted mannerisms. Without bias or passion, and with fine irony, he rallies the Hasidim on their baneful superstitions, their worship of angels and demons. He criticises the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the Rabbis, and scourges the shabby vanity of the communal representatives.

Animated by the desire to spread truth and culture among his co- religionists, he does not direct his attacks against the fanatics alone. He is equally bold in driving home the truth with the “moderns” of the ghetto, the “intellectuals”, boastful of their diplomas, who seek their own profit, and do nothing to further the welfare of the people in general. Corresponding to the number of articles he wrote is the number of arrows shot into the very heart of the backward system imposed upon the Jews of his country. He is the first Hebrew poet who dared expose the social evils honeycombing the curious surroundings, full of contrasts and _naivete_, amid which his people lived. This he did in a series of startling descriptions. After the fashion of Cervantes, he employs ridicule to kill off the Rabbi and murder the mystic.

Erter deserves a place in the first rank of the champions of civilization among the Jews.

Galicia gave birth also to a lyric poet of some distinction. Meir Halevi Letteris (1815-1871) was a learned philologist, but his chief literary excellencies he displayed as a poet. Like Rapoport’s, his maiden effort was a translation of the Biblical dramas of Racine. His workmanship was exact and beautiful. He was a productive writer, and his activity expressed itself in every sort of literary form. He left upward of thirty volumes in prose and verse. [Footnote: His poetry was collected in one volume, and published at Vienna, under the title _Tofes Kinnor we-‘Ugab_ (“Master of the Lyre and the Cithern”).] His Hebrew version of _Faust_, published at Vienna, is a masterpiece in point of style, and it gained him conspicuous renown. He ventured upon a bold departure from Goethe’s work. Desiring to transfer the dramatic action to soil wholly Jewish, he substituted for Faust a Gnostic Rabbi of the Talmud, Elisha ben Abuyah, surnamed _Aher_ (“Another”). This change necessitated a number of others, which were far from being advantageous to the Hebrew version.

The prose of Letteris is heavy. It lacks grace and naturalness, qualities possessed by the greater number of his contemporaries in Russia. It should, however, be set down to his credit that, unlike many others, he never showed any inclination to sacrifice clearness of thought to elegance of style.

By way of compensation, his poetry, from the point of view of style and versification, is raised beyond adverse criticism. It merits the description classic. His numerous translations from modern poets prove the facility with which the ancient language can be handled by a master. But, having acknowledged the superiority of his style, the literary critic has said all there is to be said in praise of his work. The breath of poesy, the tone of personal inspiration, the gift of fancy, are on the whole lacking. His most original poems are nothing more than an echo of the romantic school.

Nevertheless, there is a certain simple charm diffused through some of his verses, especially those in which he pours out his sorrowful Jewish heart. His Zionist poems are perfect expressions of the national spirit. One of them, the very best his muse has produced, has been almost universally accepted as the national hymn. It Is called _Yonah Homiah_ (“The Plaintive Dove”). The dove is the symbol for Israel used by the prophetical writers of the Bible. Her mournful cooing voices the grief of the Jewish people driven forth from its native land and forsaken by its God.

“‘Alas for my affliction! I must roam about abandoned since I left the shelter in the cleft of my rock. Around me rages the storm, alone and forsaken I fly to the forest to seek safety in its thickets. My Friend has abandoned me! His anger was kindled, because faithless to Him I permitted the stranger to seduce me, and now my enemies harry me without respite. Since my Friend deserted me, my eyes have been overflowing with tears. Without Thee, O my Glory, what care I for life? Better to dwell in the shadow of death than wander o’er the wide world. For the oppressed death is as a brother in adversity.

“‘Yonder two birds are billing and cooing, and tasting of the sweets of love. They live at ease ensconced in the branches of the trees, nestling amid green olive vines and garlands of flowers. I, only I, am exiled! Where shall I find a refuge? My rock-shelter is hedged about with prickly thorns and thistles…. E’en the wild birds of prey mate happily, only I, poor mourning dove, alone among all beings alive, dwell apart. E’en those who gorge themselves with innocent blood live tranquil in their home eyries. Alas! only the righteous must weep, only the poor are stripped of all hope!…

“‘Return, then, my Life, my Breath! Return, my Comforter! Hear my bitter wail of woe, lead me back to my home. Have pity on my loneliness! Restore Thy love to me, bring me once again to the cleft of my rock, and let me hide myself in the shadow of Thy wings.’

“Such moaning and dull wailing, my ear caught in the night, when the fields and the woods were bathed in Divine peace; and hearing the plaintive voice of the mourning dove, my soul knew it to be the voice of the bitter woe of the daughter of my people!”

Other writers and translators in large numbers added to the lustre of Galicia as a centre of Hebrew literature. The most important among them is Samson Bloch, the author of a geography of the world, including a sentimental description of Palestine, written in oratorical style. Joseph Efrati (1820) wrote an historical drama, _Meluhat Shaul_ (“The Royalty of Saul”), which deserves mention for its fine conception. And Judah Mises, in his two works, _Tekunat ha-Rabbanim_ (“Characterization of the Rabbis”), and _Kinat ha-Emet_ (“The Zeal for Truth”), opposed Rabbinic tradition and the authorities of the Middle Ages. His antiquated rationalism called forth the severe reproaches of Rapoport. Nevertheless he stirred up a grave controversy, which gave rise to a series of consequences extending down to the literary warfare begun by the collection _Ha-Roeh u-Mebakker_ (“The Seer and the Searcher”), published by Bodek and Fischmann, in which the works of Zunz, S. D. Luzzatto, and Jost are criticised.

At this point ceases the dominance of the litterateurs of Austrian Poland. The centre of literary activity was thereafter transferred to Russia permanently. Hasidism was about to take complete possession of Galicia, and Hebrew literature, confined to a few small circles, was never again to reach there the heights which it had occupied in the days of Rapoport and Krochmal.

Though the centre of the Hebrew literary movement during the earlier half of the nineteenth century lay in Galicia, yet the Jews elsewhere had a share in it. In almost all the Slav countries as well as in the Occident, in Germany, in Holland, and especially in Italy, Hebrew was cultivated both by scholars and literary men. Some of the works of Zunz, Geiger, Jellinek, and Frankel, for instance, were published in Hebrew.

At Amsterdam, out of a whole school of litterateurs, but one name can be selected for special mention, that of the poet and scholar Samuel Mulder (1789-1862). Besides being active as the editor of several collections of essays, and writing remarkable historical studies, he was the composer of poems very much admired by his contemporaries. Most of them appeared in the _Bikkure To’elet_ (“Useful First Fruits”), which he published at Amsterdam, in 1820, under the auspices of the Maskilim society _To’elet_. The Talmudic narrative about the seduction of the celebrated wife of Rabbi Meir, forms the subject of an excellent poem, entitled “Beruriah”, on the fickleness of women.

In Germany it was chiefly the discussion evoked by the movement for religious reforms (1840-1860) that created a literature in Hebrew. To cite an instance, there was the fiery pamphlet _Or Nogah_ (“The Bright Light”), by E. Lieberman, a masterpiece in point of style and as a satire upon the orthodox party, together with the replies of the Rabbis and the men of letters. It is curious to read pleas, in Hebrew, for the abolition of the Hebrew language, and against the maintenance of Jewish nationality. Abraham Geiger sided with the extreme reformers, while Frankel and Zunz insisted upon the necessity of retaining Hebrew as the language of worship. Another remarkable pamphlet directed against religious reforms in Judaism must be singled out for mention, that written by Meir Israel Bresselau, entitled _Hereb Nokemet Nekam Berit_ (“The Avenging Sword of the Covenant”).

Moses Mendelsohn, of Hamburg, a German Harizi both in the character of his work and by reason of his position as a straggler of the Meassefim, was a disciple and imitator of Wessely. His Makamat _Pene Tebel_ (“The Face of the World”, Amsterdam, 1870) contain literary reminiscences.

Among the contributors to the periodical literature published in Galicia, Judah Jeiteles, of Prague (1773-1838), should be mentioned as a writer of epigrams, models of their kind. [Footnote: _Bene ha- Ne’urim_ (“Youth”), Prague, 1821.]

The following one is addressed to Tirzah:

“She is as beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun; her whole being resembles the two heavenly luminaries. The maiden lavishes her gifts upon the whole world, and like the two orbs she rules both day and night.”

Jeiteles also carried on a sharp pamphlet war against Hasidism. [Footnote: Like the Vienna and the Brody of that day, Prague also had its literary centres. Among its Hebrew men of letters was Gabriel Sudfeld, the father of the celebrated author Max Nordau, and himself the author of a drama and of an exegetical work, which appeared in 1850.]

Hungary, whose Jews had the same customs and characteristics as the Jews of Poland, gave birth to one poet of real merit. Solomon Levinsohn, of Moor (1789-1822), was brought up in orthodox surroundings, and had to contend against all sorts of obstacles, spiritual and material. He triumphed over them, and became a scholar of serious attainments and a poet of distinction. Besides his historical studies, in German, he wrote an excellent geography of Palestine, in Hebrew, under the title _Mehkere Erez_ (“Investigations of the Land”), published at Vienna in 1819. His poetical treatise _Melizat Yeshurun_ (a Hebrew rhetoric), also published at Vienna, in 1846, is a master work, both as a treatise on rhetoric and as poetic literature. The introductory poem, on “Poetic Eloquence”, an apotheosis of poetry and _belles lettres_, is one of the finest ever written in Hebrew. The poet displays a rich imagination, his figures of speech are clear-cut and telling, and his style is remarkable for its classic quality. An unhappy love affair terminated his days before his genius reached the period of full flowering. [Footnote: Simon Bacher, the father of the scholar Wilhelm Bacher, also won a name as an eloquent poet.]

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The literary movement of the first half of the nineteenth century did not succeed in making itself felt among the masses. It failed to call forth a national literature of even a slight degree of originality. The Maskilim of Galicia fell into the same mistake as their predecessors in Germany. In constituting themselves the champions of humanism in Poland, in a community thoroughly religious, and affected by modern conceptions only superficially, they should not have attached the undue importance they did to arguments addressed to reason. Their appeal should have been directed to the feelings of their co-religionists. They labored under the delusion that positive reasoning could carry conviction to a people immersed in mystical speculation, crushed by the double yoke of ceremonialism and an inferior social position, and sustained only by the Messianic hope of a glorious future. If Galician humanism never spread beyond the small circles of the literary, it was only what might have been expected. It could not become a popular movement. Neither the depth of thinkers like Rapoport and Krochmal, nor the biting satire of an Erter, nor the Zionistic lyricism of a Letteris, had force enough to cry a halt to the Hasidim and impede their dark work. In point of fact, the newer ideas all but failed to make an impression on the most independent of the young Rabbis. They were affrighted by the religious decadence in evidence in Germany, and they took a rather determined stand in opposition to the spread of a secular literature in Hebrew. [Footnote: Cases might be cited besides that of the learned friend of Rapoport, Jacob Samuel Bick, referred to by Bernfeld in his biography of Rapoport, p. 13. He deserted from the humanist camp, in which his Jewish feeling was left unsatisfied, and took refuge in Hasidism.] As a result, we shall see a steady decline in the position of the Hebrew litterateur in Poland, and a decrease in the number of Hebrew publications. The _Mehabber_ makes his appearance as a type–the vagabond author who offers his own writings for sale, fairly forcing them on unwilling purchasers. No more eloquent index is needed to the state of a struggling literature.

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It is questionable whether the work of the Galician Maskilim would not have been doomed to perpetual sterility, with no hope of ever making an impression on the Jewish masses, if an Italian writer had not appeared on the scene, who possessed the Jewish feeling that was lacking in his predecessors. In Samuel David Luzzatto general culture and genuine breadth of mind were united with Jewish loyalty raised to the highest pitch. He succeeded in discovering the formula by which modern culture can be brought to the religious without wounding their Jewish sensibilities. The life and work of so remarkable a personage deserve more than passing mention.

After a rather long period of inactivity in Hebrew letters in Italy, a new literary and scientific school sprang into being during the first half of the nineteenth century. It participated with notable success in the movement of the north. The celebrated critic, Isaac Samuel Reggio (1784-1854), an independent thinker, exercised enormous influence upon his contemporaries by his publications in the history of literature and his bold articles on religious reform. His chief work, “The Law and Philosophy”, which appeared in Vienna in 1827, is an attempt at harmonizing the Jewish Law with science.

The best known of the poets were Joseph Almanzi (1790-1860) and Rachel Morpurgo. [Footnote: The reader is referred to the anthology of the Italian poets of the period, published by Abraham Baruch Piperno, under the title _Kol Ugab_ (“The Voice of the Harp”, Leghorn, 1846).] Almanzi’s poems were published in two collections, one entitled _Higgayon be-Kinnor_ (“The Lyric Harp”), and _Nezem Zahab_ (“Ornament of Gold”).

Rachel Morpurgo (1790-1860), a kinswoman of the Luzzatto family, left a collection of poems on various subjects, entitled _’Ugab Rahel_ (“The Harp of Rachel”), a carefully prepared edition of which was published by the scholar Vittorio Castiglioni. It is a curious document in the history of Hebrew literature. The language of the poetess is essentially Biblical, her style sprightly and original, and her thought is dominated by a fine serenity of soul and unwavering faith in the Messianic future of Israel.

The following sonnet was inspired by the democratic revolution of 1848, which shook modern society to its very foundations, and in which the Jews were largely and deeply interested:

“He who bringeth low the proud, hath brought low all the kings of the earth…. He hath sent disaster and ruin into the fortified cities, and sated with blood their cringing defenders.

“All, both young and old, gird on the sword, greedier for prey than the beasts of the forest; they all cry for liberty, the wise and the boors; the fury of the battle rages like the billows of the stormy sea….

“Not thus the servants of God, the valiant of His host. They do battle day and night with their evil inclinations. Patiently they bear the yoke of their Rock, and increase cometh to their strength. My Friend is like a hart, like a sportive gazelle.

“He will sound the great trumpet to summon the Deliverer; the righteous Sprout shall grow forth from the earth. Their Rock will soothe their pain, He will repair every breach. The Lord reigneth, and the earth rejoiceth aloud.”

Rachel’s finest poem is without a doubt the one named _’Emek ‘Akor_ (“The Dark Valley”) in which she affirms her steadfast faith in the truths and consolations of religion:

“O dark valley, covered with night and mist, how long wilt thou keep me bound with thy chains? Better to die and abide under the shadow of the Almighty, than sit desolate in the seething waters.”

“I discern them from afar, the hills of eternity, their ever- enduring summits clothed with garlands of bloom. O that I might rise on wings like the eagle, fly upward with my eyes, and raise my countenance and gaze into the heart of the sun!

“O Heaven, how beautiful are thy paths, they lead to where liberty reigneth ever. How gentle the zephyrs wafted over thy heights, who hath words to tell?”

The same mystic note struck by Rachel Morpurgo recurs in the works of other Italian writers of the time. It distinguishes them strikingly from their contemporaries in Galicia and Russia, who proclaim themselves almost without exception the followers of a relentless rationalism.

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Unquestionably the most original of all these writers, and the one who occupied the most prominent and influential place, is Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865). He was born at Triest, the son of a carpenter, a poor man, but none the less educated and respected. The childhood years of Luzzatto were passed in poverty and study. He emerged a conqueror from the struggle for life and knowledge. As early as 1829 he was appointed rector of the Rabbinical Seminary at Padua. Thereafter he could devote himself without hindrance to science and the education of disciples, many of whom became celebrated.

Luzzatto’s learning was vast in extent and as thorough. Besides, he possessed literary taste and modern culture. In his southern temperament, feeling had the upper hand of reason. He was an indefatigable worker, his mind was always actively alert. Versed alike in philology, archaeology, poetry, and philosophy, he was productive in each of these departments, without ever laying himself open to the charge of mediocrity. He was the creator of the Science of Judaism in the Italian language, but above all he was a Hebrew writer.

He published excellent editions of the Hebrew masters of the Middle Ages, for the first time bringing to the doors of readers, scholarly readers as well as others, the works of such poets as Jehudah Halevi (Prague, 1840). The notes in these editions of his are ingenious and scientific. His own verses and poems are wholly devoid of inspiration and fancy, but in form and style they are irreproachable. [Footnote: _Kinnor Na’im_ (“The Sweet Lyre”), Vienna, 1835, and others.] His prose is vigorous and precise, at the same time preserving some of the Oriental charm native to the Hebrew.

His chief distinction is that he was a romantic Jew. His patriotic heart was chilled by the attacks upon the Jewish religion and upon Jewish nationalism by the German and Galician humanists. He was hostile to rationalism, and opposed it all his life. In his sight, science, the importance of which he in no degree denied, was yet not equal in value to religious feeling. This alone, he held, is able to establish morality in a position of supremacy.

S. Bernfeld, in his sketch of Rapoport, considers it a surprising anachronism that this romanticist, this Jewish Chateaubriand, should have appeared on the scene at the very moment of the triumph of rationalism in Hebrew letters everywhere. [Footnote: Warsaw and Berlin, 1899] Luzzatto was the first among Hebrew humanists to claim the right of existence not only for Jewish nationality, but also for the Jewish religion in its integrity.

“A people in possession of a land of its own can maintain itself, even without a religion of its own. But the Jewish people, dispersed in all four corners of the earth, can maintain itself only by virtue, of its attachment to its faith. And if, heaven forbid, it should cease to believe in revelation, it must inevitably be assimilated with the other peoples…. The science of Judaism, with which some scholars are at present occupying themselves in Germany, cannot preserve Judaism. [1] It is not an object in itself to them. When all is said, Goethe and Schiller are more important to these gentlemen, and much dearer to them, than all the prophets and all the Rabbis of the Talmud. They pursue the Science of Judaism pretty much as others study Egyptology or Assyriology, or the lore of Persia. They are inspired by a love of science, by the desire for personal renown, or, at best, by the intention to attach glory to the name of Israel, and they extol certain old works for the purpose of hastening the first redemption, that is, the political emancipation of the Jews. But this Science of Judaism has no stability. It cannot survive the emancipation of the Jews, or the death of those who studied the Torah and believed in God and Moses before they took lessons of Eichhorn and his disciples.”

“The true Science of Judaism, the science which will last as long as time itself, is that which is founded on the faith; which endeavors to understand the Bible as a Divine work, and the history of a peculiar people whose lot has been peculiar; which, finally, dwells upon those moments in the various epochs of Jewish history when the innate genius of Judaism wages a conflict with the genius of humanity in general, as it lies in wait without, and how the Divine spirit of Judaism mastered the spirit of humanity throughout all the centuries. For the day on which the positions shall be reversed, and the spirit of humanity shall remain in possession of the field, that day will be the last in the life of the people of Israel.”

[Footnote 1: Jost, in his “History of the Jewish People”, etc.]

This conception of the providential role assigned to Israel is the point at which the Italian romanticist meets Krochmal, wide apart though their starting-places are. At bottom both do but interpret the ancient notion of the Divine selection of Israel and of a “chosen people”. But while Krochmal regards religion as a fleeting phase in the existence of the nation, for Luzzatto religion is an essential element in Judaism, a view not unlike Bossuet’s. However, it does not lead him astray. He still tries to harmonize faith with the demands of the modern spirit. The Jewish religion is in his opinion the moral doctrine _par excellence_. Like Heine he takes the world to be dominated by two opposite forces, Hellenism and Hebraism. Justice, truth, the good, and self-abnegation, whatever appertains to these is Jewish. The beautiful, the rational, the sensuous, is Attic. Luzzatto does not hesitate to criticise the masters of the Middle Ages rather sharply, chief among them Maimonides, who attempted the impossible when he endeavored to harmonize science and faith, reason and feeling, Moses and Aristotle. These are the irreconcilable oppositions in human life.

“Science does not make us happy; the highest morality alone is capable of conferring true happiness upon us, and spiritual peace. And this morality is to be found not with Aristotle, but only with the prophets of Israel.

“The happiness of the Jewish people, the people of morality, does not depend upon its political emancipation, but upon its faith and its morality. The French and German Rabbis of the Middle Ages, simple-minded and uncultured, but pious and sincere, are preferable to the speculative minds of Spain, whose arguing and rhetoric warped their judgment.”

Such ideas as these involved Luzzatto in discussions and polemics with the greater number of his friends, the German Jewish scholars, whose views were far removed from his. He defied his contemporaries, as he attacked the masters of the Middle Ages. In one of his letters he goes to the length of asserting, that while Jost and his colleagues were engaged in what they believed to be the useful work of defending Judaism against its enemies, they were in reality doing it more harm than these same enemies. The latter tended to preserve the Jewish people as a nation apart, while the rationalistic criticism of the former, directed against the Jewish religion, burst the bonds that hold the nation together, and hasten its dissolution.

“When, my dear German scholars”, he cries out vehemently, “when will the Lord open your eyes? How long will you fail to understand that, carried away by the general current, you are permitting national feeling to become extinct and the language of our ancestors to fall into desuetude, and are thus preparing the way for the triumphant invasion of Atticism…. So long as you do not teach that the Good is not that which is visible to the eyes, but that which is felt within the heart, and that the prosperity of our people is not dependent upon civil emancipation, but upon the love of a man for his neighbor, … their hearts will not be possessed with zeal for God.” [Footnote: Letters, I, No. 267, p. 660.]

Luzzatto has no fondness for dry dogmatism, nor for detailed prohibitions and Rabbinic controversies. He is too modern for that, too much of a poet. What he loves is the poetry of religion. He is attracted by its moral elevation. Like Jehudah Halevi, the sentimental philosopher whose successor he is, Luzzatto feels and thinks in the peculiar fashion that distinguishes the intuitive minds among the Jews. He loves his native country, and this love appears clearly in his writings, yet, at the same time, they all, whether in prose, as in his Letters, or in verse, as in the _Kinnor Na’im_, sound a Zionistic note.

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Luzzatto became the founder of a school. Writers of our own day, like Vittorio Castiglioni, Eude Lolli, and others, draw upon the works of the master as a source, and they acknowledge it openly. His philological and linguistic works, the _Bet ha-Ozar_ among others, have inestimable value, and his Letters, published by Graber in five volumes, the edition from which most of the passages cited have been taken, abundantly prove his influence on his contemporaries.

He was a master and a prophet, a gracious and brilliant exponent of the Renascence of Hebrew literature, which had been inaugurated by one of his ancestors, another Luzzatto.

A century of efforts and uninterrupted labor had wrought the resurrection of the Hebrew language. After it had been transformed into a modern tongue, in touch with all departments of thought, the sole remaining task was to make it acceptable to the masses of the orthodox Jews, and use it as an effective instrument of social and religious emancipation. This task became easy of accomplishment because Luzzatto knew how to direct the mind of his contemporaries. He found the key to the heart of the masses.

A message in verse addressed to him by a young Lithuanian poet, in 1857, gives an eloquent interpretation of the sentiment felt for the Italian _maestro_ by the devotees of a budding school of literature:

“From the icy north country, where the flowers and the sun endure but a few short moons, these halting lines speed with their greeting away from the hoar frost, to the eloquent sage in the southland, enthroned among the wise and extolled by the pious–to the gentle guide whose heart burns, like the sun of his own fair land, with love for the people whence he was hewn, and for the tongue of the Jews.” [Footnote: Poems, by J. L. Gordon, St. Petersburg, 1884, I, p. 125.]

The “icy north country” was Lithuania, in which the literary movement had just effected a triumphal entry, bringing with it the light of science, and the young poet was Judah Leon Gordon, destined to become the greatest Jewish poet of the nineteenth century.

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Here we arrive at the end of the first part of our essay, devoted in particular to Hebrew literature in Western Europe. For its future we must look to the East.

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We are in the Jewish country, perhaps the only Jewish country in the world. [Footnote: See Slouschz, _Massa’ be-Lita_ (“Journey through Lithuania”), Jerusalem, 1899.]

The last to participate in the intellectual movement of European Judaism, the Lithuanian Jews start into view, in the second half of the seventeenth century, as a peculiar social organism, clearly marked as such from its first appearance. The Rabbis and scholars of Lithuania acquired fame without a struggle, and its Rabbinical schools quickly became the busy centres of Talmudic research.

The destinies of the Jewish population of Lithuania, so different in character from that of Poland proper, were ruled absolutely by the “Synod of the Four Countries”, with Brest, and afterwards Wilna, as headquarters.

The revolutions and upheavals to which is due the social and religious decadence of the Polish Jews during the eighteenth century, barely touched this forsaken corner of the earth. Even the Cossack invasion dealt leniently with Lithuania, if the city of Wilna is excepted, and its early annexation by Russia saved the province from the anarchy and excitement which agitated Poland during its latter days.

Left to their fate, neglected by the authorities, and forming almost the whole of the urban population, the Jews of Lithuania, in the full glare of the eighteenth century, were in all essentials an autonomous community with Jewish national and theocratic features. The Talmud did service as their civil and religious code. The court of final appeal was a Rabbinical expert, supported by the central synod and the local _Kahal_, and exercising absolute authority over the moral and material interests of those subordinated to his jurisdiction. The study of the Law was carried to the extreme of devotion. To have an illiterate, an _’Am ha-Arez_, a “rustic”, in one’s family, was considered a pitiable fate.

Lithuania, in fine, was the promised land of Rabbinism, in which everything favored the development of a national Jewish centre.

The natural poverty of the country, its barren soil, dense forests, and lack of populous centres of civilization, all tended to keep the Polish lords aloof. Poland offered them a more inviting sojourn. There was nothing to hinder the pious scholars who had escaped from religious persecution in the countries of Europe, especially France and Germany, from devoting themselves, with all their heart and energy, to the study of the Talmud and the ceremonials of their religion. No infusion of aliens disturbed them. The inhospitable skies, the absence of diversions, little troubled the refugees of the ghetto, for whom the Book and the dead letter were all-sufficing. They were not affected, their dignity was hardly wounded, by the haughty and arbitrary treatment which the nobleman accorded to the Jewish “factor” and steward, and by the many humiliations which were the price paid in return for the right to live, for without the protection of the lords they would not have been able to hold out against the wretched orthodox peasants. In morality and in race, however, they considered themselves the superior of the “Poriz”, the Polish nobleman, with his extravagance and folly.

In the villages, the Jews had the upper hand, either as the actual owners of the estates, or as the overseers, and in the rude cities with their wooden buildings, they constituted the bulk of the merchants, the middlemen, the artisans, even the workmen. They all led a sordid life. Mere existence required a bitter struggle. Destitute of all pleasures save the intimate joys of family life, fostering no ambition except such as was connected with the study of the Law, disciplined by religious authority, and chastened by austere and rigid principles of morality, the Jewish masses had a peculiar stamp impressed upon their character by their life of subjection and misery. The mind was constantly kept alert by the dialectics of the Talmud and the ingenious efforts needed to secure one’s daily bread. Even the Messianic dreams, inspired by a belief in Divine justice and in the moral and religious superiority of Israel, rather than by a mystic conception of life, gave but a faint touch of beauty and glamour to an existence so mournful, so abjectly sad.

Such was, and such in part is still, the manner in which they live–a sober, energetic, melancholy, and subtle people, the mass of the two millions of Jews who reside in Lithuania and White Russia, and send forth, to the great capitals of Europe and to the countries beyond seas, a stream of industrious immigrants, resourceful intellectually and morally.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, thanks to the peace with which Lithuania was blessed after its subjection by Russia, Rabbinical studies reached their zenith. The high schools, the _Yeshibot_, became the centres of attraction for the best of the young men. The number of writers and scholars increased considerably, and the Hebrew printing presses were kept in full blast. The ideal of every Lithuanian Jew was, if not to marry his daughter to a scholar, at least to have a _Bahur_ at his table, a student of the Talmud, a prospective Rabbi. “The Torah is the best _Sehorah_” (“merchandise”), every Lithuanian