Stern, Bezalel

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STERN, BEZALEL (1798–1853), educator and pioneer of the *Haskalah in southern Russia. Stern, who was born in Tarnopol, Galicia, was educated in the school of Josef *Perl, where he later taught for ten years. During the late 1820s he was invited by the community of Odessa, which was headed by natives of Galicia (the "Brodyists"), to become director of the Jewish school which had been founded in 1826 by a group of moderate maskilim led by Simḥah *Pinsker and Isaac Hurwitz. Under Stern's direction, the institution expanded, the number of its classes was increased from four to six, sections for boys and girls were opened, and the number of pupils rose to 400. Stern instituted changes in the curriculum by expanding instruction in the sciences and languages (German and Russian) at the expense of Jewish studies. He rapidly won the approval of the Russian maskilim, who corresponded with him on the subject of changes and reforms in the life of the Jews of the country. The Orthodox elements of the community were opposed to these changes, but Stern relied on the support which he received from the municipal authorities, particularly from Governor-General Vorontsov.

In 1837 Nicholas i visited the school and expressed his satisfaction with the institution's course of studies. In spite of this, when the government decided to establish a network of governmental schools for the Jews, Max *Lilienthal, a newcomer to Russia, was appointed to supervise the project. This aroused the anger of Stern, who refused to collaborate with Lilienthal. In 1843 Stern was appointed member of the commission which was to ratify the curriculum of the Jewish governmental schools. The other members of the commission were R. Isaac b. Ḥayyim *Volozhiner, head of the yeshivah of Volozhin, R. Menahem Mendel *Schneersohn, the leader of Ḥabad Ḥasidism, and Israel Heilperin, an Orthodox banker of Berdichev. Stern represented the maskilim but his influence was equivalent to that of all his colleagues because he enjoyed the support of the government. In 1852 Stern was dismissed from his position as director of the Jewish school and its administration was assumed by Christian inspectors.

In addition to his educational activities, Stern also took an interest in Jewish history and archaeology. He maintained relations with Abraham *Firkovich. He also occupied himself with the problems of the Jewish community, as shown by his memorandum on the collection of the meat tax (*korobka) in Odessa.


S.M. Stanislavski, in: Voskhod, 4 (1884); O.M. Lerner, Yevrei v malorossiyskoy kraye (1901); A. Druyanow, Pinsker u-Zemanno (1953), 9–10, 20; P. Friedman, in: Fun Noentn Over, 2 (1938), 99.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

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Stern, Bezalel

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