Beer, Peter

views updated


BEER, PETER (Perez ; pen name: Theophil Nikodem ; 1758 (or 1764)–1838), Austrian educator and author, representative of radical *Haskalah in the Habsburg Empire. Beer, who had a traditional Jewish education, also learned Latin and German. He attended the Prague and Pressburg (Bratislava) yeshivot, and from 1780 studied pedagogy at Vienna University, being one of the first Jews to train as a teacher within the educational reform program introduced by Emperor *Joseph ii. From 1784 he taught at *Mattersdorf, then at his native Nový *Bydžov, and from 1811 until his death at the new Prague "Normalschule." Beer was also appointed "teacher of morals" to the Jewish pupils at Prague high schools in 1813, being probably the first Jew appointed to hold a government appointment and entitled to wear a government employee's uniform. In 1796 Beer published his Toledot Yisrael, a history of the Jews, omitting chapters likely to be unpalatable to enlightened circles, such as the slaying of the prophets of Baal by Elijah, as well as the entire talmudic period. It became the blueprint of biblical history textbooks used by teachers of the Enlightenment school in Europe for many years, both in the original and in translation (the last Russian translation was published in 1905). In 1809 Beer published Dat Yisrael and in 1810 Emet ve-Emunah, religious manuals in German. His two-volume Geschichte, Lehren und Meinungen aller religioesen Sekten der Juden und der Geheimlehre oder Kabbala (1822–23) is even now interesting for the material on the *Frankists and *Ḥasidism. In them, he developed an ideology of "Mosaism," which, parallel to "Christianity" that embraces Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., covers all different Jewish sects. Beer wrote several appeals, some anonymously, to the authorities on matters of public interest, including the question of military service and the establishment of a rabbinical seminary in Prague. He contributed to the periodicals *Sulamith, Ha-Me'assef (see *Me'assefim), and *Bikkurei ha-Ittim, and published a prayer book for "educated women" (1815). He was instrumental in opening the Reform synagogue in Prague and in inviting Leopold *Zunz to serve as preacher. He published a commentary on Genesis intended for readers of all creeds, drawing heavily on contemporary Protestant commentators. Only one installment of his translation of Maimonides' Guide was published (1834). It was sharply criticized by Joseph *Derenbourg. Beer was highly esteemed by the Austrian authorities and was awarded a decoration. However, his educational activities were viewed with suspicion by the majority of Jews. His autobiography, edited by Moritz Hermann, was published in 1839.


Z. Scharfstein, Toledot ha-Ḥinnukh, 1 (1945), 135–6; R. Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den boehmischen Laendern, 1 (1969), index; 39 (1963/64), 128; R. Mahler, Ha-Ḥasidut ve-ha-Haskalah (1961), index; G. Wolf, in: zgjd, 5 (1892), 40–43; G. Scholem, in: ylbi, 7 (1962), 248–9; F. Roubík, in: jggjč, 5 (1933), 313–37;9 (1938), 411–47. add. bibliography: M. Brenner, "Between Kabbala and Haskala: Peter Beer's History of Jewish Sects," in: E. Carlebach and D.N. Myers (eds.), History and Memory: Jewish Perspectives (1998), 389–404; I. Schorsch, From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (1995), index; V. Sadek and J. Šedinová, "Peter Beer (1758-1838): Penseur éclairé de la vieille ville juive de Prague," in: Judaica Bohemiae, 13 (1977), 7–28; R. Michael, Ha-Ketivah ha-Historit ha-Yehudit me-ha-Renesans ad ha-Et ha-Ḥadashah (1993), 155–67. L. Hecht, "How the Power of Thought Can Develop within a Human Mind – Salomon Maimon, Peter Beer, Lazarus Bendavid: Autobiographies of Maskilim Written in German," in: lbi-Year Book, 48 (2002), 21–38; idem, "The Clash of Maskilim in Prague in the Early 19th Century: Herz Homberg Versus Peter Beer," in: Proceedings of the 12th World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem 2000), Division B (History of the Jewish People), 165–74.