David Sclar

This paper examines the pervasive religiosity of Tzemah David and of its subsequent reprinting. David Gans’s work of history was published at least ten times between the end of the sixteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century, indicating its popularity and continued relevance among Eastern European Jews. The book took on varied and unexpected meaning, as printers amended the text to renew it for successive generations. Although some historians have argued that early modern Jews did not have an imminent interest in historical events, the sustained demand for Tzemah David suggests that Ashkenazic Jewry valued history as it related, in the least, to Jewish religious identity. That is, piety involved more than memory, and historiography, broadly speaking, has not only been utilized in the realm of the secular. As I will show, Tzemah David provided laymen entry into personal religiosity otherwise reserved for scholars of rabbinic texts.