Bernfeld, Simon

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BERNFELD, SIMON (1860–1940), rabbi, scholar, and author. Bernfeld was born in Stanislav, Galicia, and was educated in Koenigsberg and Berlin. In 1886 he was appointed chief rabbi of the Sephardi community of Belgrade, Serbia; he remained there until 1894, when he returned to Berlin and devoted himself to scholarly pursuits. He continued his literary work until his death, despite blindness in his later years. Bernfeld wrote several monographs in Hebrew on Jewish history and philosophy, the earliest published when he was only 19 (in Ha-Maggid, 1 (1879), 91ff.). His best-known work is Da'at Elohim ("Knowledge of God," 2 vols., 1897), a history of religious philosophy. He also wrote Toledot ha-Reformaẓyon ha-Datit be-Yisrael (1900), a history of the Reform movement; Benei Aliyyah (2 vols., 1931), a collection of monographs on famous Jews of various periods; Sefer ha-Dema'ot ("Book of Tears," 3 vols., 1923–26), an anthology of historical sources in prose and verse on the persecution of Jews from the earliest periods until the Ukrainian pogroms of 1768, still an important reference work; and Mavo Sifruti-Histori le-Khitvei ha-Kodesh (3 vols., 1923–25), an introduction to the Bible from the viewpoint of biblical criticism. Bernfeld also wrote in Hebrew on the history of the Haskalah in Germany and Galicia, Dor Tahapukhot (1897–98) and monographs on Muhammad (1898) and on the Crusades (1899). Bernfeld's works in German include Juden und Judentum im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (1898); Der Talmud, sein Wesen, seine Bedeutung und seine Geschichte (1900); and Kaempfende Geister in Judentum (1907). His German translation of the Bible, which follows traditional translations, was published in several editions. Bernfeld edited Die Lehren des Judenthums (4 vols., 1920–24 and later editions; Eng. tr. of vol. 1 by A.H. Koller, Teachings of Judaism (1929), vol. 1: Foundations of Jewish Ethics, with new introduction by S.E. Karff, 1968). Although not original in his ideas, Bernfeld popularized and disseminated much important literary and scientific knowledge.


I. Klausner, Yoẓerim u-Vonim, 1 (19442), 290–8; idem, Yoẓerei-Tekufah u-Mamshikhei Tekufah (1956), 153–61; eiv, 9 (1958), 870–2; M.J. bin-Gorion, Kitvei… Bi-Sedeh-Sefer, 2 (1921), 52–63; Voyeslavsky, in: Gilyonot, 2 (1934/35), 478–84; S.B. Weinryb, in: Bitzaron, 1 (1939/40), 502–11; Hodess, in: New Judea, 16 (1940), 73–74.

[Joseph Gedaliah Klausner]