THE HASKALAH MOVEMENT IN RUSSIA
JACOB S. RAISIN, PH.D., D.D.
Author of Sect, Creed and Custom in Judaism, etc.
Philadelphia The Jewish Publication Society of America
And the "Maskilim" shall shine As the brightness of the firmament ... Many shall run to and fro, And knowledge shall be increased. —Dan. xii. 3-4
TO AARON S. RAISIN
Your name, dear father, will not be found in the following pages, for, like "the waters of the Siloam that run softly," you ever preferred to pursue your useful course in unassuming silence. Yet, as it is your life, devoted entirely to meditating, learning, and teaching, that inspired me in my effort, I dedicate this book to you; and I am happy to know that I thus not only dedicate it to one of the noblest of Maskilim, but at the same time offer you some slight token of the esteem and affection felt for you by
JACOB S. RAISIN
CHAPTER I. THE PRE-HASKALAH PERIOD 17
CHAPTER II. THE PERIOD OF TRANSITION 53
CHAPTER III. THE DAWN OF HASKALAH 110
CHAPTER IV. CONFLICTS AND CONQUESTS 162
CHAPTER V. RUSSIFICATION, REFORMATION, AND ASSIMILATION 222
CHAPTER VI. THE AWAKENING 268
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
TOBIAS COHN (1652-1759) Frontispiece
ISAAC BAeR LEVINSOHN (1788-1860) facing page 64
MAX LILIENTHAL (1815-1882) " " 120
ALEXANDER ZEDERBAUM (1816-1893) " " 175
PEREZ BEN MOSHEH SMOLENSKIN (1842-1885) " " 220
MOSES LOeB LILIENBLUM (1843-1910) " " 280
To the lover of mankind the history of the Russo-Jewish renaissance is an encouraging and inspiring phenomenon. Seldom has a people made such rapid strides forward as the Russian Jews. From the melancholy regularity that marked their existence a little more than two generations ago, from the darkness of the Middle Ages in which they were steeped until the time of Alexander II, they emerged suddenly into the life and light of the West, and some of the most intrepid devotees of latter-day culture, both in Europe and in America, have come from among them. Destitute of everything that makes for enlightenment, and under the dominion of a Government which sought to extinguish the few rushlights that scattered the shadows around them, they nevertheless snatched victory from defeat, sloughed off medieval superstition, and, disregarding the Dejanira shirt of modern disabilities, compelled their countrymen to admit more than once that
Tho' I've belted you and flayed you, By the livin' Gawd that made you, You're a better man than I am!
Similar movements were started in Germany during the latter part of the eighteenth century, and in Austria, notably Galicia, at the beginning of the nineteenth, but none stirred the mind of the Jews to the same degree as the Haskalah movement in Russia during the last fifty years. In the former, the removal of restrictions soon rendered attempts toward self-emancipation unnecessary on the part of Jews, and the few Maskilim among them, satisfied with the present, devoted themselves to investigating and elucidating the past of their people's history. In Russia the past was all but forgotten on account of the immediate duties of the present. The energy and acquisitiveness that made the Jews of happier and more prosperous lands prominent in every sphere of practical life, were directed toward the realm of thought, and the merciless severity with which the Government excluded them from the enjoyment of things material only increased their ardor for things spiritual and intellectual.
In its wide sense Haskalah denotes enlightenment. Those who strove to enlighten their benighted coreligionists or disseminate European culture among them, were called Maskilim. A careful perusal of this work will reveal the exact ideals these terms embody. For Haskalah was not only progressive, it was also aggressive, militant, sometimes destructive. From the days of Mordecai Guenzburg to the time of Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Ha-'Am), it changed its tendencies and motives more than once. Levinsohn, "the father of the Maskilim," was satisfied with removing the ban from secular learning; Gordon wished to see his brethren "Jews at home and men abroad"; Smolenskin dreamed of the rehabilitation of Jews in Palestine; and Ahad Ha-'Am hopes for the spiritual regeneration of his beloved people. Others advocated the levelling of all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, or the upliftment of mankind in general and Russia in particular. To each of them Haskalah implied different ideals, and through each it promulgated diverse doctrines. To trace these varying phases from an indistinct glimmering in the eighteenth century to the glorious effulgence of the beginning of the twentieth, is the main object of this book.
In pursuance of my end, I have paid particular attention to the causes that retarded or accelerated Russo-Jewish cultural advance. As these causes originate in the social, economic, and political status of the Russian Jew, I frequently portray political events as well as the state of knowledge, belief, art, and morals of the periods under consideration. For this reason also I have marked the boundaries of the Haskalah epochs in correspondence to the dates of the reigns of the several czars, though the correspondence is not always exact.
Essays have been published, on some of the topics treated in these pages, by writers in different languages: in Russian, by Bramson, Klausner, and Morgulis; in Hebrew, by Izgur, Katz, and Klausner; in German, by Maimon, Lilienthal, Wengeroff, and Weissberg; in English, by Lilienthal and Wiener; and in French, by Slouschz. The subject as a whole, however, has not been treated. Should this work stimulate further research, I shall feel amply rewarded. Without prejudice and without partiality, by an honest presentation of facts drawn from what I regard as reliable sources, I have tried to unfold the story of the struggle of five millions of human beings for right living and rational thinking, in the hope of throwing light on the ideals and aspirations and the real character of the largely prejudged and misunderstood Russian Jew.
In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude and indebtedness to those who encouraged me to proceed with my work after some specimens of it had been published in several Jewish periodicals, especially to Doctor Solomon Schechter, Rabbi Max Heller, and Mr. A.S. Freidus, for their courtesy and assistance while the work was being written.
JACOB S. RAISIN.
E. Las Vegas, N. Mex.,
Thanksgiving Day, 1909.
THE PRE-HASKALAH PERIOD
"There is but one key to the present," says Max Mueller, "and that is the past." To understand fully the growth and historical development of a people's mind, one must be familiar with the conditions that have shaped its present form. It would seem necessary, therefore, to introduce a description of the Haskalah movement with a rapid survey of the history of the Russo-Polish Jews from the time of their emergence from obscurity up to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Among those who laid the foundations for the study of this almost unexplored department of Jewish history, the settlement of Jews in Russia and their vicissitudes during the dark ages, the most prominent are perhaps Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Abraham Harkavy, and Simon Dubnow. There is much to be said of each of these as writers, scholars, and men. Here they concern us as Russo-Jewish historians. What Linnaeus, Agassiz, and Cuvier did in the field of natural philosophy, they accomplished in their chosen province of Jewish history. Levinsohn was the first to express the opinion that the Russian Jews hailed, not from Germany, as is commonly supposed, but from the banks of the Volga. This hypothesis, corroborated by tradition, Harkavy established as a fact. Originally the vernacular of the Jews of Volhynia, Podolia, and Kiev was Russian and Polish, or, rather, the two being closely allied, Palaeo-Slavonic. The havoc wrought by the Crusades in the Jewish communities of Western Europe caused a constant stream of German-Jewish immigrants to pour, since 1090, into the comparatively free countries of the Slavonians. Russo-Poland became the America of the Old World. The Jewish settlers from abroad soon outnumbered the native Jews, and they spread a new language and new customs wherever they established themselves.
Whether the Jews of Russia were originally pagans from the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, converted to Judaism under the Khazars during the eighth century, or Palestinian exiles subjugated by their Slavonian conquerors and assimilated with them, it is indisputable that they inhabited what we know to-day as Russia long before the Varangian prince Rurik came, at the invitation of Scythian and Sarmatian savages, to lay the foundation of the Muscovite empire. In Feodosia there is a synagogue at least a thousand years old. The Greek inscription on a marble slab, dating back to 80-81 B.C.E., preserved in the Imperial Hermitage in St. Petersburg, makes it certain that they flourished in the Crimea before the destruction of the Temple. In a communication to the Russian Geographical Society, M. Pogodin makes the statement, that there still exist a synagogue and a cemetery in the Crimea that belong to the pre-Christian era. Some of the tombstones, bearing Jewish names, and decorated with the seven-branched Menorah, date back to 157 B.C.E.; while Chufut-Kale, also known as the Rock of the Jews (Sela' ha-Yehudim), from the fortress supposed to have been built there by the Jews, would prove Jewish settlements to have been made there during the Babylonian or Persian captivity.
Though the same antiquity cannot be established for other Jewish settlements, we know that Kiev, "the mother of Russian cities," had many Jews long before the eighth century, who thus antedated the Russians as citizens. According to Joseph Hakohen they came there from Persia in 690, according to Malishevsky in 776. It is certain that their influence was felt as early as the latter part of the tenth century. The Russian Chronicles ascribed to Nestor relate that they endeavored, in 986, to induce Grand Duke Vladimir to accept their religion. They did not succeed as they had succeeded two centuries before with the khan of the Khazars. Yet the grand duke, who had the greatest influence in introducing and spreading Greek Catholicism, and who is now worshipped as a saint, was always favorably disposed toward them.
There were other places that were inhabited early by Jews. There are traditions to the effect that Jews lived in Poland as early as the ninth century, and under the Boreslavs (992-1278) they are said to have enjoyed considerable privileges, carried on a lively trade, and spread as far as Kiev. Chernigov in Little Russia (the Ukraine), Baku in South Russia (Transcaucasia), Kalisz and Warsaw, Brest and Grodno, in West Russia (Russian Poland), all possess Jewish communities of considerable antiquity. In the townlet Eishishki, near Vilna, a tombstone set in 1171 was still in existence at the end of the last century, and Khelm, Government Kovno, has a synagogue to which tradition ascribes an age of eight hundred years.
The Jewish population in all these communities was prosperous and respected. Jews were in favor with the Government, enjoyed equal rights with their Gentile neighbors, and were especially prominent as traders and farmers of taxes. Their monoxyla, or one-oared canoes, loaded with silks, furs, and precious metals, issued from the Borysthanes, traversed the Baltic and the Euxine, the Oder and the Bosphorus, the Danube and the Black Sea, and carried on the commerce between the Turks and the Slavonians. They were granted the honorable and lucrative privilege of directing and controlling the mints, and that of putting Hebrew as well as Slavonic inscriptions on their coins. In the Lithuanian Magna Charta, granted by Vitold in 1388, the Jews of Brest were given many rights, and about a year later those of Grodno were permitted to engage in all pursuits and occupations, and exempted from paying taxes on synagogues and cemeteries. They possessed full jurisdiction in their own affairs. Some were raised to the nobility, notably the Josephovich brothers, Abraham and Michael. Under King Alexander Jagellon, Abraham was assessor of Kovno, alderman of Smolensk, and prefect of Minsk; he was called "sir" (jastrzhembets), was presented with the estates of Voidung, Grinkov, and Troki (1509), and appointed Secretary of the Treasury in Lithuania (1510). The other brother, Michael, was made "fiscal agent to the king." In the eighteenth century, Andrey Abramovich, of the same family but not of the Jewish faith, was senator and castellan of Brest-Litovsk. They were not unique exceptions. Abraham Shmoilovich of Turisk is spoken of as "honorable sir" in leases of large estates. Affras Rachmailovich and Judah Bogdanovich figure among the merchant princes of Livonia and Lithuania; and Francisco Molo, who settled later in Amsterdam, was financial agent of John III of Poland in 1679. The influence of the last-named was so great with the Dutch States-General that the Treaty of Ryswick was concluded with Louis XIV, in 1697, through his mediation.
That Russo-Poland should have elected a Jewish king on two occasions, a certain Abraham Prochovnik in 842 and the famous Saul Wahl in the sixteenth century, sounds legendary; but that there was a Jewish queen, called Esterka, is probable, and that some Jews attained to political eminence is beyond reasonable doubt. Records have been discovered concerning two envoys, Saul and Joseph, who served the Slavonic czar about 960, and an interesting story is told of two Jewish soldiers, Ephraim Moisievich and Anbal the Jassin, who won the confidence of Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky of Kiev, and afterwards became leaders in a conspiracy against him (1174). Henry, Duke of Anjou, the successor of Sigismud August on the throne of Poland and Lithuania, owed his election mainly to the efforts of Solomon Ashkenazi. Ivan Vassilyevich, too, had many and important relations with Jews, and his favorable attitude towards them is amply proved by the fact that his family physician was the Jew Leo (1490). Throughout his reign he maintained an uninterrupted friendship with Chozi Kokos, a Jew of the Crimea, and he did not hesitate to offer hospitality and protection to Zacharias de Guizolfi, though the latter was not in a position to reciprocate such favors.
In addition there are less prominent individuals who received honors at the hands of their non-Jewish countrymen. Meir Ashkenazi of Kaffa, in the Crimea, who was slain by pirates on a trip from "Gava to Dakhel," was envoy of the khan of the Tatars to the king of Poland in the sixteenth century. Mention is made of "Jewish Cossacks," who distinguished themselves on the field of battle, and were elevated to the rank of major and colonel. While the common opinion regarding Jews expressed itself in merry England in such ballads as "The Jewish Dochter," and "Gernutus, the Jew of Venice," many a Little Russian song had the bravery of a Jewish soldier as its burden. In everything save religion the Jews were hardly distinguishable from their neighbors.
There are—writes Cardinal Commendoni, an eye-witness—a great many Jews in these provinces, including Lithuania, who are not, as in other places, regarded with disrespect. They do not maintain themselves miserably by base profits; they are landed proprietors, are engaged in business, and even devote themselves to the study of literature and, above all, to medicine and astronomy; they hold almost everywhere the commission of levying customs duties, are classed among the most honest people, wear no outward mark to distinguish them from the Christians, and are permitted to carry swords and walk about with their arms. In a word they have equal rights with the other citizens.
A similar statement is made by Joseph Delmedigo, who spent many years in Livonia and Lithuania as physician to Prince Radziwill.
In his inimitable manner Gibbon describes the fierce struggle the Greek Catholic Church had to wage before she obtained a foothold in Russia, but he neglects to mention the fact that Judaism no less than paganism was among her formidable opponents. The contest lasted several centuries, and in many places it is undecided to this day. The Khazars, who had become proselytes in the eighth century, were constantly encroaching upon Russian Christianity. Buoyant as both were with the vigor of youth, missionary zeal was at its height among the two contending religions. Each made war upon the other. We read that Photius of Constantinople sent a message of thanks to Archbishop Anthony of Kertch (858-859) for his efforts to convert the Jews; that the first Bishop of the Established Church (1035) was "Lukas, the little Jew" (Luka Zhidyata), who was appointed to his office by Yaroslav; and that St. Feodosi Pechersky was fond of conversing with learned Jews on matters of theology. On the other hand, the efforts of the Jews were not without success. The baptism of the pious Olga marks an era in Russian Christianity, the beginning of the "Judaizing heresy," which centuries of persecution only strengthened. In 1425, Zacharias of Kiev, who is reputed to have "studied astrology, necromancy, and various other magic arts," converted the priest Dionis, the Archbishop Aleksey, and, through the latter, many more clergymen of Novgorod, Moscow, and Pskov. Aleksey became a devout Jew. He called himself Abraham and his wife Sarah. Yet, strange to say, he retained the favor of the Grand Duke Ivan Vassilyevich, even after the latter's daughter-in-law, Princess Helena, his secretary Theodore Kuritzin, the Archimandrite Sosima, the monk Zacharias, and other persons of note had entered the fold of Judaism through his influence.
The "heresy" spread over many parts of the empire, and the number of its adherents constantly grew. Archbishop Nikk complains that in the very monastery of Moscow there were presumably converted Jews, "who had again begun to practice their old Jewish religion and demoralize the young monks." In Poland, too, proselytism was of frequent occurrence, especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The religious tolerance of Casimir IV (1434-1502) and his immediate successors, and the new doctrines preached by Huss and Luther, which permeated the upper classes of society, rendered the Poles more liberal on the one hand, and on the other the Jews more assertive. We hear of a certain nobleman, George Morschtyn, who married a Jewess, Magdalen, and had his daughter raised in the religion of her mother. In fact, at a time when Jews in Spain assumed the mask of Christianity to escape persecution, Russian and Polish Christians by birth could choose, with little fear of danger, to lead the Jewish life. It was not till about the eighteenth century that the Government began to resort to the usual methods of eradicating heresy. Katharina Weigel, a lady famous for her beauty, who embraced Judaism, was decapitated in Cracow at the instigation of Bishop Peter Gamrat. On the deposition of his wife, Captain Vosnitzin of the Polish navy was put to death by auto-da-fe (July 15, 1738). The eminent "Ger Zedek," Count Valentine Pototzki, less fortunate than his comrade and fellow-convert Zaremba, was burnt at the stake in Vilna (May 24, 1749), and his teacher in the Jewish doctrines, Menahem Mann, was tortured and executed a few months later, at the age of seventy. But these measures proved of little avail. According to Martin Bielski, the noted historian, Jews saved their proselytes from the impending doom by transporting them to Turkey. Many of them sought refuge in Amsterdam. For those who remained behind their new coreligionists provided through collections made for that purpose in Russia and in Germany. To this day these Russian and Polish proselytes adhere steadfastly to their faith, and whether they migrate to America or Palestine to escape the persecution of their countrymen, they seldom, if ever, indulge in the latitudinarianism into which many of longer Jewish lineage fall so readily when removed from old moorings.
That the Russian Jews of the day were not altogether unenlightened, that they not only practiced the Law devoutly, but also studied it diligently, and cultivated the learning of the time as well, we may safely infer from researches recently made. Cyril, or Constantine, "the philosopher," the apostle to the Slavonians, acquired a knowledge of Hebrew while at Kherson, and was probably aided by Jews in his translation of the Bible into Slavonic. Manuscripts of Russo-Jewish commentaries to the Scriptures, written as early as 1094 and 1124, are still preserved in the Vatican and Bodleian libraries, and copyists were doing fairly good work at Azov in 1274.
Jewish scholars frequented celebrated seats of learning in foreign lands. Before the end of the twelfth century traces of them are to be found in France, Italy, and Spain. That in the eleventh century Judah Halevi of Toledo and Nathan of Rome should have been familiar with Russian words cannot but be attributed to their contact with Russian Jews. However, in the case of these two scholars, it may possibly be ascribed to their great erudition or extensive travels. But the many Slavonic expressions occurring in the commentaries of Rashi (1040-1105), and employed by Joseph Caro (ab. 1140), Benjamin of Tudela (ab. 1160), and Isaac of Vienna (ab. 1250), lend color to Harkavy's contention, that Russian was once the vernacular of the Russian Jews, and they also argue in favor of our contention, that these natives of the "land of Canaan"—as the country of the Slavs was then called in Hebrew—came into personal touch with the "lights and leaders" of other Jewish communities. Indeed, Rabbi Moses of Kiev is mentioned as one of the pupils of Jacob Tam, the Tosafist of France (d. 1170), and Asheri, or Rosh, of Spain is reported to have had among his pupils Rabbi Asher and Master (Bahur) Jonathan from Russia. From these peripatetic scholars perhaps came the martyrs of 1270, referred to in the Memorbuch of Mayence. It was Rabbi Moses who, while still in Russia, corresponded with Samuel ben Ali, head of the Babylonian Academy, and called the attention of Western scholars to certain Gaonic decisions. Another rabbi, Isaac, or Itshke, of Chernigov, was probably the first Talmudist in England, and his decisions were regarded as authoritative on certain occasions. These and others like them wrote super-commentaries on the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra, the most popular and profound scholars medieval Jewry produced, and made copies of the works of other authors.
Soon the Russo-Polish Jews established at home what they had been compelled to seek abroad. Hearing of the advantages offered in the great North-East, German Jews flocked thither in such numbers as to dominate and absorb the original Russians and Poles. A new element asserted itself. Names like Ashkenazi, Heilperin, Hurwitz, Landau, Luria, Margolis, Schapiro, Weil, Zarfati, etc., variously spelled, took the place, through intermarriage and by adoption, of the ancient Slavonic nomenclature. The language, manners, modes of thought, and, to a certain extent, even the physiognomy of the earlier settlers, underwent a more or less radical change. In some provinces the conflict lasted longer than in others. To this day not a few Russian Jews would seem to be of Slavonic rather than Semitic extraction. As late as the sixteenth century there was still a demand in certain places for a Russian translation of the Hebrew Book of Common Prayer, and in 1635 Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, who came from Frankfort-on-the-Main to study in Lublin, and was retained as rabbi in Mohilev-on-the-Dnieper, had cause to exclaim, "Would to God that our coreligionists all spoke the same language—German." Even Maimon, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, mentions one, by no means an exception, who did not "understand the Jewish language, and made use, therefore, of the Russian." But by the middle of the seventeenth century the amalgamation was almost complete. It resulted in a product entirely new. As the invasion of England by the Normans produced the Anglo-Saxon, so the inundation of Russia by the Germans produced the Slav-Teuton. This is the clue to the study of the Haskalah, as will appear from what follows.
Russo-Poland gradually became the cynosure of the Talmudic world, the "Aksanye shel Torah," the asylum of the Law, whence "enlargement and deliverance" arose for the traditions which the Jews carried with them, through fire and water, during the dreary centuries of their dispersion. It became to Jews what Athens was to ancient Greece, Rome to medieval Christendom, New England to our early colonies. With the invention and importation of the printing-press, the publication and acquisition of the Bible, the Talmud, and most of the important rabbinic works were facilitated. As a consequence, yeshibot, or colleges, for the study of Jewish literature, were founded in almost every community. Their fame reached distant lands. It became a popular saying that "from Kiev shall go forth the Law, and the word of God from Starodub." Horodno, the vulgar pronunciation of Grodno, was construed to mean Har Adonai, "the Mount of the Lord." A pious rabbi did not hesitate to write to a colleague, "Be it known to the high honor of your glory that it is preferable by far to dwell in the land of the Russ and promote the study of the Torah in Israel than in the land of Israel." Especially the part of Poland ultimately swallowed up by Russia was the new Palestine of the Diaspora. Thither flocked all desirous of becoming adepts in the dialectics of the rabbis, "of learning how to swim in the sea of the Talmud." It was there that the voluminous works of Hebrew literature were studied, literally "by day and by night," and the subtleties of the Talmudists were developed to a degree unprecedented in Jewish history. Thither was sent, from the distant Netherlands, the youngest son of Manasseh ben Israel, and he "became mighty in the Talmud and master of four languages." Thither came, from Prague, the afterwards famous Cabbalist, author, and rabbi, Isaiah Horowitz (ab. 1555-1630), and there he chose to remain the rest of his days. Thither also went, from Frankfort, the above-mentioned Meir Ashkenazi, who, according to some, was the first author of note in White Russia.
From everywhere they came "to pour water on the hands and sit at the feet" of the great ones of the second Palestine.
For Jewish solidarity was more than a word in those days. "Sefardim" had not yet learned to boast of aristocratic lineage, nor "Ashkenazim" to look down contemptuously upon their Slavonic coreligionists. It was before the removal of civil disabilities from one portion of the Jewish people had sowed the seed of arrogance toward the other less favored portion. Honor was accorded to whom it was due, regardless of the locality in which he happened to have been born. Glueckel von Hameln states in her Memoirs that preference was sometimes given to the decisions of the "great ones of Poland," and mentions with pride that her brother Shmuel married the daughter of the great Reb Shulem of Lemberg. With open arms, Amsterdam, Frankfort, Fuerth, Konigsberg, Metz, Prague, and other communities renowned for wealth and learning, welcomed the acute Talmudists of Brest, Grodno, Kovno, Lublin, Minsk, and Vilna, whenever they were willing or compelled to consider a call. The practice of summoning Russo-Polish rabbis to German posts was carried so far that it aroused the displeasure of the Western scholars, and they complained of being slighted.
The reverence for Slavonic learning was strikingly illustrated during the years following the Cossack massacres, when many Russo-Polish rabbis fled for safety to foreign lands. Frankfort, Fuerth, Prague, and Vienna successively elected the fugitive Shabbatai Horowitz of Ostrog as their religious guide. David Taz of Vladimir became rabbi of Steinitz in Moravia; Ephraim Hakohen was called to Trebitsch in Moravia and to Ofen in Hungary; David of Lyda, to Mayence and Amsterdam, and Naphtali Kohen, to Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1704, and later to Breslau. No less personages than Isaac Aboab and Saul Morteira welcomed the merchant-Talmudist Moses Rivkes of Vilna when he sought refuge in Amsterdam, and they entrusted to him the task of editing the Shulhan 'Aruk, his marginal notes to which, the Beer ha-Golah, have ever since been printed with the text. In addition to rabbis, Lithuania and other provinces furnished teachers for the young, melammedim, who exerted considerable influence upon the people among whom they lived. Their opinions, we are told, were highly valued in the choice of rabbis.
It must not be supposed that supremacy in the Talmud was secured at the cost of secular knowledge, or what was then regarded as such. Their familiarity with other branches of study was not inferior to that of the Jews in better-known lands. Not a few of the prominent men united piety with philosophy, and thorough knowledge of the Talmud with mastery of one or more of the sciences of the time. Data on this phase of the subject might have been much more abundant, had not the storm of persecution suddenly swept over the communities, destroying them and their records. What we still possess indicates what may have been lost. The Ukraine was famous for its scholars. Among them was Jehiel Michael of Nemirov, reputed to have been "versed in all the sciences of the world." Several of them were poets and grammarians. Poems of a liturgical character are still extant in which they bemoan their plight or assert their faith hopefully. Such were the poems of Ephraim of Khelm, Joseph of Kobrin, Solomon of Zamoscz, and Shabbatai Kohen. The last, eminent as a Talmudist, the author of commentaries on the Shulhan 'Aruk approved by the leading rabbis of his generation, is also known as a very trustworthy historian. His Megillah 'Afah, written in classic Hebrew, is a valuable source of information on the critical period in which he lived. He won the esteem of the Polish nobility by his secular attainments. To judge from his correspondence, he must have been on intimate terms with Vidrich of Leipsic. Of the grammarians, Jacob Zaslaver wrote on the Massorah, and Shabbatai Sofer was the author of annotations and treatises. Our taste in poetry and grammar is no longer the same, but the polemic and apologetic writings of those days, called forth by the discussions between Rabbanites and Karaites and by the constant attacks of Christianity, are still of uncommon interest. Specimens of the former kind are the polemics of Moses of Shavli, which caused consternation in the camp of the Karaites. Of the apologetic writings should be mentioned the reply, in Polish, of Jacob Nahman of Belzyc to Martin Chekhovic (Lublin, 1581), and the Hizzuk Emunah of the Karaite Isaac ben Abraham of Troki. In the latter the weakness of Christianity and the strength of Judaism are pointed out with trenchancy never before reached. The work stirred up heated discussions among the various Christian sects, with the tenets of which the author was intimately acquainted. It was translated into Latin (1681, 1705), Yiddish (1717), English (1851), and German (1865, 1873). Voltaire says that all the arguments used by free-thinkers against Christianity were drawn from it.
In philosophy, mathematics, and medicine, the three main branches of medieval knowledge, many Slavonian Jews attained eminence. Devout Karaites as well as diligent Talmudists found secular learning a diversion and a delight. For the lovers of enlightenment Italy, especially Padua, was the centre of attraction, as France and Spain had been before, and Germany, particularly Berlin, became afterwards. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century we find young Delacrut at the University of Bologna, the philosopher and Cabbalist, known for his commentaries to Gikatilla's Sha'are Orah (Cracow, 1600) and Ben Avigdor's Mar'eh ha-Ofanim (1720), and his translation of Gossuin's L'image du monde (Amsterdam, 1733). His famous disciple Mordecai Jaffe (Lebushim) spent ten years in the study of astronomy and mathematics before he occupied the rabbinate of Grodno (1572) At the request of Yom-Tob Lipman Heller, Joseph ben Isaac Levi wrote a commentary on Maimuni's Moreh Nebukim, which was published with the former's annotations, Gibe'at ha-Moreh (Prague, 1611). Deservedly or not, Eliezer Mann was called "the Hebrew Socrates"; and many a Maskil in his study of mathematics turned for guidance to Manoah Handel of Brzeszticzka, Volhynia, author and translator of several scientific works, who rendered seven Euclidean propositions into Hebrew.
Polyglots they were compelled to be by force of circumstances. When the exotic Judeo-German finally asserted itself as the vernacular, the language in which they wrote and prayed was still the ancient Hebrew, with which every one was familiar, and commercial intercourse with their Gentile neighbors was hardly feasible without at least a smattering of the local Slavonic dialect. "Look at our brethren in Poland," exclaims Wessely many years later in his address to his countrymen. "They converse with their neighbors in good Polish.... What excuse have we for our brogue and jargon?" He might have had still better cause for complaint, had he been aware that the Yiddish of the Russo-Polish Jews, despite its considerable Slavonic admixture, was purer German than that of his contemporaries in Germany, even as the English of our New England colonies was superior to the Grub Street style prevalent in Dr. Johnson's England, and the Spanish of our Mexican annexations to the Castilian spoken at the time of Coronado. But we are here concerned with their knowledge of foreign languages. We shall refer only to the Hebrew-German-Italian-Latin-French dictionary Safah Berurah (Prague, 1660; Amsterdam, 1701) by the eminent Talmudist Nathan Hannover.
In medicine Jews were pre-eminent in the Slavonic countries, as they were everywhere else. They were in great demand as court physicians, though several had to pay with their lives "for having failed to effect cures." Doctor Leo, who was at the court of Moscow in 1490, was mentioned above. Jacob Isaac, the "nobleman of Jerusalem" (Yerosalimska shlyakhta), was attached to the court of Sigismund, where he was held in high esteem. Prince Radziwill's physician was Itshe Nisanovich, and among those in attendance on John Sobieski were Jonas Casal and Abraham Troki, the latter the author of several works on medicine and natural philosophy.
Medieval Jewish physicians were prone to travel, and those of Russo-Poland were no exception. We find them in almost every part of the civilized world, and their number increases with the disappearance of prejudice. Some were noted Talmudists, such as Solomon Luria and Samuel ben Mattathias. Abraham Ashkenazi Apotheker was not only a compounder of herbs but a healer of souls, for the edification of which he wrote his Elixir of Life (Sam Hayyim, Prague, 1590). To the same class belong Moses Katzenellenbogen and his son Hayyim, who was styled Gaon. In 1657 Hayyim visited Italy. He was welcomed by the prominent Jews of Mantua, Modena, Venice, and Verona, but he preferred to continue the practice of his profession in his home town Lublin. Nor may we omit the names of Stephen von Gaden and Moses Coen, because of their high standing among their colleagues and the honors conferred upon them for their statesmanship. Stephen von Gaden, who with Samuel Collins was physician-in-ordinary to Czar Aleksey Mikhailovich, was instrumental in removing many disabilities from the Jews of Moscow and in the interior of Russia. Moses Coen, in consequence of the Cossack uprising, escaped to Moldavia, and was made court physician by the hospodar Vassile Lupu. But for Coen, Lupu would have been dethroned by those who conspired against him. To his loyalty may probably be attributed the kind treatment Moldavian Jews later enjoyed at the hands of the prince. Coen also exposed the secret alliance between Russia and Sweden against Turkey, and his advice was sought by the doge of Venice.
The personage who typifies best the enlightened Slavonic Jew of the pre-Haskalah period is Tobias Cohn (1652-1729). He was the son and grandson of physicians, who practiced at Kamenetz-Podolsk and Byelsk, and after 1648 went to Metz. After their father's death, he and his older brother returned to Poland, whence Tobias, in turn, emigrated first to Italy and then to Turkey. In Adrianople he was physician-in-ordinary to five successive sultans. In the history of medicine he is remembered as the discoverer of the plica polonica, and as the publisher of a Materia Medica in three languages. To the student of Haskalah he is interesting, because he marks the close of the old and the beginning of the new era. Like the Maskilim of a century or two centuries later, he compiled and edited an encyclopedia in Hebrew, that "knowledge be increased among his coreligionists." His acquaintance with learned works in several ancient and modern languages of which he was master, enabled him to write his magnum opus, Ma'aseh Tobiah, with tolerable ease. This work is divided into eight parts, devoted respectively to theology, astronomy, pharmacy, hygiene, venereal diseases, botany, cosmography, and chemistry. It is illustrated with several plates, among them the picture of an astrolabe and one of the human body treated as a house. From the numerous editions through which it passed (Venice, 1707, 1715, 1728, 1769), we may conclude that it met with marked success.
* * * * *
To understand the raison d'Etre of the Haskalah movement, it may not be superfluous to cast a glance at the inner social and religious life of the Slavonic Jews during pre-Haskalah times. The labors of the farmer are crowned with success only when nature lends him a helping hand. His soil must be fertile, and blessed with frequent showers. Nor would the Maskilim have accomplished their aim, had the material they found at hand been different from what it was.
The Jews in the land of the Slavonians were fortunate in being regarded as aliens in a country which, as we have seen, they inhabited long before those who claimed to be its possessors by divine right of conquest. If their position was precarious, their sufferings were those of a conquered nation. As the whim and fancy of the reigning prince, knyaz, varied, they were induced one day to settle in the country by the offer of the most flattering privileges, and the next day they were expelled, only to be requested to return again. Now their synagogues and cemeteries were exempt from taxation, now an additional poll-tax or land-tax was levied on every Jew (serebshizna); one day they were allowed to live unhampered by restrictions, then they were prohibited to wear certain garments and ornaments, and commanded to use yellow caps and kerchiefs to distinguish them from the Gentiles (1566).
But all this was the consequence of political subjugation. Judged by the standard of the times, they were veritable freemen, freer than the Huguenots of France and the Puritans of England. They were left unmolested in the administration of their internal affairs, and were permitted to appoint their own judges, enforce their own laws, and support their own institutions. Forming a state within a state, they developed a civilization contrasting strongly with that round about them, and comparing favorably with some of the features of ours of to-day. Slavonic Jewry was divided into four districts, consisting of the more important communities (kahals), to which a number of smaller ones (prikahalki) were subservient. These, known as the Jewish Assemblies (zbori zhidovskiye), met at stated intervals. As in our federal Government, the administrative, executive, and legislative departments were kept distinct, and those who presided over them (roshim) were elected annually by ballot. These roshim, or elders, served by turns for periods of one month each. The rabbi of each community was the chief judge, and was assisted by several inferior judges (dayyanim). For matters of importance there were courts of appeal established in Ostrog and Lemberg, the former having jurisdiction over Volhynia and the Ukraine, the latter over the rest of Jewish Russo-Poland. For inter-kahal litigation, there was a supreme court, the Wa'ad Arba' ha-Arazot (the Synod of the Four Countries), which held its sessions during the Lublin fair in winter and the Yaroslav fair in summer. In cases affecting Jews and Gentiles, a decision was given by the judex Judaeorum, who held his office by official appointment of the grand duke.
So far their system of self-government appears almost a prototype of our own. The same is true of their municipal administration. The rabbi, who had the deciding vote in case of a dead-lock, stood in the same relation to them as the mayor holds to us, only that his term of office, nominally limited to three years, was actually for life or during good behavior. Yet the power vested in him was only delegated power. A number of selectmen, or aldermen, guarded the rights of the community with the utmost jealousy, and tolerated no innovation, unless previously sanctioned by them. There were also several honorary offices, with a one-year tenure, which none could fill who had not had experience in an inferior position. The chief duties attached to these offices were to appraise the amount of taxation, pay the salaries of the rabbi, his dayyanim, and the teachers of the public schools, provide for the poor, and, above all, intercede with the Government.
Still more interesting and, for our purpose, more important were their public and private institutions of learning. Jews have always been noted for the solicitous care they exercise in the education of the young. The Slavonic Jews surpassed their brethren of other countries in this respect. At times they wrenched the tender bond of parental love in their ardor for knowledge. With a republican form of government they created an aristocracy, not of wealth or of blood, but of intellect. The education of girls was, indeed, neglected. To be able to read her prayers in Hebrew and to write Yiddish was all that was expected of a mother in Israel. It was otherwise with the boys. Every Jew deemed himself in duty bound to educate his son. "Learning is the best merchandise"—Torah iz die beste sehorah—was the lesson inculcated from cradle to manhood, the precept followed from manhood to old age. All the lullabies transmitted to us from earliest times indicate the pursuit of knowledge as the highest ambition cherished by mothers for their sons:
Patsche, patsche, little tootsies, We shall buy us little bootsies; Little bootsies we shall buy, To run to heder we shall try; Torah we'll learn and all good ma'alot (qualities), On our wedding eve we shall solve sha'alot (ritual problems).
To have a scholarly son or son-in-law was the best passport to the highest circles, a means of rising from the lowliest to the loftiest station in life.
It is no wonder, then, that schools abounded in every community. At the early age of four the child was usually sent to the heder (school; literally, room), where he studied until he was ready for the yeshibah, the higher "seat" of learning. The melammedim, teachers, were graded according to their ability, and the school year consisted of two terms, zemannim, from the first Sabbath after the Holy Days to Passover and from after Passover to Rosh ha-Shanah. The boy's intellectual capacities were steadily, if not systematically, cultivated, sometimes at the expense of his bodily development. It was not unusual for a child of seven or eight to handle a difficult problem in the Talmud, a precocity characteristic to this day of the children hailing from Slavonic countries. Their 'illuyim (prodigies) might furnish ample material for more than one volume of les enfants celebres.
Nor were the children of the poor left to grow up in ignorance. Learning was free, to be had for the asking. More than this, stringent measures were taken that no child be without instruction. Talmud Torahs were founded even in the smallest kehillot (communities), and the students were supplied, not only with books, but also with the necessaries of life. Communal and individual benefactors furnished clothes, and every member (ba'al ha-bayit) had to provide food and lodging for an indigent pupil at least one day of each week. The "Freitisch" (free board) was an inseparable adjunct to every school. Poor young men were not regarded as "beggar students." They were looked upon as earning their living by study, even as teachers by instructing. To pray for the dead or the living in return for their support is a recent innovation, and mostly among other than Slavonic Jews. It is a custom adopted from medieval Christianity, and practiced in England by the poor student, who, in the words of Chaucer,
Busily 'gan for the souls to pray On them that gave him wherewith to scolay.
For a faithful and vivid description of the yeshibot we cannot do better than transcribe the account given in the pages of the little pamphlet Yeven Mezulah in which Nathan Hannover, mentioned above, has left us a reliable history of the Cossack uprisings and the Kulturgeschichte of his own time.
I need bring no proof for the statement that nowhere was the study of the Law so universal as in Russo-Poland. In every community there was a well-paid dean (rosh yeshibah), who, exempt from worry about a livelihood, devoted himself exclusively to teaching and studying by day and by night. In every kahal, many youths, maintained liberally, studied under the guidance of the dean. In turn, they instructed the less advanced, who were also supported by the community. A kahal of fifty [families] had to provide for at least thirty such. They boarded and lodged in the homes of their patrons, and frequently received pocket-money in addition. Thus there was hardly a house in which the Torah was not studied, either by the master of the house, a son, a son-in-law, or a student stranger. They always bore in mind the dictum of Rabba, "He who loves scholars will have scholarly sons; he who welcomes scholars will have scholarly sons-in-law; he who admires scholars will become learned himself." No wonder, then, that every community swarmed with scholars, that out of every fifty of its members at least twenty were far advanced, and had the morenu (i.e. bachelor) degree.
The dean was vested with absolute authority. He could punish an offender, whether rich or poor. Everybody respected him, and he often received gifts of money or valuables. In all religious processions he came first. Then followed the students, then the learned, and the rest of the congregation brought up the rear. This veneration for the dean prompted many a youth to imitate his example, and thus our country was rendered full of the knowledge of the Law.
What became of the students when they were graduated? Let us turn once more to Hannover's interesting narrative. The "fairs" of those days were much more than opportunities for barter; they afforded favorable and attractive occasions for other objects. Zaslav and Yaroslav during the summer, Lemberg and Lublin in the winter, were "filled with hundreds of deans and thousands of students," and one who had a marriageable daughter had but to resort thither to have his worries allayed. Therefore, "Jews and Jewesses attended these bazaars in magnificent attire, and [each season] several hundred, sometimes as many as a thousand, alliances were consummated."
That the rabbi, living in a strange land and recalling a glorious past, should have indulged in a bit of exaggeration in his sorrowful retrospect, is not more than natural; and that his picture on the whole is true is proved by similar schools which existed in Russia till recently. The descriptions of these institutions by Smolenskin as well as writers of less repute are graphic and intensely interesting. They constituted a unique world, in which the Jewish youth lived and moved until he reached man's estate. In later years, when Russian Jewry became infected, so to speak, with the Aufklaerungs-bacilli, they became the nurseries of the new learning. But in the earlier time, too, a spirit of enlightenment pervaded them. The study of the Talmud fostered in them was regarded both as a religious duty and as a means to an end, the rabbinate. Even in the Middle Ages Aristotle was a favorite with the older students, and Solomon Luria complained that in the prayer books of many of them he had noticed the prayer of Aristotle, for which he blamed the liberal views of Moses Isserles!
Another typically, though not exclusively, Slavonic Jewish institution was the study-hall, or bet ha-midrash. As the synagogues gradually became Schulen (schools), so, by a contrary process, the bet ha-midrash assumed the function of a house of prayer. Its uniqueness it has retained to this day. It was at once a library, a reading-room, and a class-room; yet those who frequented it were bound by the rigorous laws of none of the three. There were no restrictions as to when, or what, or how one should study. It was a place in which originality was admired and research encouraged. As at a Spartan feast, youth and age commingled, men of all ages and diverse attainments exchanged views, and all benefited by mutual contact.
Those whose position precluded devotion to study availed themselves at least of the means for mutual improvement at their disposal. They organized societies for the study of certain branches of Jewish lore, and for the meetings of these societies the busiest spared time and the poorest put aside his work. It was a people composed of scholars and those who maintained scholars, and the scholars, in dress and appearance, represented the aristocracy, an aristocracy of the intellect.
Such was the pre-Haskalah period. From the meagre data at our disposal we are justified in concluding, that, left undisturbed, the Slavonic Jews would have evolved a civilization rivalling, if not surpassing, that of the golden era of the Spanish Jews. But this was not to be. Their onward march met a sudden and terrific check. Hetman Chmielnicki at the head of his savage hordes of Russians and Tatars conquered the Poles, and Jews and Catholics were subjected to the most inhuman treatment. The descendants of those who, in 1090, had escaped the Crusaders fell victims in 1648 to the more cruel Cossacks. About half a million Jews, it is estimated, lost their lives in Chmielnicki's horrible massacres. The few communities remaining were utterly demoralized. The education of the young was neglected, both sacred and secular branches of study were abandoned. And when the storm calmed down, they found themselves deprived of the accumulations of centuries, forced, like Noah after the deluge, but without his means, to start again from the very beginning. Indeed, as Levinsohn remarks, the wonder is that, despite the fiendish persecution they endured, these unfortunates should have preserved a spark of love of knowledge. Yet a little later it was to burst into flame again and bring light and warmth to hearts crushed by "man's inhumanity to man."
(Notes, pp. 305-310.)
THE PERIOD OF TRANSITION
The storm of persecution that had been brewing in the sixteenth century, and which burst in all its fury by the middle of the seventeenth century, was allayed but little by the rivers of blood that streamed over the length and breadth of the Slavonic land. Half a million Jewish victims were not sufficient to satisfy the followers of a religion of love. They only whetted their insatiable appetite. The anarchy among the Gentiles increased the misery of the Jews. The towns fell into the hands of the Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, and Tatars successively, and it was upon the Jews that the hounds of war were let loose at each defeat or conquest. Determined to exterminate each other, they joined forces in exterminating the Jews. When Bratzlav, for instance, was destroyed by the Tatars, in 1479, more than four hundred of its six hundred Jewish citizens were slain. When the city was attacked by the Cossacks in 1569, the greater number of the plundered and murdered were Jews. The same happened when Chmielnicki gained the upper hand in Bratzlav in 1648, again when the Russians slaughtered all the inhabitants in 1664, and when the Tatars plotted against their victorious enemy, Peter the Great. Swedish attacks without and popular uprisings within rendered the Polish pan (dubbed among Jews poriz, rowdy or ruffian) as reckless as he was irresponsible. The Jew became for him a sponge to be squeezed for money, and a clown to contribute to his brutal amusements. The subtle and baneful influence of the Jesuits succeeded, besides, in introducing religion into politics and making the Jew the scapegoat for the evils of both. The Judaeus infidelis was the target of abuse and persecution. It was only the fear that the Government's exchequer might suffer that prevented his being turned into a veritable slave. His condition, indeed, was worse than slavery; his life was worth less than a beast's. It was frequently taken for the mere fun of it, and with impunity. An overseer once ordered all Jewish mothers living on the estate to climb to the tree-tops and leave their little ones below. He then fired at the children, and when the women fell from the trees at the horrible sight, he presented each with a piece of money, and thanked them for the pleasure they had afforded him.
In the cities, though the pan's excesses were bound to be somewhat bridled there, the lot of the Jews was equally gloomy. They were treated like outlaws, were forbidden to engage in all but a few branches of trade or handicraft, or to live with Christians, or employ them as servants. In 1720 they were prohibited to build new synagogues or even repair the old ones. Sometimes the synagogues were locked "by order of ..." until a stipulated amount of money bought permission to reopen them. We of to-day can hardly imagine what pain a Jew of that time experienced when he hastened to the house of God on one of the great Holy Days only to find its doors closed by the police!
Their status was no better in Lithuania and Great Russia. The accession of Ivan IV, the Terrible (1533-1584), dealt their former comparative prosperity a blow from which it has not recovered to this day. As if to remove the impression of liberalism made by his predecessor and obliterate from memory his amicable relations with Doctor Leo, de Guizolfi, and Chozi Kolos, this monster czar, with the fiendishness of a Caligula, but lacking the accomplishments of his heathen prototype, delighted to invent tortures for inoffensive Jews. He expelled them from Moscow, and deprived them of the right of travel from place to place. During his occupancy of Polotsk he ordered all Jews residing there either to become converts to Greek Catholicism or choose between being drowned in the Dwina and burnt at the stake.
But even the removal of the terrible czar and the dawn of the century of reason and humanitarianism failed to effect a change for the better in the condition of the Slavonic Jews. For a while it appeared as if the Zeitgeist might penetrate even into Russo-Poland, and the Renaissance and the Reformation would not pass over the eastern portion of Europe without beneficent results. In Lithuania Calvinism threatened to oust Catholicism, science and culture began to be pursued, and Jewish and Gentile children attended the same schools. The successors of Ivan IV were men of better breeding, and the praiseworthy attempts of Peter the Great to introduce Western civilization are known to all. But Slavonic soil has never been susceptible to the elevating influences that have transformed the rest of Europe. Every reformatory effort was nipped in the bud. The lot of the Jews accordingly grew from bad to worse. In 1727 they were expelled from the Ukraine and other provinces, and they were recalled, "for the benefit of the citizens," only at the instance of Apostol, the hetman of the very Cossacks that had massacred them in 1648. Baruch Leibov was burned alive in St. Petersburg, in 1738, for having dared "insult the Christian religion by building a synagogue in the village of Zvyerovichi," an offence that was aggravated by the suspicion that he had converted the Russian Captain Vosnitzin to Judaism. The same fate was, in 1783, meted out to Moses, a Jewish tailor, for refusing to accept Christianity, and in 1790 a Jew was quartered in Grodno, though the king had declined to sign his death warrant. In some places Jews had to contribute towards the maintenance of churches, and in Slutsk the law, enacted there in 1766, remains unrevoked to this day. Elizabeta Petrovna did not imitate Ivan III. When she discovered that Sanchez, her physician, was of the Jewish persuasion, she discharged him without notice, after eighteen years of faithful service. Similarly, when the Livonian merchants remonstrated, maintaining that the exclusion of Jews from their fairs was fraught with disastrous consequences to the commerce of the country, she is reported to have replied, "From the enemies of Christ I will not receive even a benefit."
But worse things were yet to come, the worst since Chmielnicki's massacres. The bitterness of both Poles and Russians against the Jews grew especially intense as the days of the rozbior, the Partition of Poland, drew near (1794). The Poles, forgetting the many examples of loyalty and self-sacrifice shown by Jews in times of peace and war, suspected them of being treacherous and unreliable; while the Russians, though denying the patriotism of their own Jews, persisted in the accusation that Polish Jews spent money lavishly in fomenting rebellion and anarchy. The pupils of the Jesuits found great delight in attacks upon the Jews, which frequently culminated in riot and bloodshed and the payment of money by Jews to Catholic institutions. "What appalling spectacles," exclaims a Christian writer, "must we witness in the capital [Warsaw] on solemn holidays. Students and even adults in noisy mobs assault the Jews, and sometimes beat them with sticks. We have seen a gang waylay a Jew, stop his horses, and strike him till he fell from the wagon. How can we look with indifference on such a survival of barbarism?" The commonest manifestations of hatred and superstition, however, were, as in other countries, the charge that Jews were magicians, using the black art to avenge themselves on their persecutors, and that they used Christian blood for their observance of the Passover. The latter crime, the imputing of which was sternly prohibited by an edict of the liberal Bathory, in 1576, was so frequently laid at their door, that in the short period of sixty years (1700-1760) not less than twenty such accusations were brought against them, ending each time in the massacre of Jews by infuriated mobs. Even more shocking, if possible, was the frequent extermination of whole communities by the brigand bands known as Haidamacks. They added the "Massacre of Uman" (1768) to the Jewish calendar of misfortunes, the most terrible slaughter, equalled, perhaps, only by that of Nemirov in 1648.
That all this should have left a marked impression on the mentality and intellectuality of the Jews, is little to be wondered at. The marvel is that they should have maintained their superiority over their surroundings, and continued to be a law-abiding and God-fearing people. While among the Russians and Poles the nobles who learned to read or write formed a rare exception, there was hardly one among the Jews, the very lowliest of them, who could not read Hebrew, and even translate it into the vernacular. Maimon tells us that in his early youth he became the family tutor of "a miserable farmer in a still more miserable village," who yet was ambitious of giving his children an education of some kind.
Fortunately for the Jews of those times—says a writer—their civilization was by far superior to that of the Christians. The rabbi, though in no way inferior to the priest mentally, was immeasurably above him morally. The students of the yeshibot, despite their exclusive devotion to the study of the Talmud, yet were better equipped for intellectual work, were of broader minds and better manners, than the pupils of the Jesuits. And the Jewish ba'ale battim, with an education as good as that of the Gentile shlyakhta, had a more ennobling and elevating object in life.
It is remarkable how quickly they recuperated from the blows they received. In 1648 thousands of people were killed, whole communities exterminated, Volhynia, Podolia, and a great part of Lithuania utterly ruined. In 1660, in those very places, we hear again of Jewish settlements, with synagogues and schools and a system of education of the kind described in the preceding chapter, and we hear of the Council of Lithuania struggling to re-establish and cement the shattered foundation of their self-government. Yet all their efforts improved the demoralized condition of the country but little. As always in national crises, the individual was sacrificed to the community, and deprived of the few rights remaining to him. The kehillot became brutally oppressive. There were no longer men of the stamp of Abraham Rapoport, Solomon Luria, Mordecai Jaffe, and Meir Katz, to put their feet on the neck of tyranny. Without special permission no one could buy or sell, or move from one place to another, or learn a trade or practice a profession. Rabbinism became synonymous with rigorism, the coercion of untold customs became unbearable, and the spirit of Judaism was lost in a heap of innumerable rites. The Jew's every act had to be sanctioned by religion. He knew of the outward world only from the heavy taxes he paid in order to be allowed to exist, and from the bloody riots with which his people was frequently visited.
What could result from such a state of affairs but poverty, material and spiritual, with all the suffering it engenders? Those at the head of the kehillot, being responsible solely to the Government, often had to deliver the full tale of bricks like the Jewish overseers in Egypt, though no straw was given to them. On one occasion Rabbi Mikel of Shkud was arrested because the kahal could not pay the thousand gulden it owed. In 1767, the whole kahal of Vilna went to Warsaw to protest against intolerable taxation. Such protests were usually of little avail. On the other hand, a few powerful families throve at the expense of their oppressed coreligionists. This aroused a spirit of animosity and a clamor for the abolition of the kahal institution. Jewish autonomy was more and more encroached upon. Rabbinates were bought and sold, and the aid of the Government was invoked in religious controversies. A question regarding the preferable form of prayer was submitted to the decision of Paul I. In 1777, Prince Radziwill decided who should officiate as rabbi in so important a centre of Judaism as Vilna, and in 1804 the Government issued a "regulation" depriving the kahal of its judicial functions altogether.
What was even more disastrous was the spiritual poverty of the masses. Seldom have the awful warnings of the great lawgiver been fulfilled so literally as during the eighteenth century:
And upon them that remain of you, I will send a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall, when none pursueth. And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies (Lev. 26: 36-37).
But the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and thou shalt have none assurance of thy life (Deut. 29: 65-66).
Having learned from sad experience that there was no crime their foes were incapable of perpetrating, they gave credence to every rumor as to an established fact. A report that boys and girls were to be prohibited from marrying before a certain age resulted in behalot (panics), during which children of the tenderest ages were united as husband and wife (1754, 1764, 1793). Mysticism became rampant. "Messiah" after "Messiah" "revealed" himself as the one promised to redeem Israel from all his troubles. Love of God began to be tinged with fear of the devil, and incantations to take the place of religious belief. The Zohar and works full of superstition, such as the Kab ha-Yashar, Midrash Talpiyot, and Nishmat Hayyim, the first studied by men, the others by both sexes, but mostly by women, prepared their minds for all sorts of mongrel beliefs. "In no land," says Tobias Cohn, "is the practice of summoning up devils and spirits by means of the Cabbalistic abracadabra so prevalent, and the belief in dreams and visions so strong, as in Poland." All this, though it strengthened religious fervor in some, undermined it in others. Sects came into being, struggled, and, having brought added misery upon their followers, disappeared. Jewish criminals escaped justice by invoking the power of the Catholic priesthood and promising to become converted to Christianity. And now and then even Talmudists left the fold, as, for instance, Carl Anton, the Courland pupil of Eybeschuetz, who became professor of Hebrew at Hamsted, and wrote numerous works on Judaism. Others hoped to win the favor of the Gentiles by preaching a mixture of Judaism and Catholicism. In many places, especially in the Ukraine, the seat of learning that had suffered most from the ravages of the Cossacks, the state of morals sank very low, owing to the teaching of Jacob Querido, the self-proclaimed son of the pseudo-Messiah Shabbatai Zebi, "that the sinfulness of the world can be overcome only by a super-abundance of sin." This paved the way for the last of the long list of Messiahs, Jacob (Yankev Leibovich) Frank of Podolia. His experiences, adventures, and hairbreadth escapes, his entire career, beginning with his return from his travels in Turkey, through his conversion to Catholicism (1759), to the day of his death as "Baron von Offenbach," would furnish material for a stirring drama. As if to counteract this demoralizing tendency, a new sect, known as Hasidim, originating in Lithuania and headed by Judah Hasid of Dubno and Hayyim Malak, taught its devotees to hasten the advent of the Messiah by doing penance for the sins of Israel. They were so firmly convinced of the efficacy of fasts and prayers that they went to Jerusalem by hundreds to witness the impending redemption (ab. 1706). But the ascetic Hasidim and the epicurean Frankists were alike doomed to disappear or to be swallowed up by a new Hasidism, combining the teachings and aspirations of both, the sect founded by Israel Baal Shem, or Besht (ab. 1698-1759), and fully developed by Bar of Meseritz and Jacob Joseph of Polonnoy.
Time was when all writers on the subject, usually Maskilim, thought it their duty to cast a stone at Hasidism. They described it as a Chinese wall shutting the Jews in and shutting the world out. It is becoming more and more plainly recognized and admitted, that it was, in reality, an attempt at reform rendered imperative by the tyranny of the kahal, the rigorism of the rabbis, the superciliousness of the learned classes, and the superstition of the masses. Its aim was to bring about a deep psychologic improvement, to change not so much the belief as the believer. It insisted on purity rather than profundity of thought. Unable to remove the galling yoke, it gave strength to its wearers by prohibiting sadness and asceticism, and emphasizing joy and fellowship as important elements in the fabric of its theology.
Hasidism was thus a plant the seeds of which had been sown by the various sects. Like the former Hasidim, or even the Assideans of nearly two thousand years before, their latter-day namesakes rigidly adhered to the laws of Levitical purification, and, to a certain extent, led a communistic life. In addition they accepted, in a modified form, certain customs and beliefs of the Catholic church that had been adopted by the followers of Frank. The prayers to the saints (zaddikim), the conception of faith as the fountain of salvation, even the belief in a trinity consisting of the Godhead, the Shekinah, and the Holy Ghost, these and other exotic doctrines introduced by the Cabbala took root and grew in the vineyard of Hasidism.
The founder of the sect has an interesting history. In his childhood he gave no evidence of future greatness. His education was of a low order, but his feeling heart and sympathetic soul won him the esteem of all that knew him. The woods possessed the same charm for him as for Wordsworth or Whitman. With the latter especially he seems to have much in common. While a child, he absented himself frequently from the narrow and noisy heder, and spent the day in the quiet of the neighboring woods. When he grew up, he accepted the menial position of a school usher. His office was to go from house to house, arouse the sleeping children, dress them, and bring them to heder. But the time soon came when humble and obscure Israel "revealed" himself to the world. Owing to his tact and knowledge of human nature, combined with the conditions of the times, his teachings spread rapidly. He was speedily crowned with the glory of a "good name" (Baal Shem Tob), and in the end he was immortalized.
From such a man we can expect only originality, not profundity. Indeed, his whole life was a protest against the subtleties of the Talmudists and the ceremonies, meaningless to him, which they introduced into Judaism. His object was to remove the petrified rabbinical restrictions (gezerot) and develop the emotional side of the Jew in their stead. He was primarily a man of action, and had little love for the rabbis, their passivity, world-weariness, and pride of intellect. It is said that when he "overheard the sounds of eager, loud discussions issuing from a rabbinical college, closing his ears with his hands, [he] declared that it was such disputants who delayed the redemption of Israel from captivity." Men like these, who study the Law for the sake of knowing, not of feeling, cannot claim any merit for it. They deserve to be called "Jewish devils." Only he is worthy of reward who is virtuous rather than innocent, who does what he is afraid to do, who, as Jacob Joseph of Polonnoy puts it, "acquires evil thoughts and converts them into holy ones." No asceticism for him. All kinds of human feelings deserve our respect, for it is not the body that feels but the soul, and the soul, "being a part of God on high, cannot possibly have an absolutely bad tendency." Men may not be heresy-hunters and fault-finders, for none is free from heresy and faults himself: the face he brings to the mirror, he finds reflected in it. Yea, even the followers of Abraham possess evil propensities, and noble qualities frequently belong to the disciples of Balaam himself.
These democratic principles put the most ignorant Jew in Russia on an equality with the erudite Lithuanian. No wonder that they obtained such strong hold on the people of the Ukraine, the province shorn of all its glory. Hasidism invaded Podolia and Volhynia, swept over Galicia and Hungary, and found adherents even in many a large community in Western Russia and Prussia. It brought cheer and happiness in its wake, and rendered the unfortunate Jew forgetful of his misery. Gottlober maintains that the inspiring melodies of the Hasidic hymns were largely responsible for the spread of the movement, even as Moody attributed the success of his revivals to the singing of Sankey. For, as Doctor Schechter has it, "the Besht was a religious revivalist in the best sense, full of burning faith in his God and his cause; convinced of the value of his teaching and his truth."
One province there was to which the Besht could not penetrate, at least not without a long siege and great losses. In Lithuania the inroads of Hasidism were strenuously opposed, and its advance disputed step by step. The Lithuanian Jews, to whom the Talmud was as dear as ever, could not countenance a movement sprung, as they believed, from the seed sown by Shabbatai Zebi, an opponent of the Talmud, and by Jacob Frank, at whose instigation the Bishop of Kamenetz ordered the Talmud to be publicly burnt.
The opponents (Mitnaggedim) of Hasidism were headed by a leader who was as typical an exponent of the cause he espoused as the Besht was of his. Among the students of Jewish literature since the close of the Talmud, few have surpassed, or even equalled, Elijah of Vilna (1720-1797). Not inappropriately he was called Gaon and Hasid, for in mental and moral attainments he was unique in his generation. As the Besht was noted in his early life for dulness and indifference, so Elijah was remarkable for diligence and versatility. His life, like the Besht's, became the nucleus of many wonderful tales, which his biographer narrates with painstaking exactness. They present the picture of a man diametrically different from Israel Baal Shem Tob. Every year, we are told, added to the marvellous development of the young intellectual giant. When he was six years old, none but Rabbi Moses Margolioth, the renowned Talmudist and author, was competent enough to teach him. At seven, he worsted the chief rabbi of his native city in a Talmudic discussion. At nine, there was nothing in Jewish literature with which he was not familiar, and he turned to other studies to satisfy his craving for knowledge. And at thirteen, he was acknowledged by his fellows as the greatest of Talmudists. He had neither guide nor teacher. All unaided he discovered the path of truth. He held neither a rabbinical nor any other public office. He was as retiring as the Besht was aggressive. Nevertheless his word was law, and his influence immense. The centenary of his death (1897) was celebrated among all classes with the solemnity which the memories of "men of God" inspire.
Now, this Gaon of Vilna, or Hagra, was perhaps no less dissatisfied with prevailing conditions than the Besht, but his remedy for them was as different as the two personalities were unlike. He did not desire to abolish the Talmud, but rather to render it more attractive, by making its acquisition easier and putting its study on a scientific basis. Even in Lithuania, the citadel of the Talmud, the development of Talmudic learning had been hampered. In accordance with a Talmudic principle, mankind is continually degenerating, not only physically, but morally and mentally as well. It holds that if "the ancients were angels, we are mere men; if they were but men, we are asses." This high regard for antiquity produced a belief in the infallibility of the rabbis on the part of the Mitnaggedim, similar to that in their zaddikim by the Hasidim. No scholar of a later generation dared disagree with the statement of a rabbi of a previous generation. But as authorities sometimes conflict with each other, the Talmudists regarded it their duty to reconcile them or to prove, in the words of the ancient sages, that "these as well as those are the words of the living God." Similarly, the popes declared that, despite their contradictions, the Biblical translations of Sixtus V and Clement VIII were both correct.
It is true that Lithuanian Talmudists were not always the slaves of authority which they ultimately became. A study of the works of the early Slavonian rabbis, before and after Rabbi Polack, shows that they were free from unhealthy awe of their predecessors, and sometimes were audaciously independent. Neither Solomon Luria (Maharshal), Samuel Edels (Maharsha), or Meir Lublin (Maharam) refrained from criticising and amending whenever they deemed it necessary. But in the course of time the casuistic method, originally a mere pastime, became the approved method of study, and produced what is known as pilpul. Scholars wasted days and nights in heaping Ossa upon Pelion, in reconciling difficulties which no logic could harmonize. Here the Gaon found the first and most urgent need for reform. The Talmudists, he declared, were not infallible. Every one may interpret the Mishnah in accordance with reason, even if the interpretation be not in keeping with the traditional meaning as construed by the Amoraim.
His views on religion were equally liberal. The same process of reasoning which, spun out to its logical conclusion, led to pilpul in the schools, produced, when turned into the channel of religion, the over-piety culminating in the Shulhan 'Aruk. This remarkable book, with the euphonious name The Ready Table, prescribed enough regulations to keep one busy from early morning till late at night. The Jews found themselves bound hand and foot by ceremonial trammels and weighted down by a burden of innumerable customs. The spirit of freedom that had animated Slavonian Judaism during the Middle Ages had fled. The breadth of view that had marked the decision of many of its rabbis was gone. Judaism was a mere mummy of its former self. Here, too, the Gaon came to the rescue. Rightly or wrongly, he "established the importance of Minhagim [religious ceremonies] according to their antiquity or primitivism, regarding those which have originated since the codification of the Shulhan 'Aruk as not binding at all; those which have been adopted since the Talmudic period to be subject to change by common consent; while those of the Bible and in the Talmud were to him fundamental and unalterable."
But the Gaon's influence on the Haskalah movement by far surpassed his influence on the study of the Talmud or on the ceremonials of the synagogue. Many, in point of fact, regard him as the originator of the movement. As he was the first to oppose the authority of the Talmudists, so he was the first to inveigh against the educational system among the Jews of his day and country. The mania for distinction in rabbinical learning plunged the child into the mazes of Talmudic casuistry as soon as he could read; frequently he had not read the Bible or studied the rudiments of grammar. The Gaon insisted that every one should first master the twenty-four books of the Bible, their etymology, prosody, and syntax, then the six divisions of the Mishnah with the important commentaries and the suggested emendations, and finally the Talmud in general, without wasting much time on pilpul, which brings no practical result. "These few lines," says a writer, "contain a more thorough course of study than Wessely suggested in his Words of Peace and Truth. Though they did not entirely change the system in vogue—for great is the power of habit—they produced a wholesome effect, which was visible in a short time among the people." Furthermore, the Gaon exhorted the Talmudists to study secular science, since, "if one is ignorant of the other sciences, one is a hundredfold more ignorant of the sciences of the Torah, for the two are inseparably connected." He set the example by writing, not only on the most important Hebrew books, Biblical, Talmudic, and Cabbalistic, but also on algebra, geometry, trigonometry, astronomy, and grammar. And his example served as an impetus and encouragement to the Maskilim in spreading knowledge among their coreligionists.
Such was the man who led the crusade against the converts to Hasidism. But even he could not stem the current. In their despair, the Lithuanian Jews turned to their coreligionists in Germany, and implored their assistance in eradicating, or at least suppressing, the threatened invasion. The great learning and literary ability of the "divine philosopher, Rabbi Moses ben Menahem" (Mendelssohn, 1729-1786), were appealed to for help. Not a stone was left unturned to crush the new sect (kat), so called. Volumes of the Toledot Ya'akob Yosef, in which Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonnoy set forth the principles of the Besht, were burnt in the market-place in Vilna. Intermarriage, social intercourse of any kind, was prohibited between Hasidim and Mitnaggedim. In Vilna, Grodno, Brest, Slutsk, Minsk, Pinsk, etc., the ban was hurled against the dissenters by the most prominent rabbis. Israel was divided into two hostile camps. But soon everything was changed. Hasidim and Mitnaggedim discovered that while they were fighting each other, a common enemy was undermining the ground on which they stood. The Haskalah was steadily drawing recruits from both, and it threatened ultimately to become more dangerous to both than they were to each other.
From the South had come the impulse of religious revivalism through the followers of the Besht, and the North was showing signs of awakening through the reforms of the Gaon. At the same time a ray of enlightenment from the West pierced through the night. To make the regeneration of Slavonic Judaism complete, the element of estheticism had to be added to emotionalism and reason. From the warm South came Besht, from the studious North Hagra, and Rambman (Mendelssohn) made his appearance from the enlightened West. The triumvirate was complete.
Not that Mendelssohn ever visited or resided in Russo-Poland. But the gentle, cultured little savant of Berlin, with whose lips, Carlyle tells us, Socrates spoke like Socrates in German as in no other modern language, "for his own character was Socratic," was at no period of his life wholly cut off from influencing Slavonic Jews and from being influenced by them. As a lad Mendelssohn was instructed by Israel Moses Halevi of Zamoscz (ab. 1700-1772). This teacher of his, who is credited with several inventions, and of whom Lessing says, in a letter to Mendelssohn, that he was "one of the first to arouse a love for science in the hearts of Jews," imbued him with love for philosophy. When Mendelssohn emerged from obscurity, and, despite ill-health and ignorance, attained culture and breeding, his associate, who was with him the most important factor in German Haskalah, was the renowned Naphtali, or Hartwig, Wessely, whose grandfather Joseph Reis had been among the fugitives from the Cossack massacres in 1648. And when he became famous, and took his place among the greatest of his age, he still sought diversion and instruction among the Slavonian Jews, and boasted of being a descendant of one of them, Moses Isserles of Cracow. As formerly with the Talmud, the Haskalah seemed, at the time of Mendelssohn, to be moving from the East westward, through the agency of the Slavonic Jews pouring perennially into Germany. Positions, from the lowly melammed's to the honorable chief rabbi's in prominent communities, were filled almost exclusively by them. The cause of Judaism seems to have been entrusted to them. Ezekiel Landau, whose tactful intercession helped greatly to establish peace between the Emden-Eybeschuetz factions, was rabbi of Prague for almost forty years (1755-1793); the equally prominent, but at first somewhat less liberal Phinehas Horowitz was rabbi and dean in Frankfort-on-the-Main for over thirty years (1771-1805); his brother Shmelke, regarded as a saint, was chief rabbi of Moravia (1775). Another Horwitz, Aaron Halevi, was rabbi of Berlin, one of those who favored Mendelssohn's translation of the Pentateuch; while the cultured and profound Talmudist Raphael Hakohen, whose grandson, Gabriel Riesser, became the greatest champion of Jewish emancipation Germany has yet produced, was offered the rabbinate of Berlin (1771). He declined the post, and finally became chief rabbi (1776-1803) of the united congregations of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck. It is also recorded that Samuel ben Avigdor, the last rabbi of Vilna, held the rabbinate of Koenigsberg, and there certainly must have been many more who, because of their inferior positions, cannot be so easily traced. Besides, Germany, as we have seen, was the common fatherland of the greater part of both Slavonic and Teutonic Jews. It never remained a terra incognita to the former for any length of time. Its proximity to Russia, the business relations between the Jews of the two countries, intermarriage, and, with a few insignificant exceptions, the identity of language, made the Jews of both countries come into closer contact than was possible with any other Jews. For the studious, Germany possessed the attraction which the "land of universities" exerts upon seekers after knowledge the world over. To whom, indeed, could the profound and abstruse speculations of Leibnitz and Kant make a stronger appeal than to the Jew who had been initiated into metaphysical abstractions from his very childhood? It is no wonder, then, that immigration from Russo-Poland into Germany was constantly on the increase, until, under Alexander II, the advancement of Russian civilization put a stop in a measure to these roamings, to be resumed under Alexander III and Nicholas II.
The Russo-Polish youth, therefore, found himself quite at home in the country of Mendelssohn, and thither, in case of necessity, he would go. In the eleventh century Jews had gone from Germany to Poland. In the eighteenth they retraced their steps from Poland to Germany. Outnumbering by far those who went there from choice or by invitation, were those compelled to go in search of a livelihood. "When I reached the age of twenty, peaceful and comfortable in my father's house, I began to hope that henceforth I should pursue my studies uninterrupted. But all at once my father lost his fortune, and I was forced to go somewhere to provide for myself. So I became a melammed in Berlin." This piece of autobiography in the preface to a Talmudic treatise by Reuben of Zamoscz might have been written by many others, too. But there were also the goodly number led thither by thirst for knowledge, whose remarkable abilities attracted the admiration of Jew and Gentile alike. Wessely the poet and Linda the mathematician more than once expressed surprise at the amount of learning many of the poor immigrants were found to possess.
Among these immigrants were two who may justly be regarded as the conducting medium through which the Haskalah currents were transmitted from Germany to Russo-Poland: Solomon Dubno, the indefatigable laborer in the province of Jewish science, and Solomon Maimon, the brilliant but unfortunate philosopher, both of them teachers in the house of Mendelssohn.
Solomon Dubno (1738-1813) was all his life a bee in search of flowers, to turn their sweetness into honey. Having exhausted the knowledge of his Volhynian instructors, he went to Galicia, where he became proficient in Hebrew grammar and Biblical exegesis. Thence, attracted by its rich collection of books, he left for Amsterdam, where he spent five years in study and research. Finally he settled in Berlin, and earned a livelihood by teaching among others the children of Mendelssohn. The gentle disposition and profound learning of the Polish emigrant made a favorable impression on the Berlin sage, who invited him to participate in his translation of the Bible, which revolutionized the Judaism of the nineteenth century more than the Septuagint that of the first century. The result was the Biur (commentary), which he, together with his countryman, Aaron Yaroslav, also a teacher, wrote on several books of the Bible. Comparatively few of Dubno's works have been published, but judging from such as are known we may safely pronounce him a master of the Massorah and a scholar of unusual attainments. Of his poems Delitzsch says that they are "in the truest sense Hebrew in expression, Biblical in imagery and subject-matter, medieval in rhyme and rhythm, and in general genuinely Jewish in manner of treatment,"—laudation which this exacting critic bestowed on no other Hebrew poet of his time. It was mainly through the endeavors of Dubno that Mendelssohn's Pentateuch, later regarded with suspicion, was everywhere bought and studied eagerly.
One better known to the outside world than Dubno, and who has engraved his name forever on the history of theology and philosophy, was Solomon Maimon (Nieszvicz, Lithuania, 1754—Niedersiegersdorf, Silesia, 1800). In his famous autobiography is mirrored the lot of hundreds of his countrymen who, like him, left their homes and hearths, their nearest and dearest, and led a wretched and miserable existence, all because they were anxious to be ma'amike be-hakmah ("delvers in knowledge"), as he himself might have said, and avail themselves of the opportunities for acquiring the truth and wisdom unattainable in their own land.
But Maimon was doomed to suffer abroad even more than at home. He was one of those unfortunates whose sufferings are regarded as well-deserved. His exceptional ability was never to develop to its fullest capacity. Great injustice has been done to him, not only by the rabid orthodox, who denied him a grave in their cemetery, but even by the enlightened historian Graetz. Fortunately he left behind him his Lebensgeschichte, among the best of its kind in German literature, in which, with the frankness of a Rousseau, he described the events of his short and checkered career.
From this admirable work, in which he neither hides his follies nor flaunts his talents, we learn that Maimon possessed rare virtues. His sympathy for the poor, his ready helpfulness even at the sacrifice of himself, rendered him as uncommon in moral action as in philosophic speculation. To the English reader a striking parallelism suggests itself between him and his contemporary Oliver Goldsmith. Both were afflicted with generosity above their fortunes; both had a "knack at hoping," which led frequently to their undoing; neither could subscribe easily to the "decent formalities of rigid virtue"; and, as of the latter we may also say of the former, in the language of a reviewer, "He had lights and shadows, virtues and foibles—vices you cannot call them, be you never so unkind."
As Goldsmith came to London, so came Maimon to Berlin, "without friends, recommendation, money, or impudence." His only luggage was two manuscripts: a commentary on the works of Maimuni, whose name he had adopted, and to whom he paid divine reverence; and a treatise in which he attempted to rationalize the recondite doctrines of the Cabbala, and which he always kept by him "as a monument of the struggle of the human mind after perfection in spite of all hindrances which were put in its way." The little bundle, which, to the zealot Jewish elders of that community, seemed sufficient indication that Maimon was tainted with heresy, and that his intentions were to devote himself to the study of science and philosophy, proved a great impediment to entering Berlin; and when, after a long, incredible struggle, he was finally admitted, he found himself incapable of earning a livelihood. In his childlike naivete he was betrayed by the very persons upon whom he relied most. All this could not deaden his love for knowledge and truth. By chance he obtained Wolff's Metaphysics, and this marked a new epoch in his life. "Not only the sublime science in itself," says he, "but also the order and mathematical method of the celebrated author, the precision of his explanations, the exactness of his reasoning, and the scientific arrangement of his expositions—all this kindled a new light in my mind."