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Ruelf, Isaac


RUELF, ISAAC (1831–1902), rabbi, early advocate of *Ḥibbat Zion and political Zionism. Born in Rauisch-Holzhausen, a village in Hesse, Ruelf worked as a teacher until his rabbinical ordination in 1857. In 1865 he received his academic degree from the University of Rostock. In the same year, he became the rabbi of Memel and continued in this capacity until his retirement. He spent his last years with his family in Bonn. As the rabbi of Memel, he began a new page in the history of the rabbinate of Western Europe. He took an interest in the East European Jews who lived on the other side of the German-Russian border and organized relief projects for them, especially during the years of famine at the end of the 1860s. He made two trips to Russian Lithuania, the first in order to acquaint himself with the lives of East European Jews and the second after the outbreak of pogroms against Russian Jewry at the beginning of the 1880s. He published his impressions of these two trips in Meine Reise nach Kowno (1869), and Drei Tage im juedischen Russland (1882). In these works he writes with great sympathy and affection of rooted Jewish life in the East, which he compares favorably with the rootlessness of Jewish life in the West. His name became so intimately associated with various relief projects undertaken on behalf of Russian and Lithuanian Jews that he became known as "Doktor Huelf " (meaning "help").

Ruelf was profoundly influenced by *Pinsker's Autoemanzipation (1882) and in 1883 published a book in German with the Hebrew title of Aruchas Bas Ami (Aruḥat Bat Ami), in which he discusses the Jewish problem in Europe and the ways of solving it. Ruelf 's book is distinguished by its clear designation of Ereẓ Israel as the location for the solution, and by its insistence on the value of speaking Hebrew in the future Jewish state, which is explicitly mentioned. Pinsker acknowledged that Ruelf 's book complemented his own. After this Ruelf became active in the Ḥibbat Zion movement, and with the appearance of *Herzl, he became one of his greatest admirers. With the emergence of the rabbinical protest in Germany against the holding of the First Zionist Congress in Munich (see *Protestrabbiner), Ruelf was one of the few Western rabbis to come out strongly against the anti-Zionist rabbis. He was also one of the first to clarify the question of "dual loyalty," i.e., of the relation between German citizenship and Zionism. He was active in the affairs of the World Zionist Organization and the German Zionist Federation until the end of his life.

Ruelf published a number of philosophical works, including: Wissenschaft des Weltgedankens und der Gedankenwelt (2 vols., 1888); Wissenschaft der Krafteinheit (1895); Wissenschaft der Geisteseinheit (1898); and Wissenschaft der Gotteseinheit (1888–1903). He also acted as the editor of the daily newspaper Memeler Dampfboote. Aruchas Bas Ami was published in a Hebrew translation with the addition of correspondence, a monograph, and a bibliography by A. Levinson (1946).


R. Michael, in: blbi, 6, no. 22 (1963), 126–47.

[Getzel Kressel]

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