Heller, Bernát

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HELLER, BERNÁT (1871–1943), Hungarian scholar, Arabist, folklorist, and literary historian. Heller was born in Nagybicse, Hungary. He was ordained at the rabbinical seminary in Budapest, in 1896. From 1896 to 1919 he taught French and German and sometimes also Hungarian literature in a non-Jewish high school in Budapest. In 1919 he was appointed director of a newly established Jewish high school in Budapest. From 1922 to 1931 he taught Bible at the rabbinical seminary in Budapest, and thereafter he became superintendent of the Jewish schools in Budapest. Heller was a member of the ethnographical and Oriental societies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Deeply influenced by his teachers W. *Bacher and I. *Goldziher, Heller devoted his life to the study of aggadah and Islam. He tried to interpret aggadic literature by comparing its themes, motifs, and sources to the literatures of other peoples. He was particularly interested in tracing themes common to aggadah and early Christian literature and aggadah and Islamic legendary literature. As a folklorist and general literary historian, he also wrote comparative studies on Western European literature, particularly on Jewish influences on Western European and Hungarian novelists and poets. Heller was the author of most of the articles on the legends of Islam and the legends surrounding biblical personalities for the Encyclopaedia of Islam (4 vols., 1913–36) and for the German Encyclopaedia Judaica (10 vols., 1928–34). During the last years of his life Heller devoted himself to the study of the Apocrypha. He translated the Book of Tobias and the Additions to Daniel for A. Kahana's Ha-Sefarim ha-Ḥiẓonim (1947). Among Heller's works are Die Bedeutung des arabischen Antar-Romans fuer die vergleichende Literaturkunde (1931) and "Das hebraeische und arabische Maerchen" (in J. Bolte and G. Polivka's Anmerkungen zu den Kinder-und Hausmaerchen der Brueder Grimm, 4 (1930), 315–418). He was a frequent contributor to the Revue des Etudes Juives, the Jewish Quarterly Review, and the Monatsschrift fuer die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums. His devotion to his teacher I. Goldziher is reflected by his editing a volume in honor of his 60th birthday entitled Keleti tanulmányok ("Oriental Studies," 1910). He translated Goldziher's Vorlesungen ueber den Islam into Hungarian as Előadások az iszlámról (1912), and prepared a bibliography of Goldziher's works, Bibliographie des oeuvres de Ignace Goldziher (1927).

A gentle person, Heller greatly influenced many Hungarian rabbis. On his 70th birthday he was honored by a multilingual jubilee volume edited by A. Scheiber, Jubilee Volume in Honour of Bernat Heller (1941), which contains a bibliography of his writings.


Budai Izraelita Hitközség, Heller Bernát jubileuma (1941); A. Scheiber, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Ma'arav Eiropah, 1 (1959), 223–31.

[David Samuel Loewinger]