Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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Shortly thereafter, he formally divorced his wife in Dubno. Be­
fore taking up a post in a Jewish community he went to St.
Petersburg where he enrolled in the university to study Oriental
languages and literature under the well-known Orientalist Dan­
iel Chwolsohn. In 1872 he submitted a thesis on the subject of
“Commentaries on the Bible in the light of the Septuagint, the
Peshitta and the Arabic translation of Rabbi Sa’adyah Ga’on”with
a “palaeographic study of parallel verses in the Old Testament.”
Thus, the latter part of this study already contained the seeds of
Mandelkern’s later masterwork. The thesis was awarded a gold
The young scholar was now asked by the recently founded so­
Mefitse haskalah
(Spreaders of enlightenment) whose Rus­
sian name was “Society for the Propagation of Culture among
Russian Jews” to write a “History of Russia” in Hebrew. He began
to work on this task just as Sir Moses Montefiore visited Russia on
the occasion of the 200-year jubilee of Peter the Great, in order to
persuade the tsar to ease the severe restrictions imposed on Rus­
sian Jews. Mandelkern was introduced to Montefiore, showed
him the manuscript of the first volume of his historical work, and
had his photo taken together with the famous old man, holding a
book on whose cover one could clearly discern the words “
(I am a Hebrew [Jonah 1:9]). This, and other instances of
somewhat eccentric behavior induced Judah Leib Gordon, a He­
brew poet and the secretary of the
Mefitse haskalah,
who acted also
as e d i to r o f M a n d e lk e rn ’s book , to rem a rk (us ing an
untranslatable Hebrew pun) that the author was “noble wine in
an ignoble vessel.” The
which also dealt with the history
of Jews in Russia and Poland, was published in three volumes in
1875,4 on which occasion Mandelkern received a golden ring
from tsar Alexander II.
In 1873 Mandelkern took up a post as assistant rabbi in the
large Jewish community of Odessa, where he stayed for the next
seven years, and became the first rabbi in Russia to preach ser­
mons in Russian. In addition to his degree in Oriental philology,
he now pursued further studies in law, and earned a second de­
4 n'^-in ,xt2nxn ...K>Dn ■»»’ nm . 3 v.