Klatzkin, Jacob

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KLATZKIN, JACOB (1882–1948), author, philosopher, and Zionist. Klatzkin was born in Bereza Kartuska, Brest-Litovsk district, today Belarus. The son of Elijah *Klatzkin, a prominent rabbinical scholar, who gave him a thorough education in all branches of traditional Jewish studies. At the age of 18, Klatzkin went to Germany, first to Frankfurt on the Main and then to Marburg, where he studied philosophy under Hermann *Cohen. He received his doctorate from the University of Berne in 1912. In the following years Klatzkin was active in Germany as a writer for Hebrew periodicals, including Ha-Zeman, Ha-Shilo'aḥ, and Ha-Tekufah, and as editor of Die *Welt, the organ of the Zionist Organization (1909–11), and later in Heidelberg, of the Freie Zionistische Blaetter. From 1912 to 1915 he was director of the Jewish National Fund in Cologne. From 1915 to 1919 he edited the Swiss Bulletin Juif, which covered world events of special relevance to Jews during World War i and established the publishing firm Al ha-Mishmar, which issued a series of books on Jewish problems in French and German. In Berlin Klatzkin founded another publishing house, Eshkol, and continued writing for the Jewish press. In 1924 he and his lifelong friend Nahum *Goldmann initiated the Encyclopaedia Judaica, of which ten volumes (to the article "Lyra") appeared between 1928 and 1934. Two volumes of a parallel Hebrew edition, Enẓiklopedyah Yisre'elit, were issued in 1929–32. Klatzkin acted as editor in chief in cooperation with leading Jewish scholars. Although the advent of Hitler prevented the publication of the remaining volumes, what was published continues to be an important reference work. After the curtailment of the publication of the encyclopedia, Klatzkin took refuge first in Switzerland and then in the U.S., where he lectured at the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago. In 1947, after a further period in New York, he returned to Switzerland.

Klatzkin was a student of philosophy as well as a brilliant Hebrew essayist. In philosophy Klatzkin opposed his teacher Cohen, whose philosophy and interpretation of Judaism he submitted to searching criticism in the monograph Hermann Cohen (19212; Heb., 1923). He also devoted a critical study to Spinoza, Baruch Spinoza (Heb., 1923, 19543), in which he stressed the Jewish influences in his intellectual background and style; he translated Spinoza's Ethics from the Latin to Hebrew as Torat ha-Middot (1924; last reprinted, 1967). Klatzkin developed his own philosophy, which may be described as vitalistic, emphasizing the biological, instinctive aspect of life rather than the intellectual one, in Sheki'at ha-Ḥayyim ("Decline of Life," 1925), and in Der Erkenntnistrieb als Lebens und Todesprinzip (1935). It comprises epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and a "metaphysic of human impulses." According to Klatzkin, the constantly increasing cognitive impulse leads to the weakening of man's vitality. Spirit, the culture-creating force in man, tends to change from a life-creating to a life-negating process. History is the arena in which this conflict develops, and self-preservation demands a reaction against the over-intellectualization of life. Within this framework culture, religion, and art are expressions and functions of the life process. Klatzkin's philosophical system is not "pure" philosophy but is, rather, a philosophy of culture and art; and as such, to his distress, it was ignored by academic philosophers. His Jewish-nationalist ideology was based on his general philosophy and is presented in Probleme des modernen Judentums (1918; second edition, Krisis und Entscheidung im Judentum, 1921). In his view the impulse of self-preservation among Jews in modern times created a revolutionary situation, in which the Jewish people turned away from over-intellectualization and spiritualization to the resumption of national life in its own country, with its own language. A country and a language, according to Klatzkin, determine the life of a nation, not abstract religious or cultural ideas. This nationalistic and secularist theory was as much opposed to Hermann Cohen's assimilationist concept of the messianic role of the Jews in the Diaspora as to the spiritual nationalism of *Aḥad Ha-Am, who advocated Ereẓ Israel merely as a spiritual center. Klatzkin's miscellaneous writings were published in a number of collections of essays: Kera'im (1924), Zutot (1925), Teḥumim (1928), and the posthumously published Ketavim (1953), and Yalkut Massot (1965; ed. by J. Schachter with introduction, notes, bibliography, 1965). A volume in English, In Praise of Wisdom, appeared in 1943. A major contribution to Jewish scholarship as well as to Hebrew revival was his and M. Zobel's edition of Thesaurus Philosophicus Linguae Hebraicae, which includes a dictionary of Jewish philosophical writers; Antologyah shel ha-Pilosofyah ha-Ivrit (1926); and a philosophical dictionary, Oẓar ha-munnaḥim ha-Pilosofiyyim (4 vols., 1928–33), which contains the terminology of medieval religious philosophers. Klatzkin also published a Hebrew anthology of aphorisms and fragments from classical philosophy, Mishnat Rishonim (1925) and Mishnat Aḥaronim (posthumous, 1952), the latter covering the period from Montaigne to modern times. A first installment of an autobiography, Zikhronot (18991901), appeared in 1902. Despite his unusual talents and achievements in several areas, Klatzkin was not accepted as a scholar by academicians and, to his great disappointment, was not invited to teach philosophy at the Hebrew University.


J. Klausner, in: Moznayim, 4:4–5 (1932–33); M. Waxman, in: Festschrift… Hadoar (1927), 106–10; J. Rosenheim, Beitraege zur Orientierung im juedischen Geistesleben der Gegenwart (1920); I. Zollschan, Revision des juedischen Nationalismus (1919); M. Meisels, in: Hadoar (Nov. 11, 1932); E. Ginzberg, Keeper of the Law (1966), 270–2; T. Ben-Mosheh, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Ma'arav Eiropa, 1 (1958), 433–44; J. Klausner, Pilosofim ve-Hogei De'ot (1956), 235–55; Z. Woyslowski, Yeḥidim bi-Reshut ha-Rabbim (1956), 248–64; I. Cohen, Sha'ar ha-Soferim (1962), 227–49; M.Z. Sole (ed.), Le-Mahutah shel ha-Yahadut (1969), 121–39; Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 771–3 (with additional bibliography).

[Moshe Zeev Sole and

Samuel Scheps]