Bendavid, Lazarus

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BENDAVID, LAZARUS (Eleazar ; 1762–1832), German mathematician, philosopher, and educator. He attended the universities of Göttingen and Halle, and spent from 1792 to 1797 in Vienna where he delivered public lectures on Kantian philosophy. In 1802 he became political editor of the newspaper Haude- und Spenersche Zeitung. In 1806 he was appointed honorary director of the Juedische Freischule in Berlin, which he headed until 1825. The school attained a high reputation and a large proportion of its students were Christian until 1819, when the government forbade the enrollment of non-Jews. The school offered a revolutionary model of modern Jewish education combined with a high level of German and secular classic culture that represented the educational and philosophic notions of the Jewish Haskalah. Bendavid began his scientific work in 1785 with an investigation of the theory of colors. In 1786 he published Ueber die Parallellinien, and in 1789 Versuch einer logischen Auseinandersetzung des mathematischen Unendlichen.

In 1795 his Vorlesungen ueber die "Kritik der reinen Vernunft" appeared. Bendavid held that philosophy had attained the pinnacle of its development in the Kantian system. From 1796 to 1798 he wrote a series of works explaining Kant's philosophy. In 1799 he published Versuch einer Geschmackslehre, containing his theory of aesthetics based on Kant. In 1801 the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin awarded him a prize for his study, Ueber den Ursprung unserer Erkenntnis, and published it in 1802.

With this work, Bendavid's philosophical labors came to an end. During his remaining thirty years he wrote solely on Jewish problems. These writings reflect the struggles of the first post-Mendelssohnian Jewish generation with the problem of being Jewish. Bendavid regarded Reform Judaism as the only means of stemming the tide of conversion to Christianity. In his work Etwas zur Charackteristick der Juden (1793), he advocated the abolition of the ritual laws and the cultural and social assimilation of Jews. Nevertheless, he eschewed conversion to Christianity. Kant wrongly interpreted Bendavid's attitude as counseling Jews to accept Christianity and advised them, on the strength of Bendavid's views, openly to adopt the religion of Jesus and thus at long last attain a religious ethic and through it a religion (cf., Kant, Der Streit der Fakultäten; also, the pertinent remarks of Hermann *Cohen in his Kants Begruendung der Ethik (1901), 49). Bendavid's biblical studies are in the spirit of extreme Haskalah rationalism. In an essay in 1797 he attempted to show that the Ark of the Covenant was an electrical device which helped to kindle the wood on the altar. He published studies on the jubilee year, the prohibition of usury, the mixture of wool and linen, the belief in the Messiah, and the written and oral Law. In his article on the Messiah he sought to demonstrate, by investigating the theory of the transmigration of the Messiah's soul, that the belief in the coming of the Redeemer is not a dogma of Judaism and that the bestowal of equal rights upon the Jews would signify that the "Messiah" had come.

add. bibliography:

D. Bourel, "Eine Generation Später – Lazarus Bendavid (1762–1832)," in: M. Albrecht (ed.), Moses Mendelssohn und Kreise seiner Wirksamkeit (1994), 363-80; idem, "Lazarus Bendavids Bildungsweg und seine Tätigkeit als Direktor der jüduschen Freischule in Belin," in: B.L. Behm, U. Lohmann, and I. Lohmann (eds.), Jüdische Erziehung und aufklärerische SchulreformAnalysen zum späten 18. und frühen 19. Jaherhundert (2002), 359–67; I. Lohmann, "Die juedische Freischule in Berlin im Spiegel ihrer Programmschriften (1803–1826)," in: A. Herzig, H.O. Horch, and R. Jütte (eds.), Judentum und Aufklärung (2002), 66–90.

[Samuel Hugo Bergman /

Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]