Friedlaender, David

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FRIEDLAENDER, DAVID (1750–1834), communal leader and author in Berlin, a pioneer of the practice and ideology of *assimilation and a forerunner of *Reform Judaism. Born in Koenigsberg, the son of a "protected Jew," Joachim Moses Friedlaender, a wholesale merchant, David settled in Berlin in 1770, and in 1776 established a silk factory there. As an expert in his field he was appointed counselor of the state commission of inquiry into the textile industry. In 1791 he forwarded a memorandum in the name of the manufacturers, advocating changes in the economic system against excessive government supervision over industry and the granting of protective tariffs to individual manufacturers. However, his interests ranged far beyond his business activities. Entering Moses *Mendelssohn's circle at the age of 21, Friedlaender absorbed Mendelssohn's ideas and became prominent among his followers. Through his marriage in 1772 with Blümchen Itzig, daughter of the banker Daniel *Itzig, he entered one of the wealthiest and most distinguished families of *Court Jews in Prussia.

In 1799 Friedlaender sent his famous Sendschreiben ("Open Letter") to Pastor Teller in which he expressed, "in the name of some Jewish householders," a deistic conception of religion. For this reason he rejected Christian dogma as well as the retention of Jewish ritual precepts. According to him the eternal truths around which enlightened Jews and Protestants should unite were synonymous with the pure teachings of Moses, i.e., with original Jewish monotheism. Throughout his life Friedlaender regarded Mosaic monotheism as an ideal to be followed; it was apparently the positive factor in his decision (in which he differed from many of his circle) against conversion to Christianity. "We are destined from time immemorial to guard and teach by example the pure doctrine of the unity and sanctity of God, previously unknown to any other people," Friedlaender wrote in 1815 in his Reden der Erbauung ("Edifying Speeches"). In his respect for biblical Judaism he was a faithful disciple of Mendelssohn, although Kant, who exercised an influence on Friedlaender, disparaged biblical Judaism. Friedlaender shared the educational ideals and belief in liturgical reform current among representatives of the Jewish enlightenment in Berlin after Mendelssohn, giving expression to these ideas in his writings.

After the issue of the 1812 edict in Prussia he published a paper on the reforms which he deemed necessary as a result of the new organization of the Jews in Prussia (reform of the divine service in the synagogues, of teaching institutions and subjects taught, and of their manner of education in general). Above all, he proposed substituting in the prayer in place of the expression of messianic hopes: "I stand here before God. I pray for blessing and prosperity for my compatriots, for myself and my family, not for the return to Jerusalem, not for the restoration of the Temple and the sacrifices. I do not harbor these wishes in my heart." He proposed that study of talmudic law should be replaced by study of the laws of the country. Friedlaender even wanted to enlist the help of the government in his endeavors for reform. In part as a result of his efforts, a "Jewish free school" was established in 1778; Friedlaender became the organizer and supervisor of the school, which he directed for almost 20 years, with his brother-in-law Isaac Daniel Itzig, along with the Hebrew press and bookshop associated with it. The institution aimed at putting into practice the ideals of enlightened education.

From 1783 to 1812 Friedlaender, as the representative of Prussian Jewry, fought assiduously for the implementation of its demands for equal rights. He headed the "general deputies" of the Jewish communities of Prussia who assembled in Berlin in order to submit their requests to the commission set up by Frederick William ii in 1787. Under Friedlaender's leadership, the deputies rejected the unsatisfactory "Plan for Reform" proposed by the commission. In 1793 he published the documents pertaining to these negotiations under the title Acktenstücke, die Reform der jüdischen. Kolonien in den preussischen Staaten betreffend. In 1809 Friedlaender was the first Jew elected to sit in the municipal council. Continuing the struggle for emancipation, in 1810 he requested an audience with the Prussian chancellor, Carl August von *Hardenberg; as an argument in favor of granting emancipation he pointed to the "wave of baptisms" which indicated the degree of assimilation of Prussian Jewry. Friedlaender's efforts for the emancipation of Prussian Jews are especially important since in them are reflected the main dilemma of Jewish life in Prussia in the first generation after Mendelssohn: how to hold fast to a Jewish identity within a society based on universalist principles.


M.A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew (1967); M. Eliav, Ha-Ḥinnukh ha-Yehudi be-Germanyah (1961); H. Fischer, Judentum, Staat und Heer in Preussen (1968). add. bibliography: H. Ritter, David Friedlaender (1861); S.M. Lowenstein, The Jewishness of David Friedländer … (1994); E. Friedländer, Das Handelshaus Joachim Moses Friedlaender … (1913).

[Michael J. Graetz]