CHAPTER III. IN POLAND AND AUSTRIA
THE GALICIAN SCHOOL
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  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.
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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 theKerem 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.
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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 Völkerpsychologie 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 Yisraël (“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 Börne. 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 Börne, 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 naïveté, 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. Meïr 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
“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 Shaül (“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-Roëh 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 Meïr, 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 Meïr 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 Südfeld, 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 andbelles 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
“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.  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 rôle 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.
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 Gräber 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 maëstro 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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