David D'beth Hillel

views updated


DAVID D'BETH HILLEL , (d. 1846), traveler and scholar, author of Travels from Jerusalem through Arabia, Kurdistan, Part of Persia and India to Madras 1824–32 (Madras, 1832). D'Beth Hillel left his native Vilna at the beginning of the 19th century, settled with other pupils of the Gaon of Vilna in *Safed around 1815, and began his long journey to the East in 1824. He traveled through *Palestine, *Syria, and remote regions of *Kurdistan and *Persia. After spending a year in Baghdad and other communities in Mesopotamia, he sailed from Bushire to India, landing at Bombay in October 1828. He then journeyed to Cochin (*Kochi) where he remained four months, returned to Bombay for a two-year sojourn, and then traveled through the Bombay presidency until he reached Madras in 1831. While waiting there for passage to return to Palestine, he taught Hebrew to some English clergymen, including the Anglican archdeacon T. Robinson to whom he dedicated his Travels. He returned to *Jerusalem in 1838, revisited India in 1845, and died the next year in Calcutta.

D'Beth Hillel was the first Jewish traveler since *Benjamin of Tudela to leave so detailed an account of the various Jewish communities in the Orient and of other Oriental sects and religions. His information and observations on the geographical distribution, the socio-economic structure, and the languages and dialects of the Jews in Palestine, Kurdistan, Persia, and India made his Travels an invaluable source of information on the Oriental Diaspora in the early 19th century. The book, published in an edition of only 300 copies, is extremely rare and has been used by only a few scholars.


Yaari, in: Sinai, 4 (1939), 24–53 (Heb. tr. of chapters on Palestine); Fischel, ibid., 5 (1940), 218–54 (Heb. tr. of chapters on Kurdistan, Babylonia, and Persia); idem, in: jsos, 6 (1944), 195–226 (biographical details); idem, in: Oriens, 10 (1957), 240–47; idem, in: In the Time of Harvest, Essays… H. Silver (1963), 170–85.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]