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Wessely, Wolfgang


WESSELY, WOLFGANG (1801–1870), Hebrew scholar and jurist; the first Jew to hold a full professorship in Austria. Born at Trebitsch, Moravia, in 1829, he was the first Jew to receive a doctorate in philosophy from Prague University; four years later he received a doctorate in civil law, and later published legal studies. He also applied for a doctorate in canon law, but as a Jew, was rejected. Wessely first served as a teacher of religion at a Jewish school in Prague and compiled a catechism, Netib Emuna (1841), which went through eight editions. In 1844, after the death of the Hebrew censor, Carolus *Fischer, Wessely applied for the post of translator at this office, also presenting the authorities with a proposal for the "establishment of an institute for the science of Judaism [*Wissenschaft des Judentums] and its rabbinical literature at the local university." The conservative leaders of the Prague community, M. *Landau, Samuel Freund, and S. Rapoport, were hostile to Wessely's proposal, and also questioned his qualifications for initiating it. However, Christian academic opinion was on Wessely's side. In 1846 Wessely began to lecture at Prague University on Hebrew and rabbinical literature before a mixed Christian and Jewish audience. In 1851 he was appointed, in addition, extraordinary professor of criminal law. He promoted the introduction of the jury system into Austria. In 1861 he became a full professor at the university.


O. Muneles (ed.), Bibliographical Guide to Jewish Prague (1956), index; G. Kisch, Die Prager Universitaet und die Juden (1969), index.

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