Page 91 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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On the 75th Anniversary of His Death
N ahum N.
l a t z e r
T was in 1811 that the seventeen year old Zunz happened to
peruse the four-volume
Bibliotheca Hebraea
by Johann
Christoph Wolf (1715-1733). From this bibliographical com­
pendium he obtained some idea of the vast untapped treasures
of Hebrew literature that transcended by far the limits of the
Bible, Talmud, and commentaries which young Zunz had studied
at the Samson Free School in Wolfenbuettel. But not until he
had come under the influence of the Berlin University—a great
center for classical studies—did the budding scholar give initial
expression to his thought.
In December, 1817, Zunz wrote
Notes on the Rabbinic Liter­
(“Etwas zur rabbinischen Literatur”). That effort was the
first attempt in modern times to define the scope of post-Biblical
Hebrew, or Jewish writings. Among the fields of post-Biblical
literature calling for scholarly research Zunz listed the history
of the Synagogue, Jewish liturgy, jurisprudence, political theory,
and ethics. Such research should also include Jewish history,
the Hebrew language and poetry, and Jewish philosophy. In
addition, Hebrew writings should be investigated for material
germane to histories of mathematics, geography, astronomy, and
chronology; to natural science and medicine; to the history of
commerce, industry, and technical inventions; to architecture
and music. As conceived by Zunz, the aim of such study is to
place the Jewish literary activity in the context of the intellectual
activity of humanity as a whole. The true scholar with his knowl­
edge of the past should act in harmony with man’s untiring urge
to advance and to progress.
The Modern Scholarly Approach
The modern scholarly approach to the field of Judaism, he
argued, enables the Jew to transcend the particularism that
marked the traditional learning of the past. He will at long
last join the
universitas litterarum
of the educated world. Freed
from responsibilities towards day-to-day Jewish living, the new
learning will be ready to assume its particular place among the
various branches of independent western scholarship.