Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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Solomon J u d a h Loeb R apopo r t was bo rn in Lemberg on
J u n e 1, 1790. He began his Jewish educa t ion in the
he s tudied Pen ta teuch and T a lm u d like all Jewish boys. Bu t he
soon learned to s tudy the T a lm u d by himself. In a corner of
the synagogue in one of Lembe rg ’s suburbs the boy could be
seen po r ing over the great folio volumes. A t the age of twelve he
would engage o lder men in discussion which showed a pene-
t ra t ing unde rs tand ing of the fine distinct ions in Jewish law.
Soon he became known as a prodigy, and his versatility and
e rud i t ion in rabb in ica l l i te ra tu re were widely admired . Grea t
things were expected of him.
He d id become one of the rabb in ic lights of the nex t genera-
t ion, end ing his days as the rabb i of the im po r tan t commun i ty
of Prague, bu t his chief claim to fame lies in his con t r ibu t ions
to Jewish historical writing. Few Jewish historians of his per iod
could discr iminate between fact and fancy, t r u th and legend.
T h e ins trumen ts of research used by the mode rn h is to r ian—
chronology, linguistics, bibliography, lexicography, tex tua l criti-
cism, and a critical app roach to source ma te r ia l—were still unde-
veloped in tha t day. Rapopo r t , however, had an inna te sense for
me thod and he developed these ins t rumen ts of research prac-
tically by himself. He analyzed sources; he became one of the
first Jewish historical geographers; he learned to use philology
and linguistics as aids to the solut ion of historical problems. His
me thod of backing up every sta temen t w i th extensive notes and
his use of cross-references do no t fall shor t of mode rn require-
ments. T h e change which he thus b rough t abou t in historical
w r i t ing among Jews caused Dr. David Kau fmann to call h im
“ the founde r of historical criticism among the Jews,” an d “ the
creator and founde r of biography in the mode rn sense.”
Wh i le still a comparatively young man R ap o p o r t set for him-
self the task of wr i t ing an encyclopedia of Jewish biography. He
even gave i t a name:
Anshe Shem.
If he d id no t realize this
amb i t ion , ex t raneous causes, certainly no t his assiduity, were to
blame. But, few as were the biographies he actual ly pub l ished ,
they ma rked an epoch. T h e first of his con t r ibu t ions to Jewish
historical research appea red in the year 1828 u nd e r the t i t le
To ledo t R a b b e n u Saadia Gaon.
I t was pub l ished in
B i k ku r e
ha-T t t im
, the foremost l i terary annua l of the day. T h i s was fol-
lowed by the biographies of N a th an of Rome, Ha i Gaon, Elazar
ha-Kalir, R abb enu H an an e l and R abb enu Nissim. W i th in the
shor t pe r iod of three years R apopo r t thus produced six his torical
biographies, scientifically trea ted and con ta in ing a vast am oun t
of ma ter ia l b rough t together from various sources h i th e r to un-
known to scholars. H e demons t ra ted how in fo rma t ion may be
li terally dug out , b rough t to light and made to serve as a means
of revealing fu r the r new knowledge. Of excep t iona l va lue were
R a p o p o r t ’s notes which con ta in lengthy discussions of sources
and of problems re la ted to the biographies. T h e notes themselves