Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

Basic HTML Version

In virtually all his writings Steinschneider displayed a keen
interest in the relation of the Jews to the world of science and
literature that surrounded them. He was particularly interested
in the points of contact between the literature of culture and
science of the Arabs and of the Jews. A goodly measure of the
fruits of these labors found its way in his two-volume work on
mediaeval Hebrew translations (Berlin, 1893), which facilitated
the research of some writers who, in later years, endeavored to
tell the story of Jewish contributions to civilization. This is,
perhaps, his greatest work. I t presents a comprehensive survey
of the treatment of all branches of science and learning in the
Hebrew language derived from originals in other tongues. Pro­
fessor Alexander Marx states that in connection with this work
Steinschneider declared: “ I am writing about Jews, not for them,
pro domo.
. . One can not enlighten anti-Semites, least of
all by history. To emphasize the culture of the ancient Jews in
order to require justice for those of the present would be treason
against inalienable human rights. . .” In this and in other pub­
lications Steinschneider showed beyond doubt that the Jews in
their dispersion managed to create a polyglot literature that was
not only original but also reproductive of the original contribu­
tions of others. In translating their treasures of thought into
many languages, Jews infused their spirit into the general culture
of the world, rendering intelligible to themselves the reasoning of
the ancient masters. Thus they transplanted the beauties of
Japheth into the tents of Shem.
Some of Steinschneider’s major contributions to the elucidation
of the history of Jewish literature found their way into well-known
encyclopedic works. Yet, for reasons entirely his own which he
never divulged, he declined every invitation to participate in the
creation of the truly great
Jewish Encyclopedia
, published in New
York (1903-1906). He looked upon the entire undertaking with
suspicion and spoke of it as the
, presumably because
of Isidore Singer’s connection with it. His faithful disciple, George
Alexander Kohut, who often played the role of Steinschneider’s
Boswell, claimed he “had the satisfaction of securing a reversal of
his judgment with respect to the
Jewish Encyclopedia
before he
closed his earthly eyes.” Steinschneider’s changed attitude is
indicated in none of his writings. I t evidently was made orally
and Dr. Kohut recorded it.
As early as 1843 Steinschneider himself had advocated the
creation of a Jewish encyclopedia on a plan he outlined in a series
of letters which appeared in an erudite Jewish periodical. His
plan was never realized. All attempts to accomplish it, prior to