Leopold Zunz (1794 – 1886)

Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), engraving by C. Fisher. Inscribed across bottom: the print is dedicated to Zunz on his 70th birthday. It is also signed by Zunz, lower right, with an inscription.

In December 1817, Leopold Zunz, an instructor at a Jewish school in Wolfenbüttel, wrote an essay entitled Etwas über die Rabbinische Litteratur (“On Rabinnical Literature”). This little book marks an epoch in the history of modern Jewish scholarship.

It is a plea for the recognition of Judaism and its literature in university research and teaching. It exposed the ignorance which marked the books written by non-Jewish scholars on Judaism and the Jews, showing at the same time that Judaism had made valuable contributions to many sciences and therefore had a place in their history. This booklet may be said to have been the first to trace the outlines of Jewish science.

Die gottesdienstlichen Vortraege der Juden […]

Berlin, 1832. LBI call number r BM 660 Z8

Zunz’s subsequent book on Jewish sermons would become the most important Jewish work published in the 19th century. In the preface (suppressed by the government from the first edition), the German authorities were taken to task for their refusal to grant the Jews the justice due them by right and for their reluctance to accord them liberty instead of special rights and privileges. The Jews were entitled to be citizens of Germany.

Jewish science too ought no longer to be excluded from governmental patronage, but should have institutions provided for its development. In the synagogues the living word was once more to resound, for the sermon had always been an institution of Judaism. Besides showing that the sermon was a thoroughly Jewish tradition, the book demonstrated that Judaism had a scholarly tradition which could justly claim equality with the studies admitted to university standing.

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