«MORDECHAI GUMPEL SCHNABER: THE FIRST RELIGIOUS REFORM THEORETICIAN OF THE HEBREW HASKALAH IN GERMANY By MOSHE PELLI, Ben-Gurion University of the ...»
MORDECHAI GUMPEL SCHNABER:
THE FIRST RELIGIOUS REFORM THEORETICIAN
OF THE HEBREW HASKALAH IN GERMANY
By MOSHE PELLI, Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel
LIKE MANY of his fellow-maskilim, Mordechai Gumpel
Schnaber, known also as George Levison, has been a contro-
versial figure during his lifetime, and an enigma to this day.
Perhaps it is owing to his stature as a well known physician and as one of the first Jews to have been given the title of Professor, that a number of articles have been devoted to him in recent years.
Although this is more than could be said about many other maskilim of the early period of Haskalah in Germany, these articles either lay the groundwork of sketching his life or else treat aspects of his writings which are only secondary to Schnaber's role in the Hebrew Haskalah.1 It is for this reason that the current endeavor is 1 Following are the most important references dealing with Schnaber (in alphabetical order):
Edward Duckesz, Chachme AHW [The Sages of AHW] (Hamburg, I908), pp. 32, 93 [in the German and Hebrew sections, respectively];
Samuel Fiinn, "Safah Lene'emanim," ["Language for the Trust- worthy"] Hakarmel, IV (July, 1879) pp. 396-397; Julius Fiirst, Bibliotheca Judaica, II (Leipzig, I85I), pp. 238-239; Heinz Mosche Graupe, "Mordechai Gumpel (Levison)," Bulletin des Leo Baeck In- stituts, V(No. 17, June, 1962), pp. I-I2. Graupe's article is by far the most exhaustive, up-to-date study of Schnaber; it presents first a short biography of Schnaber which is based on some new data published by Schoeps (see below), thus correcting previous information on the Hebrew physician. The article further discusses Schnaber's philosophy which is said to be antithetical to that of the Hebrew and German Haskalah. The Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII (I916), p. 46; Ben-Zion Katz, "Toldoth Haskalath Hayehudim Berusiah," ["The History of the Enlightenment of the Jews in Russia"] Hazman, I(January-April, 1903), pp. 80-8I; G. Kressel, Lexicon Hasifruth Hacivrith Badoroth Ha'aharoniml [Cyclopedia of Modern Hebrew Literature], II(Merhaviah, I967), p. 954; F. Lah.over, Hasifruth Hacivrith Hahadashah [Modern
290 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEWundertaken, namely, to examine the Hebrew works of the said maskil from the angle of Hebrew Haskalah of which indeed he has been a part.2 In his advocacy of Enlightenment, Schnaber preceded the Hebrew German maskilim both in preaching and in practice Hebrew Literature], I (Tel Aviv, 1928), p. 91; Raphael Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisra'el[:] Doroth 'Aharonim [History of the Jewish People in Modern Times], I, 2(Merhaviah, 1954), PP. 54, 8i; Moses Margoliouth, The History of the Jews in Great Britain, II(London, 185I), pp. I 8-119;
Josef Meisl, Haskalah (Berlin, 1919), p. I6; James Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (London, 1875), p. 144; Cecil Roth, "The Haskalah in England," Essays Presented to [...] Israel Brodie (London, I967), PP. 367-368; Hans Joachim Schoeps, "Gumpertz LevisonLeben und Werk Eines Gelehrten Abenteurers des i8. Jahrhunderts," Zeitschrift fiir Religions- und Geistesgeschichte IV(I952), pp. 150-I6I, republished also in his book Studien zur unbekannten Religions- und
Geistesgeschichte (Berlin, 1963), ss. 216-227; Translated into French:
"La Vie et l'CEuvre de Gumpertz Levison," Revue d'Histoire de la Medicine Hdbraqque, XXVII(I955), pp. I33-I43. It is a short, up-todate biography debunking several long-held details of Schnaber's life.
See also Schoeps, Barocke Juden Christen Judenchristen (Bern, I965), ss. 109-113, and his article "Lakaren och Alkemisten Gumpertz Levison," Lychnos (Uppsala, 1944), 230-248. Siegfried Stein, "Sefer Giddul Banim," Remember the Days. Essays in Honour of Cecil Roth (Oxford, I966), pp. I68-I69; Israel Zinberg. Toldoth Sifruth Yisra'el [History of the Literature of Israel], V (Merhaviah & Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 290.
2 As I shall discuss it below, I disagree with Graupe's view in his article (cited above) that Schnaber did not belong to the circle of the Hebrew maskilim. The Hebrew maskil started his Haskalah activities long before the formation of the circle of the maskilim: dissemination of scientific knowledge in the Hebrew language (in his book '1Rt3 1n nl r 1t'n nf [An Essay (of) the Torah and Wisdom], (London, I77I) heralded a similar trend of the Hebrew Haskalah. Schnaber stressed, already at this early stage of Hebrew Haskalah, the necessity for the revival of the Hebrew language. In 1784 Schnaber published excerpts from his book on that subject in Hanmeassef, encouraging the editors to proceed with their struggle for Enlightenment, although not through extreme and war-like ways. A detailed description could be found in my study entitled The Attitude of the First Maskilim toward the Hebrew Language (Austin, Texas, I970; Beer Sheva, Israel, I972), scheduled for publication in 1974 in the Bulletin of the Institute of Jewish Studies (London). His other works, too, typify the ways of the Hebrew Haskalah: A modern interpretation of Maimonides, and an exegesis of the book of Koheleth. A detailed discussion will follow.
MORDECHAI GUMPEL SCHNABER-PELLI 29I
Thus, Schnaber could be considered as one of the early enlighteners of the Hebrew Haskalah,3 and perhaps as the first maskil who alluded to religious reforms at the time.
Significantly, the tools used by Schnaber for his Enlightenment and religious reform purposes are taken mostly from the old, traditional school, namely, exegesis of revered texts and a philosophical and theological interpretation of Maimonides.
This use of the traditional form and style may explain the presence of traditional views alongside with Schnaber's more advanced ideas. His conservatism is in no way unique to him; for, in effect, we have found a similar trend in the writings of some of the other Hebrew maskilim.4 Undoubtedly, 3 Schnaber's utterances on the Hebrew language in Ma'amar Hatorah Vehahochmah, p. 5, are regarded by Cecil Roth as "almost a Haskalah manifesto!" ("The Haskalah in England," p. 368). Roth suggests that Schnaber might have been the author of another early Haskalah work, Sefer Giddul Banim, containing suggestions of educational reforms (ibid., p. 367). Siegfried Stein, in his article on "Sefer Giddul Banim," pp. I68-I69, rejects Roth's suggestion.
4 See mybook nf11Itn '4 : 'nl nt ttt'V [Moses Mendelssohn;
Bonds of Tradition] (Tel Aviv, I972), and my articles: "Intimations of Religious Reform in the German Hebrew Haskalah Literature," Jewish Social Studies, XXXII (No. I, January, I970), pp. 3-13;
"The Methodology Employed by the Hebrew Reformers in the First Reform Temple Controversy (I818-I819)," Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History and Literature in honor of I. Edward Kiev(New York, 1971), pp. 381-397; "The Religious Reforms of 'Traditionalist' Rabbi Saul Berlin (A Chapter in the History of the Struggle of Hebrew Haskalah in Germany for the Revival of Judaism)," Hebrew Union College Annual, XLII(I97I), pp. 1-23 [Hebrew]; "Some Notes on the Nature of Saul Berlin's Writings," The Journal of Hebraic Studies, I(No. 2, I970), pp. 47-6I; Naphtali Herz Wessely's Attitude toward the Jewish Religion as a Mirror of a Generation in Transition (During the Early Period of Hebrew Haskalah in Germany) (Beer-Sheva, Israel, I97I), to be published also in Zeitschrift fiir Religions- und Geistesgeschichte in I974; Isaac Satanow's 'Mishlei Asaf' As Reflecting the Ideology of the German Hebrew Haskalah (Beer-Sheva, 1972), published in Zeitschrift fir Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, XXV (No. 3, 1973), pp. 225-242.
THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW292 Schnaber resembles his contemporary maskilim in this regard for he, too, typifies his generation as a generation of transition.
While all generations are in transition, the one under study may be more representative of an overall transition, from one historic period to another, which lasted for a century, till the end of the Haskalah in the last quarter of the Igth century.
The use of the writings of Maimonides as a springboard for Enlightenment is also quite typical of the maskilim in their search for a guide, an authoritative guide, to enhance their ideas and ideals.5 The explanation cited above regarding the presence of the elements of the new and the old together in Schnaber's Hebrew writings is not fully understood, or at least not expressed, by most students of the period, of its thought and literature.
One suspects that the complexities of the Hebrew Haskalah and its exponents are being ignored at times, for the sake of simplification and generalization. The purpose, it seems, is to make the Hebrew Haskalah more homogeneous, and thus more understandable, than it actually was.
Although these comments do not fully fit the very fine study of Schnaber by Graupe, some generalities in that study are believed to be erroneous. At first sight, writes Graupe, 5 Solomon Maimon writes about his great admiration and indebtness to Maimonides in his autobiography, The Life of Solomon Maimon (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 260-26I [Hebrew]. Solomon Maimon as well as other maskilim published commentaries on Maimonides' works: Moreh Nevuchim [Guide for the Perplexed] (Berlin, I79I); Mendelssohn's commentary on Miloth Hahigayon [Words of Meditation, or Logic], first published in I76I. Quotations from Maimonides in the writings of the maskilim and their application to the furtherance of Haskalah goals are too numerous to cite. Cf. F. Lahover, "Harambam Vehahaskalah Hacivrith Bereshitah" ["Maimonides and the Early Hebrew Haskalah"], Moznayim, III (I-6, Tishrei-Adar Bet, 1938-39), pp. 539Joseph Schechter, "The Attitude of the Haskalah Generation and Our Generation to Maimonides," Limudei Hayahaduth Bahinuch Hacal Yesodi [Judaic Studies in Post Elementary Education (Tel Aviv, 1968), pp. 107-IIo [Hebrew]; Isaac Eisenstein-Barzilay, "The Ideology of the Berlin Haskalah," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, XXV(I956), pp. 4-7.
MORDECHAI GUMPEL SCHNABER-PELLI 293 Schnaber would appear, after having read a short biography of him, as an assimilationist, as an outspoken defender of Enlightenment, as though he stood close to the circle of the Me'assfim, the Hebrew enlighteners. A completely different picture emerges from his Hebrew writings, writes Graupe;
accordingly, he was not in the circle of the enlighteners, in the circle of Mendelssohn, Herz, Euchel and Friedlander.6 Associating "assimilationist" with "an outspoken defender of Enlightenment," even in his context, is rather strange.
For it may mislead the reader to believe that the writer is dealing with synonymous terms, namely, that "assimilationist" and "enlightener" are necessarily identical. Further, it appears that Graupe does not believe that Schnaber has anything to do with the Hebrew maskilim, their movement, their writings, and their ideology. Although Schnaber may not have adhered to the same philosophical principles of the Wolffian school which were held by Mendelssohn, the two still have many other ideas in common in the spheres of Judaism, theology, and Hebrew Haskalah. The ambivalent attitude toward tradition on the one hand, and toward enlightenment on the other, is typical of both maskilim.7 There is the attempt on the side of both maskilim to preserve Judaism and to defend it in the face of extreme anti-Jewish views among the European enlighteners. Yet they also endeavored to introduce Enlightenment into Judaism. Putting Mendelssohn and Friedlander together is not as simple as it may appear, as indeed any one familiar with the subject at hand surely knows. In addition, the circle of Hame'assfim was not a unified body with unified Weltanschauung; the editors of Hame'assef changed, and more often its writers did.
Schnaber's views, as discussed below, indeed show his part in the Hebrew Haskalah. In spite of my disagreement with some of Graupe's views on Schnaber, I think that his conclusions are quite meritorious; Schnaber should be considered 6 Graupe, "Mordechai Gumpel (Levison)," pp. 5-8.
7 Cf. Moshe Mendelssohn: Bechavlei Masoreth, pp. 9, I8-I9, 75-84.
THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW294 as a definite representative of Enlightenment, but only of one segment of Haskalah.
My discussion below attempts to prove that.
Schnaber's first book, n,nrm,inn i,i 3K m, was published in I77I in London, where he stayed for his medical education and practice. The book is an encyclopedia of knowledge dealing with mathematics, physics, and some other sciences, while leaving metaphysics for the second volume that has never been published.8 In addition, a long introductory essay in defense of the study of the sciences, shows, or endeavors to show, that Judaism has no objection to the study of these sciences. The essay further analyzes some aspects of traditional Judaism and its books from an Enlightenment point of view.
This kind of apologetical introduction which essentially wishes to show the compatibility of Judaism and wisdom could be found in the writings of the other maskilim in a way that it may reflect both a state of mind of the given writer, as well as the state of mind of his cultural and religious milieu.
Occasionally, one is hesitant as to whether or not the attempt to show the compatibility of Judaism and wisdom, that is, the sciences, actually reflects the philosophy of a given writer at the time of writing; perhaps it reflects his awareness of and his reaction to the traditional views of his contemporaries, and thus his writings may assume a compromising tone for strategical reasons.