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Stern, Abraham Jacob


STERN, ABRAHAM JACOB (1762–1842), Polish maskil and mathematician. Stern was born in Hrubieszów (Lublin province) and then moved to Warsaw, where he was able to widen the scope of his education. While developing his interest in mathematics, he also acquired profound talmudic erudition. He revealed his technical talents in his improvements in the mechanism of the watch and his invention of a threshing machine and a calculating machine (1812). The senator N. Norosiltsev introduced him to Czar Alexander i in 1815 and obtained an annual pension for him from the state treasury. Stern also wrote ethical and occasional poems of some linguistic originality. When the Committee for Jewish Affairs was established in 1825, Stern was a member of its consultative council. Submitting the project of the proposed rabbinical seminary to be established in Warsaw, he stressed its role in the campaign against Ḥasidism. In 1826, however, when he was offered the position of principal of this institution, he politely refused since he felt that it would produce rabbis who were not truly devoted to their religion and would be more active in Polonization than in propagating culture among the Jewish masses.

Remaining strictly Orthodox, Stern was opposed to assimilation, maintaining that rather than breaking with the past it was important to enrich general culture with the values of Judaism. He was one of the few maskilim who did not cut himself off from Jewish nationalism and because of his individuality was a popular figure in Warsaw. During his travels he visited various countries, especially Germany, and acquired a knowledge of foreign languages. The Poles and Russians respected his great erudition. He was the only Jew to be honored with membership in the Royal Society of the Friends of Science, where he demonstrated the operation of his calculating machine. Together with Jacob *Tugendhold he also acted as censor of Hebrew. Stern was the father-in-law of Ḥayyim Zelig *Slonimski, whom he influenced in the spheres of his interests and work.


S. Lastik, Z dzìejów Oświęcenia żydowskiego (1961), 180–4; A. Levinson, Toledot Yehudei Varshah (1953), 116–7; J. Shatzky, Geshikhte fun Yidn in Varshe, 1–3 (1947–53), indexes; idem, in: The Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 203–18; R. Mahler, Ha-Ḥasidut ve-ha-Haskalah (1961), index; idem, Divrei Yemei Yisrael, 5 (1970), index.

[Moshe Landau]

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