Friedlaender, Israel

views updated


FRIEDLAENDER, ISRAEL (1876–1920), scholar, Zionist, community activist. Friedlander was born In Kovel, Poland, and raised In Praga-Warsaw. After proving his ability at an early age to master biblical and rabbinic texts, he moved, like many promising scholars of his generation, to Berlin, where he enrolled in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Matriculating at the University of Berlin, he then transferred to the new German University of Strasbourg, where he earned a Ph.D. in Semitic languages under Theodor Noeldeke. In his dissertation, he argued for the purity of the Arabic language in Maimonides's Guide to the Perplexed.

Denied a German University post because of antisemitism, in 1903, Friedlaender welcomed an invitation by Solomon *Schechter to join the faculty of the reorganized Jewish Theological Seminary as a professor of Bible. Two years later, he married Lilian Ruth Bentwich, daughter of the prominent British Zionist Herbert *Bentwich.

Friedlaender's scholarly oeuvre was, in large part, devoted to drawing previously ignored connections between medieval Arabic and Jewish cultures, focusing upon their similarities in the areas of messianism, sectarian heterodoxy, and folklore. His writings include "The Heterodoxies of the Shiites in the Presentation of Ibn Hazm," in: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 27 and 29 (1907–8); "Shiitic Elements in Jewish Sectarianim," in: Jewish Quarterly Review, n.s. 1, 2, 3 (1910–1913); and Die Chadirlegende und der Alexanderroman (1913).

From Berlin the young Friedlaender had contacted the Jewish philosopher *Ahad Ha-Am and the historian Simon *Dubnow. He translated their writings throughout his career, and after 1905 transmitted their ideas in essays and public lectures delivered in many North American cities.

Friedlaender developed his social thought along lines laid out by Ahad Ha-Am. His view of the diaspora was influenced by Dubnow. While his Seminary colleagues remained ensconced in their ivory tower, Friedlaender also took part in communal activity. He and his friends Harry Friedenwald, Henrietta *Szold, and Judah *Magnes kept the faz (Federation of American Zionists) afloat in the lean years before World War i. His explications of Zionist history and ideology helped to convince Louis D. *Brandeis to seize the helm of the movement during the Great War.

Friedlaender aided Judah Magnes in founding the New York Kehillah and chaired its Bureau of Jewish Education. He founded together with Mordecai *Kaplan the first Young Israel synagogue where the sermon was given in English. Friedlaender was a trustee of the Educational Alliance, which helped Americanize immigrants. There he became a gadfly, advising the secularists who controlled the organization to schedule clubs, classes, and lectures with Jewish content.

The shock of war in 1914 turned Friedlaender's attention to Jewish suffering in Eastern Europe. In 1915, he published a short popular history of that community. His translation of Dubnow's History of the Jews of Russia and Poland appeared in three volumes between 1916 and 1920. Dubnow himself never published this work, so the English translation is the only available version. A collection of Friedlaender's essays entitled Past and Present, was published in 1919 and reprinted in part in 1961.

Two crises marked Friedlaender's final years. In 1918 he was appointed the Jewish representative on a Red Cross expedition to Palestine. As he was preparing to depart, New York newspapers published letters by prominent Zionists Stephen S. Wise and Richard Gottheil. Unfairly citing Friedlaender's previous ties to Germany, they recommended his removal from the commission on the grounds of disloyalty. In anger and sadness, Friedlaender resigned his place in the expedition.

To assuage the disappointment, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (jdc) appointed Friedlaender to a commission formed to aid Jews in Ukraine, where postwar national frustrations and historic enmity had erupted into ferocious pogroms. In July 1920, Friedlaender and Rabbi Bernard *Cantor ventured into a battle-torn area near Kamenetz-Podolski. They were murdered on a lonely road and left naked in the mud. Despite careful investigation, neither the motive nor the identity of the killers was discovered. The Jewish community of Yarmolyntsi, the nearest town, buried the bodies and put up a crude monument.

Denied access to the cemetery from 1922 onward until Ukrainian independence, in 2001, at the request of Friedlaender's Jerusalem family, his body was exhumed and found its final resting place in the land of his dreams.


B.R. Shargel, Practical Dreamer: Israel Friedlaender and the Shaping of American Judaism (1985); L. Friedlaender, J. Magnes, and A. Marx's tributes to Friedlaender, in: Menorah Journal, 6 (Dec., 1920); B. Cohen, Israel Friedlaender: A Bibliography of his Writing with an Appreciation (1936); M. Bentwich, Lilian Ruth Friedlaender, A Biography (1957).

[Baila Round Shargel (2nd ed.)]

About this article

Friedlaender, Israel

Updated About content Print Article