Baer, Yitzhak

views updated


BAER, YITZHAK (Fritz ; 1888–1980), historian. Born in Halberstadt, where he obtained a thorough Jewish education, Baer studied philosophy, classical philology, and history (the latter under Heinrich Finke) at the universities of Berlin, Strasbourg, and Freiburg. From 1919 Baer was research associate of the Akademie fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, under whose auspices he went twice to Spain (1925–26) to collect archival source material on the history of the Jews in Christian Spain. In 1928 he was appointed lecturer and in 1930 professor of medieval Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1932 to 1945 he was professor of general medieval history; he served from 1930 to 1959 as head of the university's department of Jewish history. Baer was one of the founders and editors of the Jewish historical review Zion. A coeditor of the "Historiographical Library" and Sefer ha-Yishuv, he took a leading part in the Israel Historical Society and was one of the 20 founding members of the Israel Academy of Sciences. He also contributed important articles to the German Encyclopaedia Judaica and its Hebrew counterpart (Eshkol). Baer's first extensive research was into the history of the Jews of Christian Spain. On this subject he wrote his dissertation Studien zur Geschichte der Juden im Königreich Aragonien während des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1913); Untersuchungen über Quellen und Komposition des Schebet Jehuda (Berlin, 1923; second printing 1936); Probleme der jüdisch-spanischen Geschichte (in kawj, 6 (1925), 5–25); articles on Abner of Burgos (in Tarbiz, 11 (1939/40), 188–206), on the disputations of Paris, Barcelona, and Tortosa, on Isaac Abrabanel (in Tarbiz, 8 (1936/37), 241–59); Die Juden im christlichen Spanien (1929, 1936), an important two-volume collection of unpublished documents on Spain, which served as the basis for his History of the Jews in Christian Spain (Heb., 1945, 19592, repr. 1965; Eng. ed., 2 vols., 1961–66), which is regarded as the standard work on the subject. Baer's work is remarkable for its broad historical outlook, accuracy in detail, and scholarly synthesis. These qualities enabled him to throw new light on the economic, social, legal, political as well as the religious and cultural condition of Spanish Jewry. His works are a model of historiography. Especially important among his studies of the development and history of the Jewish communal organization are his Das Protokollbuch der Landjudenschaft des Herzogtums Kleve, 1 (1922, repr. 1936), and his article on the beginnings and fundaments of Jewish communal organization in the Middle Ages (Zion, 15 (1949/50, 1–41). His method seeks to bring to light the internal forces that fashioned the Jewish communities within the framework of general history and local conditions. Baer believed that the essential features of Jewish communal organization were already set during the early generations of the Second Temple period and that these forms of organization were a product of the religious and national experiences of the people, and not that the Diaspora gave birth to them, although there were changes reflecting special conditions of time and place. Baer also investigated the spiritual and religious world of the Jewish people from the Second Temple period and the Middle Ages. Among his studies in this area are a series of articles in Zion written between 1932 and 1961 dealing with the theology of the Sefer Ḥasidim (see also Baer's contribution to G. Scholem… Fest schrift, 1968) and the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz in general; with the historical basis of halakhah; with the relations between Jews, the early Christian Church, and the Roman Empire until Constantine; and his books Galut (Ger. 1936; Eng. 1947, Port. 1952) and Yisrael ba-Ammim (1955), and the article "Social Ideals of the Second Commonwealth" (in Cahiers d'Histoire Mondiale, 11 (1967/68), 69–91). From all these emerges an original view of the entire course of Jewish history. According to Baer the driving force of Jewish history lies in the continuing socioreligious activity of groups of pious and practical men of faith who aimed at perfecting the world. They succeeded in influencing the active elements among the people, with their beliefs and teachings, maintaining close ties with the non-Jewish world, and participating in its religiocultural and socioethical development. Baer reveals keen understanding of hellenistic and Christian culture and society. From this vantage point he examined the history of the Jews in the days of the Second Temple. His conclusions may be evaluated from his above-mentioned works as well as from articles in Molad (21 (1963), 308ff.) and Zion (23–24 (1958–59), nos. 3–4) and on Serekh ha-Yaḥad ("The Manual of Discipline," Zion, 29, 1964), which he sees as a Judeo-Christian document of the beginning of the second century c.e. He also dealt with the image of Judaism in the synoptic gospels (Zion, 31, 1966) and came to the conclusion that the polemics reflect conditions of the period following the destruction of the Temple. Baer is recognized as one of the most fruitful students and teachers of Jewish history of modern times. A jubilee volume was published in his honor in 1961 on the occasion of his 70th birthday (including his bibliography up to 1959).


I. Sonne, in: jsos, 9 (1947), 61–80; L. Yahil, in: Molad, 21 (1963), 549–3: H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: Religion and Society, Lectures of the Historical Society of Israel (Heb., 1964), 23–40; J.M. Millás, in: ks, 9 (1932/33), 464–5; C. Roth, ibid., 15 (1938/39), 200–1; F. Cantera, in: Sefarad, 1 (1941), 232–3; 26 (1966), 346–52; J.M. Millás, ibid., 5 (1945), 417–40; 6 (1946), 163–88; 22 (1962), 178–80.

[Benzion Dinur (Dinaburg)]