Bloch, Joseph Samuel

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

BLOCH, JOSEPH SAMUEL

BLOCH, JOSEPH SAMUEL (1850–1923), rabbi, publicist, and politician in Austria. He acquired distinction for his defense of Judaism against the *blood libel and was praised by Adolf *Jellinek as the "Hercules of the antisemitic Augean stables." Son of a poor baker in Dukla (east Galicia), Bloch attended yeshivot at Lemberg and Eisenstadt and then the universities of Munich and Zurich. After officiating in provincial communities, he became rabbi of the Vienna suburb of Floridsdorf and a teacher at Jellinek's bet ha-midrash. During the *Tisza-Eszlár blood libel trial in 1883, when August *Rohling undertook to attest on oath that Jews practiced ritual murder, Bloch attacked him in the press. He challenged Rohling's competence as a scholar, accused him of lying, and offered him 3,000 florins for translating a random page of the Talmud. Rohling was forced to sue Bloch for libel, but after two years' investigations withdrew his action 13 days before the trial was due to open.

Bloch was elected in 1884, 1885, and 1891 to the Austrian Parliament from a preponderantly Jewish constituency of Galicia, and was the first parliamentarian to make Jewish affairs his main political concern, regarding himself as an interpreter and defender of Jewish thought to the non-Jewish public. In 1884 he founded a weekly, Dr. Blochs Oesterreichische Wochenschrift, for combating antisemitism, which existed until after World War i, and also established the *Oesterreichisch-Israelitische Union (from 1921: Union deutsch-oesterreichischer Juden). He also lectured in Social Democratic associations on social conditions in the time of Jesus. Bloch was guided in his political activities by Adolf *Fischhof. He developed a previously unknown militancy and Jewish awareness which brought him into conflict with other Jewish leaders in Austria. In Der nationale Zwist und die Juden in Oesterreich (1886) he asked Jews to remain neutral in the struggle of the various nationalities within the Hapsburg Empire and to consider themselves "Austrian Jews" and "Jewish Austrians." He thus supplied the ideology for the Hapsburg patriotism with which the majority of Jews in the realm associated themselves around the beginning of the 20th century. Bloch saw the struggle for Jewish rights as part of the fight for the principle of equality for all nationalities in the empire, which the monarchy would have to recognize in order to exist. He also initiated proceedings against further ritual murder accusations by Franz Deckert and Paulus *Meyer and was active during the *Hilsner case.

At first a supporter of Zionism and Theodor *Herzl, Bloch published one of Herzl's articles in 1896 and introduced him to the finance minister, Bilinski. However, Bloch preferred the concept of "colonization-Zionism," regarded Jewish nationality as closely linked with the Jewish religion, and refused to close his paper to non-Zionists. Herzl, on the other hand, failed to appreciate Bloch's fight against antisemitism. By around 1900 Bloch had become alienated from the Zionists. He visited Ereẓ Israel before his death.

For his work in the Jewish cause Bloch was warmly received on visits to the United States in 1912, and again in 1920. During World War i he raised funds on behalf of the Austrian government in neutral countries. He published a compendium of apologetics, Israel und die Voelker (1922; Israeland the Nations, 1927), based on the evidence of the experts in connection with the Rohling trial, and his memoirs Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben (1922; My Reminiscences, 1927). He also wrote prolifically on Jewish lore.

bibliography:

M. Grunwald, in: Festschrift des juedischtheologischen Seminars Breslau, 2 (1929), 1–12; L. Kolb, in: Dr. Blochs Wochenschrift (Nov. 20, 1920), in honor of his 70th birthday; Ch. Bloch, in: Herzl Yearbook, 1 (1958), 154–64; J. Fraenkel (ed.), Jews of Austria (1967), index; M. Grunwald, Vienna (1936), 433–57; W.J. Cahnman, in: ylbi, 4 (1959), 111–39 and passim.

[Meir Lamed]