Radical Jewish Study of the Masoretic Text during the Enlightenment Period: Joshua Heschel Schorr, Abraham Krochmal, and Elimelech Bezredḳi

In: European Journal of Jewish Studies

During the Enlightenment period, Jewish scholars began addressing the issue of textual criticism. Few of these took a radical approach to this question, the most prominent being Joshua Heschel Schorr, Abraham Krochmal, and Elimelech Bezredḳi, whose writings are replete with thousands of textual emendations. This article seeks to examine this fascinating but neglected chapter in the history of the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. It discusses the work of these three scholars, analysing their outlook, principles, and methodology and adducing cultural, intellectual, and personality factors as contributing to their special status as a group within a broader phenomenon.

  • 5

    See Richard Cecil Steiner, “A Jewish Theory of Biblical Redaction from Byzantium: Its Rabbinic Roots, Its Diffusion and Its Encounter with the Muslim Doctrine of Falsification,” Jewish Studies Internet Journal 2 (2003): 123–167.

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  • 6

    See Shmuel Vargon, S. D. Luzzatto: Moderate Criticism in Biblical Exegesis (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2013), 74–154 [Hebrew]. For Luzzatto’s attitude to the Samarian version, see ibid., 207–223. For his attitude towards the Septuagint, see ibid., 224–241.

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  • 7

    Eisig Gräber, S. D. Luzzatto’s hebräische Briefe (Przemysl: Zupnik & Knoller, 1882), 182. For similar statements, see Vargon, S. D. Luzzatto, 90–95. As the latter observes, however, in certain places Luzzatto nevertheless suggests emendations to the Pentateuchal text.

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  • 9

    See, for example, Joshua Halevi Mazeh, “Biʾurey kitvey qodeš [Scriptural Exegeses],” Ha-boqer ʾor 4 (1879): 1128–1130; Isaac Jacob Weisberg, “Dvarim aḥerim [Other things],” Ha-boqer ʾor 6 (1881): 200–202; Shlomo Mandelkern, “Rěʾiyah ve-zekher le-davar [Proof and Witness to the Word],” ʾOtzar ha-sifrut 2 (1888): 147–148, et al. For additional references, see Shelly, Bible Study in Haskalah Literature, 106–114; Haran, Biblical Research in Hebrew, 21: 111–114.

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  • 13

    Jacob Reifmann, Mešiv davar (Vienna: Steckholzer, 1866); id., Minḥat zikaron (Breslev: David Schatzky, 1881); and most recently, Chanan Gafni, “Jacob Reifmann and the Textual Criticism of the Bible,” shnaton: An Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies 20 (2010): 189–207 [Hebrew].

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  • 17

    Abraham Mendel Mohr, “Mikhtav me-ʾaḥad mi-ḥakhmey polonyah be-ʿinyan ha-qritiqah [Letter from One of the Polish Scholars Pertaining to Criticism],” Zion 2 (1842): 188–192. Cf. his statement: “I must be a good exegete and a good practitioner and provide everyone with examples of all the types of errors . . . But I will not be able to do so until I hear what my readers have to say” (p. 192).

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  • 29

    Shmuel Feiner, Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Awareness of the Past (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1995), 157 [Hebrew].

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  • 34

    See Soloveitchik and Rubashov, The History of Biblical Criticism, 154; Shelly, Bible Study in Haskalah Literature, 102–105; Joseph Klausner, A History of Modern Hebrew Literature (1785–1930) (Westport, cr: Greenwood Press, 1972), 78–104 and the bibliography cited therein; Getzel Kressel, s.v. “Krochmal, Abraham,” in ej 10, 1268. For the precise date of his birth, see Judah Lieb Landau, Šnei mikhtavim me-r’ Naḥman Qrokhmal še-katav li-bno r’ ʾAvraham Qrokhmal [Two Letters from R. Nachman Krochmal to His Son Abraham Krochmal] (Vienna: n.p., 1916), ii n. 1.

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  • 37

    Schorr, He-ḥalutz 10, 70–108. Schorr vehemently and grossly attacked Krochmal for emendations he regarded as improper and for not attributing others to their authors, a custom prevalent during this period that on occasion provoked open anger: see Isaac Jacob Weissberg, “Koḥah šel zayfanut [The Power of Forgery],” Ha-boqer ʾor 6 (1881): 123–130.

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  • 42

    Nadler, “The Besht as Spinozist,” 373. Krochmal may have been influenced to a certain degree by the virulently anti-Hasidic writings of Joseph Perl, a Galician Jew of the first half of the nineteenth century.

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  • 44

    See Nadler, “The Besht as Spinoizist,” 361–373. For contemporary awareness of Spinoza’s influence on the thinkers of the period, see Peretz Smolenskin, “Introduction,” in Abraham Krochmal, ʾEven ha-roʾšah (Vienna: Joseph Hallzwarte, 1871), 5 [Hebrew]. In his criticism in He-ḥalutz 10 (pp. 101–102), Schorr notes that Krochmal committed an “unforgivable sin” in associating his “corruptions” with Spinoza, apparently being confounded by his choice of Spinoza.

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  • 48

    For his autobiography, see Ish-Naomi, “Mi-těhom ha-něšiyah [From the Abyss of Oblivion],” Rěšumot 1 (1918): 166–177; 2 (1922): 174–186.

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  • 49

    Elimelech Bezredḳi, ʿEt šeqer sofrim ʾo: miqraʾ měforaš vě-śom śekhel (Drohobycz: A. H. Zupnik, 1905); id., Hago sigim: nosafot la-maḥberet “ʿet šeqer sofrim” (Drohobycz: A. H. Zupnik, 1909). For the titles, see Prov. 25:4 and Jer. 8:8.

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  • 53

    See Mordechai Zalkin, A New Dawn: The Jewish Enlightenment in the Russian Empire—Social Aspects (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2000), 46 [Hebrew].

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  • 57

    Bezredḳi, Hago sigim, 35. Although Bezredḳi refers to Luzzatto on fifteen other occasions in this work, he still seems not have read all of his writings systematically at this point, citing an emendation anonymously that was in fact Luzzatto’s.

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  • 59

    Bezredḳi, ʿEt šeqer sofrim, 5. He does not preclude use of the Aramaic Targumim, however, even if he makes little reference to them. He adduces Targum Onqelos on three occasions (pp. 8, 12, 16), never appealing to the Targumim to the Prophets or Writings. In one place, he brings proof “from one of the Targumim”—apparently the Peshitta (p. 6).

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  • 78

    Isaiah Berlin, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), 195.

  • 82

    Mohr, “Mikhtav me-ʾaḥad mi-ḥakhmey polonyah,” 192; see above, n. 17.

  • 85

    Cf. Steiner, “A Jewish Theory of Biblical Redaction”; Gershon Brin, “Problems of Composition and Redaction in the Bible according to R. Abraham Ibn Ezra,” Těʿudah 8 (1992): 121–135 [Hebrew]; Robert A. Harris, “Awareness of Biblical Redaction among Rabbinic Exegetes of Northern France,” Shnaton 12 (2000): 289–310 [Hebrew]; Israel Moshe Ta-Shma, Studies in Medieval Rabbinic Literature (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2004), 1:273–313 [Hebrew].

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  • 86

    Cf., e.g., Charles Homer Haskins, “The Spread of Ideas in the Middle Ages,” Speculum 1 (1926): 19–30.

  • 87

    See Cohen, “Yahash,” 228. For the possibility that the radical maskilim maintained close social contacts and influenced one another even though not necessarily working within the same organizing conceptual matrix, see Feiner, Haskalah and History, 375–376.

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  • 89

    Ibid., 69–70; Klausner, A History of Modern Hebrew Literature, 4:81.

  • 97

    Elimelech Bezredḳi, “Mokhiʾaḥ ḥakham ʿal ʾozen šomaʿat [A Wise Man’s Reproof in a Receptive Ear],” Ha-boqer ʾor 6 (1881): 98.

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  • 103

    Or most of them; cf. Haran, Biblical Research in Hebrew, 22:195–196.

  • 105

    Ibid., 230.

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