Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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In his contributions to the polyglot literature of the Jews,
Steinschneider employed every language of Western Europe:
English, French, German and Italian. He was an orientalist with
a stupendous range of linguistic equipment, which included a
facile command of Hebrew and Latin. He found evidences of
frequent use in Jewish literary expressions of foreign languages in
Hebrew characters. In his
Introduction to Jewish Literature of the
Middle Ages
he discourses on the languages Jews have employed
in their literary creativity, and manifests particular interest in
Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-German and Judeo-Italian, which Jews
developed for their own use. He compiled a useful list of Yiddish
publications up to 1740, and his work on the Italian literature of
the Jews is a valuable contribution to the understanding of Jewish
cultural life in Italy. In his “Folk-Literature of the Jews” he
deals with a number of curious phases of literary expression.
In the ninety-first year of his life, indeed to its very end, Stein­
schneider’s mind was clear and alert. Referring to his essay on
the contemporaries of Moses ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi (in A.
), which was written six months before his
death on January 24, 1907, Gotthard Deutsch calls it “ a remark­
able specimen of his clearness of mind but also of his cynicism.”
He imparted to it a freshness and vigor which much younger men
might envy. At that time he was considered the greatest of living
Jewish scholars.
Whatever its merits or defects, Steinschneider’s work was nec­
essary and useful. For many years he kept readers
au courant
with nearly all printed matter in Jewish learning and literature.
Now that fifty years have elapsed since his passing, it is not
difficult to evaluate his role in the advancement of the structure
of modern Jewish learning. A contemporary and, in many respects,
a co-worker of Rapoport, Zunz, Geiger, Frankel, Graetz, Kauf-
mann, and a host of others who helped lay the foundations of
that structure, he furnished tools for the completion of many of
its essential parts. He was the brickmaker, often without straw.
He was not the architect or decorator. But his prodigious industry,
his thoroughness and the wide extent of his learning, made him a
unique figure in the temple of Jewish scholarship. Much of his
work is still indispensable for scholars engaged in research.