Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
gree for his thesis on the Jewish laws of inheritance. Not content
with these achievements, he also submitted a thesis on “The dif­
ferences between the Book of Kings and Chronicles” which
earned him yet another doctoral degree from the University of
Jena. He had now reached the pinnacle of academic scholarship,
triple doctorates from Russia and Germany, a goal reached by
only a very few scholars and even fewer Jews. It seemed that, se­
cure in his governmentally sponsored and authorized post in a
prosperous community, and recently remarried to a girl from a
wealthy Odessa family, he could now look forward to a fruitful
life of scholarship and community service.
But this was not to be. Like many another genius, he was driven
by a relentless urge to excel in many different fields, but suffered
also from a demonic streak that drove him to irrational actions. It
was during his Odessa years, probably sometime in 1875, that he
conceived the idea of a new concordance to the Bible, one that
would be not only better and more comprehensive than any of its
forerunners, but also arranged according to the latest develop­
ments in comparative philology, and incorporating the findings
of learned Orientalists in Russia and Germany. In addition to his
sermons and the scholarly work on the concordance (and per­
haps as a relaxation from the inevitable tedium it involved) he
also wrote a large number of Hebrew poems and essays and
made translations from German and Russian literature for
various Haskalah journals. Although he never attained the
heights of poetic expression and the bold style of the next gener­
ation of Hebrew poets, his lyrical and epic poems, and his innova­
tive use of the ancient tongue paved the way for them. His poet­
ical work is considered to be among the best in that early period
of modern Hebrew literature, and he is generally acknowledged
to be the first to have written Hebrew ballads.
But many of his scholarly and literary essays were also highly
polemical, and he made a number of enemies among the writers
and ideologues of the movement. One of these was Alexander
Zederbaum, the first Russian-Jewish journalist, founder and edi­
tor of the Hebrew weekly
Hamelits
(The advocate). A quarrel with
Zederbaum led Mandelkern in 1879 to commit a foolish act that
had tragic consequences and ruined his career. In order to dam­
age Zederbaum’s reputation, he fabricated a letter reporting a
blood-libel case that had allegedly occurred in the Rumanian vil­
lage of Tatarbonar in Bessarabia, and managed to have it pub­