Bernstein, Aron David

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BERNSTEIN, ARON DAVID (1812–1884), German political and scientific writer and one of the founders of the Jewish Reform community in Berlin. Born in Danzig (Gdansk), he had a thorough religious education in a yeshivah in Fordon, but no secular schooling of any kind. At the age of 20 he went to Berlin, where he taught himself the German language, and literature and science. He earned his living for some years as an antiquarian bookseller, but began publishing in German in 1834 with an annotated translation of the Song of Songs. Bernstein combined progressive thought in politics, science and religion with a nostalgic affection for Jewish ghetto life. His main interest was natural science, of which he became a successful popularizer. He promoted the Jewish Reform Movement in Berlin, proclaiming that change is the basic principle of Judaism. In addition he edited the community monthly, Die Reform-Zeitung. Bernstein's widely read stories, written in the German-Jewish dialect (Judendeutsch)Voegele der Maggid and Mendel Gibbor (1860; reissued 1934, 1935, 1994) – were forerunners of a literary genre which sentimentalized the Jewish lower middle class in small-town ghettos. They were translated into several languages. During the Prussian liberal era, Bernstein, who wrote under the pseudonym of A. Rebenstein, was influential as a political journalist. A champion of democracy, he fought on the barricades during the Prussian revolution of 1848. In 1849, when the revolutionary tide receded, he founded the Urwaehlerzeitung, an organ advocating moderate political reform. This brought him into conflict with the authorities, and in about 1852 the newspaper was suppressed and he was sentenced to four months' imprisonment. As a successor to the Urwaehlerzeitung, Bernstein founded the influential daily, the Berliner Volkszeitung, where his political editorials and articles on popular science appeared for nearly 30 years. A selection of his political articles was published in 1883–84. His essays on science, Naturwissenschaftliche Volksbuecher, were published in 21 volumes (1855–56), and a Hebrew translation (mainly by David Frischmann) entitled Yedi'ot ha-Teva appeared in Warsaw from 1881 to 1891. Bernstein himself was a practical scientist and experimented widely in telegraphy and photography.

add. bibliography:

J.H. Schoeps, Buergerliche Aufklaerung und liberales Freiheitsdenken (1992); R. Heuer (ed.), Lexikon deutsch-juedischerAutoren 2 (1993), 289–300 (bibl.); G. von Glasenapp, Ausder Judengasse (1996).

[Robert Weltsch /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]