Fuenn, Samuel Joseph

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FUENN, SAMUEL JOSEPH (1818–1890), Hebrew writer of the more traditional wing of the Russian Haskalah and an early member of Ḥovevei Zion. Fuenn, who was born in Vilna, received a traditional Jewish education, and afterward joined the circle of Haskalah supporters there. He was a founder of the first Jewish school in the city (1841) where he taught Bible and Hebrew. Together with L. Hurwitz he published the literary magazine Pirḥei Ẓafon (1841–44), the first such Hebrew work to appear in Russia. When the government rabbinical school opened in Vilna in 1847 he joined it as a teacher of Bible and Hebrew language. In 1856 he was appointed inspector of the government Jewish schools in the Vilna District. In 1863 he opened a Hebrew printing press in Vilna. He edited and published Ha-Karmel (1860–81) which appeared first as a weekly and then as a monthly. Fuenn wrote extensively in Hebrew and Russian for this periodical, and his articles included studies of the history of Russian Jewry and literary criticism, as well as the first chapters of his autobiography, Dor ve-Doreshav. Because of his moderate views on the Haskalah, his traditional way of life, and his financial independence, Fuenn achieved a prominent role in the leadership of the Vilna Jewish community. He was also highly respected by the civilian authorities and was the recipient of government medals. When the Ḥibbat Zion movement began, he helped establish a society in Vilna and headed it, together with L. Levanda. He was later elected to the central committee in Russia. In his later years Fuenn devoted himself to two important works. The first was a biographical lexicon of notable Jews, Keneset Yisrael (1886–90). The second was an extensive Hebrew dictionary, Ha-Oẓar, which was the first in the history of Hebrew lexicography to cover the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, the Hebrew poets, and medieval philosophers; the dictionary also included a translation of terms into Russian and German. Only the first volume, comprising the first seven letters alef to zayin, appeared in the author's lifetime; the remaining three volumes were completed from Fuenn's notes by S.P. *Rabbinowitz (1900–03). For the meaning of Hebrew words Fuenn relies upon the works of the medieval grammarians, especially Ibn Janaḥ and David Kimḥi, as well as modern lexicographers. His Hebrew dictionary is a summary of the knowledge available in his generation, which still lacks systematic etymological insight. Its strong point is the collection of references to the sources, the Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud, and liturgical and Aramaic texts. He died in Vilna. Fuenn's other works include a history of the Second Temple, Divrei ha-Yamim li-Venei Yisrael (Vilna, 1871–77), Kiryah Ne'emanah (Vilna, 1860), a monograph on the Vilna community, and a number of textbooks and translations of juvenile historical novels and short stories.


Klausner, Sifrut, 4 (19532), 115–20; Z. Vilnai, in: Gilyonot, 15 (1943), 236–43; G. Elkoshi, in: Yahadut Vilna, 1 (1959), 438–41.

[Yehuda Slutsky]