Guenzburg, Mordecai Aaron

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GUENZBURG, MORDECAI AARON (1795–1846), Hebrew author and founder of the first modern Jewish school in Lithuania. Guenzburg was born in Salantai and earned a living as an itinerant tutor until 1835 when he settled permanently in Vilna. In 1841 he and the poet Solomon *Salkind founded a modern Jewish school, which he directed as headmaster until his death. Guenzburg became one of the leading spokesmen for the Vilna Haskalah, though he was a moderate who opposed radical change. He observed the practical mitzvot which, under Moses *Mendelssohn's influence, he viewed as social regulations for the benefit of the Jewish community. He opposed the extremism of both the Orthodox and the secularists. When Max *Lilienthal was invited to Russia by the authorities, Guenzburg joined the Vilna maskilim in attacking Lilienthal's attempts to win over the Orthodox and ridiculed his German ways and superficiality.

Guenzburg's books in the area of French and Russian history enjoyed wide circulation and helped improve his financial condition. In 1844 and 1862 he published Devir (2 vols.), an anthology of letters, essays, and short stories, containing, among others, letters by Goethe, *Heine, and *Boerne, and a translation of the letters of Moses Montefiore's personal secretary, Eliezer Halevi (Louis *Loewe), who accompanied Montefiore on his first trip to Palestine. Devir also contained essays about the neglected Jewish communities in the Arab lands, China, and Ethiopia. Devir aroused in its readers a love for Palestine and influenced Abraham *Mapu and Kalman Shullmann. His autobiography Avi'ezer, his most original work, appeared in 1864 (reprint 1966). Written in the style of Rousseau's confessions, it portrays the inner world of the Jewish child, and is a ringing attack on the ḥeder system of education. Stylistically, Guenzburg surpasses his contemporaries by far. For the sake of accuracy he resorted to mishnaic Hebrew, introducing talmudic phrases and neologisms, many of which became commonly accepted and are still in use, for example, milhemet magen ("defensive war"), milhemet tigrah ("offensive war"), rahitim ("furniture"), beit-do'ar ("post office"), etc. Guenzburg was the literary forerunner of P. *Smolenskin, J.L. *Gordon, M.L. *Lilienblum, and R.A. *Broides. His other works include Ittotei Rusyah Ha-Ẓarefatim be Rusyah (1843), on the Franco-Russian War of 1812; Pi-hahiroth (1843), a history of the wars of 1813–1815.


D. Maggid, R. Mordecai Guenzburg 17951846… (Heb., 1897), includes bibliography; J. Fichmann, in: M. Guenzburg, Ketavim Nivḥarim (1911); Klausner, Sifrut, 3 (19603), 120–70; J.S. Raisin, The Haskalah Movement in Russia (1913), 213–21; Waxman, Literature, index. add. bibliography: A.L. Mintz, "Guenzburg, Lilienblum and the Shape of Haskala Autobiography," in: ajs Review, 4 (1979), 71–110; M. Pelli, "Iyyun be-Aviezer le-M.A. Guenburg," in: Ha-Do'ar, 62 (1983), 156–57; Y. Bartal, "M.A. Guenzburg: Maskil Litai mul ha-Modernah," in: Ha-Dat ve-ha-Ḥayyim (1993), 109–25; M. Pelli, "Ha-Otobiografyah ke-Zhaner Sifruti be-Sifrut ha-Haskalah: Ḥayyavshel ha-Maskit M.A. Guenzburg," in: Ha-Do'ar, 78 (1999), 19–20.

[Abba Ahimeir]