Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

Basic HTML Version

G
lenn
— I
saac
B
aer
L
evinsohn
61
over Napoleon in 1812. When this effusion came to the at­
tention of the Russian minister of education, the Czarist gov­
ernment took cognizance of his talents. For some time he served
as an interpreter in the army, speaking Polish, German, French
and Russian. When he later settled in Galicia, he was welcomed
by the circle of
maskilim
which included the satirist Isaac Erter
(a physician), Solomon Loeb Rapoport (a historian known as
S h IR ) , and the educator Joseph Perl. Levinsohn came under the
influence of the philosopher Nachman Krochmal (RaN aK ) , and
was befriended by him. Although Krochmal’s
Moreh Nebuche
ha-Zeman
was published much later than Levinsohn’s work,
it was apparent that the former had discussed it with the latter.
The
maskilim
helped Levinsohn find a post as a teacher of
Hebrew in a newly organized government school.
Levinsohn returned to Kremenetz in 1820 and began his
literary career. He published a satire against Hasidism entitled
Divre Tzaddikim,
which for obvious reasons appeared anony­
mously. It owed much to Isaac Erter’s satires, but this was not
his metier. His important work was
Teudah be-Yisrael
(Testi­
mony in Israe l), in which he forcefully presented the principles
of
Haskalah.
I t brought down on him the wrath of the all-
powerful Hasidim, and he fled, spending some time in Berdychev
before returning home.
Levinsohn was given access to the library of the Polish his­
torian, Wladislaw Czacki, which proved to be an inestimable
boon and stimulus to his studies. His initial work was a
philological study, a grammar of the Russian language in Hebrew
entitled
Yesodei Lashon Russiya.
The work was completed
in 1823 but never published, although it is mentioned in his
Teudah be-Yisrael.
He applied for a grant from Czar Nicholas I,
the government—for secret reasons, mainly conversion and accul­
turation-having evinced an interest in projects calculated to
draw Jews into an awareness of its efforts to integrate them
as nationals. He received a thousand rubles, which helped defray
the cost of publishing his
Teudah
in 1828. The grant also pro­
vided a modicum of income at a time when he was under sharp
attack by the
Mordei Or,
the fanatics who opposed the
Haskalah.
His book was hailed by the
maskilim
as a landmark and a re­
statement of the historical truth that Jewish scholarship from
ancient times never precluded knowledge and the secular sciences.
The next creation of Levinsohn was
Bet Yehudah,
a work he
named for his father. It was translated into Polish and attracted
attention as far west as Breslau, where the scholar, Abraham
Geiger, read several chapters in the synagogue. This work was
an answer to questions purportedly asked by Prince Emanuel
Lieven, minister of public instruction in Russia. (Professor Joseph
Klausner, giving the name as Karl Liven, holds that Lieven is a