Rawidowicz, Simon

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RAWIDOWICZ, SIMON (1896–1957), Jewish scholar, philosopher, Hebraist, and ideologue. Born in Grajewo, then in Russia, Rawidowicz received a traditional Jewish education, during the course of which he became attracted to the Haskalah and Modern Hebrew literature. After the outbreak of World War i in 1914, he moved with his family to Bialystok, where he became active in the Hebrew cultural life of the city. In 1919, he left for Berlin, where he obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1926 for his dissertation on Ludwig Feuerbach, which he expanded into Ludwig Feuerbachs Philosophie: Ursprung and Schicksal ("Ludwig Feuerbach's Philosophy: Sources and Influence," 1931; 19642). Concomitantly, he made his mark as a scholar of Judaica with the publication of Kitvei Ranak ("The Writings of Nahman Krochmal," 1924; 19612), and volume seven of the Jubilee Edition of the writings of Moses Mendelssohn (1930; 19712). Additionally, he established the Hebrew Ayanot Publishing Company (1922–25) and the *Brit Ivrit Olamit (World Hebrew Union, 1931), and edited the Hebrew miscellany Ha-Tekufah (1928–30) with Saul Tchernikowsky and Ben-Zion Katz. In 1933, he left Berlin and after looking unsuccessfully for a position in Ereẓ Israel, went to London, where he continued his research in Jewish philosophy, primarily on Saadiah, Maimonides, Krochmal, and Mendelssohn.

From his youth, Rawidowicz had been a staunch supporter of the development of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and of the political aims of the Zionist movement, but in the early 1930s he also became concerned with the future of Hebrew creativity in the Diaspora. This led him to criticize the accepted Zionist position that the Land of Israel was to serve as the spiritual center for world Jewry and to reject the concept of the "Negation of the Diaspora." He believed that realistically the Jewish Diaspora would continue to exist for the foreseeable future, and that as long as it did, it should be accepted as a fact and encouraged to maintain its own creativity. Consequently, Rawidowicz formulated his concept of "partnership" which posited that rather than being relegated to the inferior role of imitating the spiritual center, the Diaspora should be considered an equal partner. Rejecting the dominant ideology expressed symbolically by a circle with a center and circumference representing the Land of Israel and the Diaspora, respectively, instead he adopted the figure of an ellipse with two foci, the Land of Israel and the Diaspora, with the ellipse itself representing the entirety of the united Jewish people. As historical precedent for the coexistence of two such creative centers, Rawidowicz invoked the experience of the Land of Israel and Babylonia during the talmudic period.

In 1941, Rawidowicz accepted a newly created position in Medieval and Modern Hebrew at Leeds University, eventually becoming head of the department of Hebrew language and literature in 1946. During World War ii, he established the Ararat Publishing Company as an affirmation of Hebrew creativity in the only country in Europe in which it was still possible to publish Hebrew books. Ararat's publications edited by Rawidowicz included the Hebrew miscellany Meẓudah (7 vols. in 5; 1943–54) and Sefer Dubnow (1954). He additionally edited Sefer Sokolow (1942).

In 1948, Rawidowicz left Leeds for the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and in 1951 accepted a new position in Jewish Philosophy and Hebrew literature at Brandeis University. There, he served as the first chair of the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies until his death in 1957. At the time, he was in the final stage of proofreading Bavel vi-Yrushalayim ("Babylon and Jerusalem," 1957), the final and most elaborate formulation of his ideology which also contained a chapter from his projected introduction to the philosophy of Jewish history.

Rawidowicz's overall approach was to stress the importance of the Hebrew language for continued Jewish creativity and to emphasize the ongoing internal process of interpretation within the realm of Jewish thought rather than the influence of external factors. While his philosophical research remains important for the field of Jewish thought, he is increasingly remembered for his ideological approach and insights, which despite the acknowledgment of his great erudition were widely and sharply criticized during his lifetime but in recent years have attracted growing favorable attention.

Many of Rawidowicz' essays and articles have been reissued in four books: Shriftn ("The Yiddish Writings of Simon Rawidowicz"), ed. A. Golumb (Buenos Aires, 1962); Iyyunim Be-Maḥashevet Yisrael: Hebrew Studies in Jewish Thought by Simon Rawidowicz, ed. B. Ravid, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1969–71), with biography and bibliography; and with translations from Hebrew and Yiddish, Studies in Jewish Thought, ed. N.N. Glatzer (Philadelphia, 1974), 3–42, and Israel: The Ever-Dying People and Other Essays by Simon Rawidowicz, ed. B. Ravid (Rutherford, nj, 1986), with biography, reissued in expanded version in paperback under title of State of Israel, Diaspora and Jewish Continuity (Hanover, nh, 1998).


"Simon Rawidowicz," in: American National Biography, 18 (1999), 194–96; A. Greenbaum, History of the Ararat Publishing Society (1998); D.N. Myers, "A Third Guide for the Perplexed: Simon Rawidowicz 'On Interpretation,'" in: W. Cutter and D.C. Jacobson (eds.), History and Literature: New Readings of Jewish Texts in Honor of Arnold J. Band (2002), 75–87; B. Ravid, "Simon Rawidowicz and the 'Brit Ivrit Olamit': A Study in the Relationship Between Hebrew Culture in the Diaspora and Zionist Ideology" (Heb.), in: Studies and Essays in Hebrew Language and Literature: Berlin Congress: Proceedings of the 16th Hebrew Scientific European Congress (2004), 119–54.

[Benjamin Ravid (2nd ed.)]