Jacob, Benno

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JACOB, BENNO (1862–1945), rabbi and Bible scholar. He studied at the rabbinical seminary and university of his native Breslau. From 1891 to 1906 he served as a rabbi in Goettingen and from 1906 to 1929 in Dortmund. In 1929 he retired from the rabbinate, settled in Hamburg, and devoted himself entirely to exegetical work. From 1939 he lived in England. His principal field of activity in biblical research was the Pentateuch. Although he was not a fundamentalist, his conclusions, as a result of his study of the text rather than on religious grounds, were a complete denial of modern Bible criticism – both textual criticism and Higher Criticism with its documentary hypothesis. He regarded the traditional text more reliable than the ancient translations. He considered the arbitrary textual emendations of Higher Criticism to be unscientific because their only purpose was to validate the latter's own assumptions. Moreover, he accused the school of Higher Criticism of antisemitic trends and of prejudices against Judaism. His opinions were propounded in Der Pentateuch, exegetischkritische Forschungen (1905) and Quellenscheidung und Exegese im Pentateuch (1916). He clarified biblical ideas and expressions which had not been properly understood in Im Namen Gottes (1903) and Auge um Auge, eine Untersuchung zum Alten und Neuen Testament (1929). He also developed a theory concerning the internal rhythm of the Bible, which is expressed by the repetition of key words in set numbers in the narratives of the Torah and its laws, in Die Abzaehlungen in den Gesetzen der Buecher Leviticus und Numeri (1909). His major exegetical work is Das erste Buch der Torah: Genesis, uebersetzt und erklaert (1934). While Jacob did not accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch nor the dogma of literal inspiration, he found in its composition so much literary unity and spiritual harmony that all search for its "sources" appeared to him an exercise in futile hypothesis. His comprehensive commentaries on Exodus and a section of Leviticus are extant in manuscript. (An excerpt from the commentary on Exodus was published in Judaism, 13 (1964), 3–18.) His struggle against antisemitism began during his university years; in 1886 he founded the first Jewish students' society – Viadrana – which introduced fencing duels as a method of defending the honor of Judaism when it was degraded by antisemitic students. He was active as an orator and author in the fight waged by German Jews against antisemitism mainly in the years after World War i. He opposed Zionism not only because of his belief in a Jewish-German synthesis, but also because he saw in Zionism a complete secularization of Judaism and a basis for Jewish atheism.


Wilhelm, in: ylbi, 7 (1962), 75–94; E.I. Jacob, in: Paul Lazarus Gedenkbuch (1961), 93–100; idem, in: H.C. Meyer (ed.), Aus Geschichte und Leben der Juden in Westfalen (1962), 89–109 (includes bibl.).

[Jacob Rothschild]

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Jacob, Benno

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