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Zunz, Leopold


ZUNZ, LEOPOLD (Yom Tov Lippman (n) ; 1794–1886), philologist, among the founders of the "Science of Judaism" (*Wissenschaft des Judentums). Born in Detmold, Germany, the child of talmud scholar Immanuel Menachem Zunz (1759– 1802) and Hendel Behrens (1773–1809), daughter of Dov Beer. In 1795 the family moved to Hamburg where his father and various teachers introduced him to *Hebrew Grammar, the *Talmud, and the *Pentateuch. After the death of his father, Zunz was educated at the *bet-midrash Samsonsche Freischule at *Wolfenbuettel as of 1803. Samuel Meyer Ehrenberg, an advanced Jewish educator who was appointed director of the school in 1807, recognized Zunz's great talents and helped him in his development; teacher and pupil remained friends until Ehrenberg's death in 1853. Ehrenberg's reforms at the school included the insertion of subjects such as religion, history, geography, French, and German, which Zunz described as a sudden transition from the "middle ages into modern times," and from "Jewish helotism into civic freedom." From 1809 to 1811, Zunz studied at the local high school (Gymnasium), and from 1810 to 1815 was an assistant teacher at the Samsonsche Freischule. In 1811 he read Ẓemaḥ David by David *Gans and Bibliotheca Hebraea by Johann Christoph *Wolf, which awoke his interest in Jewish history and literature. From 1815 to 1819 he studied at the University of Berlin and acquired a scientific academic grounding; he was particularly influenced by the great classical scholars Friedrich August Wolf (1759–1824) and August Boeckh (1785–1867).

Zunz's scholarly work began in 1817, when he wrote Etwas ueber die rabbinische Literatur (1818) and researched Sefer ha-Ma'alot by Shem Tov b. Joseph *Falaquera; in 1821 he received his doctorate at the University of Halle for this research. Due to his desire to give Judaism a new definition in keeping with the spirit of the times, he cofounded the *Verein fuer Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden in 1819, which considered the scientific and historical approach to the "Science of Judaism" as being the best way to achieve society's goals. Zunz edited the Zeitschrift fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums issued by the society (1822) and published three articles in it, including a biography of *Rashi.

Zunz, who then favored the spirit of *religious reform, was invited to deliver sermons in the new synagogue in Berlin starting in May 1820, and in August 1821 he was appointed preacher there, resigning a year later in disappointment with his congregation. A collection of his sermons (Predigten) appeared in 1823. He made his living as a member of the editorial board of the Berlin daily newspaper, Haude und SpenerscheZeitung (1824–31) and as director of the primary school of the Jewish community, the Juedische Gemeindeschule (1826–29). His chief interest, however, was his research in Hebrew literature. Zunz used the vast material he had accumulated and the notes he had collected from manuscripts and printed works on his visits to libraries (at Hamburg, the *Oppenheim collection in 1828, and that of H.J. *Michael in 1829) in writing his great work on liturgic addresses which appeared in 1832, Die gottesdienstlichen Vortraege der Juden historisch entwickelt (see below).

In 1834–35, Zunz gave 34 public lectures on the Psalms. From September 1835 to July 1836, Zunz served as a preacher to a private religious association in Prague. From 1840 to 1850, he directed a Jewish teachers' seminary (Israelitisches Schullehrerseminar) in Berlin.

His hope that one of the universities would recognize Jewish studies as an academic subject and appoint him as its representative was not fulfilled. In 1848, he sent a letter on this subject to the Prussian minister of culture, but his proposal was turned down. Zunz for his part did not agree to the establishment of separate *rabbinical seminaries for fear of severing the "Science of Judaism" from general intellectual life. He also had little use for the *synods of German progressive rabbis which had begun to convene in 1844, as he could not see any benefit in their reforms; he preferred to carry on his scholarly work alone.

Zunz went on to publish Toledot R. Azaryah min ha-Adumim (in Heb. in: Keren Ḥemed, 5 (1841); 7 (1843)), 13 articles on Jewish subjects (in the Ersch and Gruber encyclopaedia, 1842), and Zur Geschichte und Literatur (1845). In 1850, the community granted him a modest pension. He devoted most of his time to research on the *piyyut, the *seliḥot, and various *liturgies, publishing over time Die synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters (1855), Der Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes (1859), Literaturgeschichte der synagogalen Poesie (1865), and additions to the latter (1867). This work required visits to various libraries, including the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, and the library in Paris (1855; where he visited Heinrich *Heine, his friend from the days of the Verein fuer Cultur and Wissenschaft der Juden), and the de *Rossi library at *Parma (1863). Zunz remained barred from the important Vatican library, however, as he was Jewish.

His other literary contributions in the period after 1850 included: the publication of Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman of Nachman *Krochmal in accordance with the terms of the author's will (1851); articles on Judaism in the Brockhaus lexicon (1853); and a biography of his teacher Samuel Meyer Ehrenberg (1854). In honor of his 70th birthday (1864) the Zunz Foundation (Zunzstiftung) was set up in order to support his scholarship and various other undertakings in the "Science of Judaism." In 1874, the death of his wife Adelheid (Bermann (1802–1874)) caused him deep depression. He ceased to work, and only prepared a collection of his articles (Gesammelte Schriften), which appeared in three volumes in 1875–76, for publication. The Zunz Foundation issued a jubilee volume in honor of his 90th birthday (1884) entitled Tiferet Seivah (Hebrew and German). After an industrious and a passionate life, Zunz died at the age of 91 and was buried at the cemetery of Schoenhauser Allee in Berlin.

Main Research

In Etwas ueber die rabbinische Literatur (which appeared in 1818 and was the first attempt to reflect Hebrew literature in all its branches), Zunz outlined the program and aims of the "Science of Judaism" and his own plan of work. According to Zunz, Jewish literature should not be shut within the narrow confines of religious and halakhic tradition, as this literature also embraces the other humanities, as well as natural sciences. A knowledge of Hebrew literature in its broader sense would make possible the recognition of Jewish history as an inseparable part of the history of human culture in general – research into Hebrew literature is part of the humanities in general. He believed that the time was ripe for this research because the rabbinical epoch had come to an end and Hebrew literature had to be evaluated before it and its knowledge would disappear. Further, a scientific report on the Jew's very active past would testify to his talent and readiness to make contributions in the present, which would serve to facilitate obtaining civil rights. After an overview of all subjects to which Jewish culture had contributed in the Disaspora, Zunz returned to his main aim. By treating the rabbinical literature as an integral part of a universal humanistic culture (i. e., philosophy), he hoped to ban all prejudices against Jews and their literature.

Though in his outline for the investigation of Jewish literature, which he later called a "piece of immature work of youth," Zunz had used "only half speech," as he confessed to Ehrenberg, his Die gottesdienstlichen Vortraege der Juden was regarded as "no book, but an event; not a literary work but a school" (D. *Kaufmann). After his plan to write a four-volume introduction to the Wissenschaft des Judentums was not realized, he used his collected materials to demonstrate the historical-philological aims of the new "Jewish science." The main text focuses on the *Synagogue and especially its midrashic literature as the pillar of the Jewish nation in the Diaspora. Hundreds of works and thousands of references were combined into a single organic literary structure in which Zunz describes the prophets' teaching, out of which developed the reading of the Torah and of the *Prophets, the *Targum, and the sermons. He focuses on the development of *Oral Law; the activities of the *amoraim and the *geonim and their writings; all aspects of *aggadah; on preaching, its place in intellectual life; and the places of Jewish settlement in which preaching had been customary from ancient times up to the period of the *maskilim and the religious reformers.

Zunz seldom filled in the historical background of literary works, merely referring to it only to bring out the connection between the periods and the continuity in the tradition of preaching in its various forms. Only details of his research needed correcting. Sefer Ravyah, criticisms of Zunz's book by Eliakim Samiler (or *Mehlsack) of Brody, appeared in 1837. Zunz made use of the latter's corrections and suggestions in preparing a second edition of the Vortraege, which appeared in 1892 with N. *Bruell as editor. Despite the scientific and objective character of the book, one can discern in it signs of political controversy and a defense of religious reforms. In the foreword, Zunz links the neglect of Jewish literature with the inferior civil status of the Jewish community; only a knowledge of the spiritual heritage of Jewry would encourage enlightened statesmen to grant the Jew the same rights and civil liberties. The Jew who is familiar with his people's past will know how to reform his religious customs and thereby prepare himself for his new status in society. According to his sympathy for the Reform movement during that time, in the last chapter Zunz approves the various reforms in the synagogues because in this "internal emancipation" he sees a parallel to external political liberation. This scientific book therefore concludes with the hope that the contemporary Jew will yet be a partner in the development of a unified culture for all mankind. (A Hebrew translation by M.A. Zak appeared in Jerusalem in 1947, edited by Ḥanokh Albeck.)

The central idea of Etwas ueber die rabbinische Literatur appears again in Zur Geschichte und Literatur. In this book he claims it is not right to restrict the scope of Jewish literature and separate it from general culture; the literary productions of the Jews merely supplement general literature, and both exert a mutual influence upon each other. It is true that there were periods of tension and hatred which did not recognize the commands of scholarship, but in the end, the scientific spirit will triumph and Hebrew literature will go forth from its isolation. The chapters deal with the sages of France and Germany in the Middle Ages, collections of manuscripts and printed works, printers and typography, Jewish poets in the south of France, and the history of the Jews of Sicily. The book includes important information from primary sources and accurate records of great historical and literary value. Thoughts on the philosophy of history, announced earlier by the Hegelian thinker and his friend Eduard *Gans, can be found again in the metaphor that Jewish literature is a particular stream that runs into the universal ocean of human culture. While Zunz himself intended to list and arrange his collected materials in order to enlighten the preceived relationship between Jews and the Diaspora societies, the book has been described as impossible to analyze (S. *Schechter) because of its many-sided cultural-historical aspects.

In Die synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters, Zunz concentrated on the most characteristic creation of Jewish religious life. At first he decided to limit his research to the seliḥah literature that expresses the sorrow of Israel, the suffering of the Exile, faith in the divine covenant, the idea of repentance and beseeching pardon, and the anticipation of the redeemer's coming. Only in the course of the work did he decide to add a discussion on piyyut literature, i.e., on the liturgical poetry that later supplemented the prayers. Zunz did not succeed in writing a book that reflected sacred poetry in its entirety, but his work was the first research undertaking of its kind. In the first chapter (The Psalms), a kind of preface to the book, he repeats the idea of the continuity and organic development of Jewish literature. The prophet who announced the word of the Lord to the people and the poet who poured out his soul before God bequeathed their roles to the sages (the authors of the aggadah and teachers of the nation) and the paytanim. The form of expression underwent change, but the People of Israel both in the biblical era and after the destruction of the Temple was one people. The state fell, but the nation preserved its inner freedom and its creativity. The synagogue became both a political and religious center, a meeting place for the thinker and the poet. In the liturgy are expressed the "history and martyrology of the people, its past and future; the attitude of man's spirit to its origin, the attitude of the individual to mankind and the attitude of man to nature." Historic conditions change, but the covenant between God and Israel stands fast and the synagogue is the witness of this phenomenon.

While in the prefaces to his earlier books Zunz had stressed the organic structure of the history of the human spirit and the universally human framework of Jewish literature, he later abandoned this idea – even if not entirely – and concentrated on the inner life of the Jews. Perhaps the reason for this was his disappointment at the failure of the 1848 Revolution; from then on it was impossible for him to believe in a democratic union of mankind and the revival of its creative powers. Also, he no longer pinned his hopes on religious reforms in modern Judaism. For him, the "Science of Judaism" filled the vacuum which had been created.

Der Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes is a continuation of this work. Zunz traced the change in liturgical customs, according to the places of Jewish dispersion, and described the influence on these customs of various historical phenomena, such as the *Kabbalah, the *Inquisition, the invention of printing, and the contact with Western culture beginning with Moses *Mendelssohn.

With Literaturgeschichte der synagogalen Poesie, his pioneering efforts in the field of synagogue poetry came to an end. This work, which is based on research of 500 manuscripts, describes more than 6,000 liturgical pieces and records the history of the paytanim and their works up to 1540. Although his intention had been to write an internal history of this literature, he never realized this plan; his talent for producing bibliographies and for performing research proved stronger than his ability to shape historical concepts.

Attitude to Political Life

From his youth, Zunz remained a confirmed democrat and liberal. In his opinion, the state was to be founded on ideals of justice, law, and morality, and must grant basic human freedom and equal rights to all citizens. As a supporter of Enlightenment, he criticized organized religion (the Church) as being opposed to a free state and also demanded total separation of church and state. He regarded the French Revolution and its democratic ideals as the historical point of reference of both the 1830 and 1848 revolutions, and as the basis of a political development which should end with the creation of a European state based upon law and justice (Rechtsstaat). Zunz also believed in an amalgamation of Wissenschaft and politics. He claimed that the lack of full civic rights for Jews caused a neglect of their science and vice versa; thus, only through Wissenschaft could full equality be reached. Consequently, he committed himself to participating in numerous public concerns. For example, he was commissioned by the Jewish community of Berlin to write a treatise on Jewish names as a response to a royal decree banning the use of Christian names by Jews (Namen der Juden (1837)). In this work, Zunz showed that Jews had always adopted the names found in the Diaspora societies and that the so-called "Christian" names had long been used by Jews. In 1840, he expressed his opinion in a historical-political essay in the Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung against the anti-Jewish imputations of the *Damascus Affair ("Damaskus, ein Wort zur Abwehr"). With his Kurze Antworten auf Kultusfragen (1844), he attempted to clarify Jewish religion and culture for the Prussian officials, and he also participated in a revision of the restricted emancipation law of 1812 for the united diet of Prussia in 1847. From 1848 to 1850 he took part in political propaganda, gave background talks to democratic citizens' associations, and was chosen to the electors' council (Wahlmaenner) of the Prussian diet and the German national assembly (Nationalversammlung) in Frankfurt on Main. These activities ceased in the years of reaction (1850–58) and were resumed in 1859 after the death of Frederick William IV. At the beginning of the Bismarckian Era, however, Zunz soon recognized that there was no hope of his democratic and liberal principles being implemented and subsequently withdrew from such activities. A compilation of his political speeches can be found in the collection of his articles (Gesammelte Schriften, Volume I).

Contribution to the "Science of Judaism"

Zunz devoted his life to the outline and development of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. According to the modern historical-philological school of F.A. Wolf and A. Boeckh, he intended an exploration of all post-biblical rabbinical or, as he called it, Jewish literature. But instead of modern classical studies (Wissenschaft des Altertums), which treated ancient cultures as completely past, he pursued a substantial interest in the nature of Judaism. In addition to parallels to the modern classics, Zunz participated in the contemporary philosophical discourse about the progress of world history and mankind – most influentially expressed by Johann Gottfried *Herder and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich *Hegel. For him, the historical, cultural and religious achievements of the "Hebrew/Jewish nation" in the Diaspora was revealed in all its written sources. In so doing, Zunz denied several basic values of traditional Judaism, but in their place offered the modern Jew an interest in history. One can discern a definitely negative attitude to the area of the Talmud and the Kabbalah; he considered their spirit as opposed to that of the "Science of Judaism." It is worth noting that among the many subjects in Jewish literature, Zunz chose the most "Jewish": the Midrashim and liturgical poetry. As a researcher he was precise and assiduous, demanding scientific perfection. He did not have disciples, but most of the researchers who followed him learned from him even if they did not accept his ideological premises, and his research served as the foundation and the basis for the "Science of Judaism."

The Zunz Archives

After Zunz's death, his literary estate was presented as a gift to the Zunz Foundation and placed in the *Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. In 1939, the archives were taken to Jerusalem and given to the National and University Library. They include the minute book of the Verein fuer die Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden, documents relating to Zunz's life, among them Das Buch Zunz (his diary), drafts of speeches, part of his printed books and articles with comments and additions in his handwriting, and the originals or copies of letters from him and letters received by him or his wife. Microfilm copies of a selection of this material are in the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. His library, which contained many valuable manuscripts, was bought by the Judith Lady Montefiore College in Ramsgate (1869–1896) and later integrated in the collection of *Jews' College, London.


Already during his lifetime Zunz became an, if not the, icon of the Wissenschaft des Judentums for scholars like L. *Geiger, G. *Karpeles, M. *Brann and I. *Elbogen, who put much effort into the investigation of his life, work and correspondence (after the Holocaust N.N. *Glatzer was one of those who proceeded with this task). However, at the turn of the 20th century, critical voices increased. Franz *Rosenzweig reported from a conversation with Hermann *Cohen the philosopher's harsh verdict of Zunz: "He could have been a great historian, and was nothing but an antiquarian" (H. Cohen, Juedische Schriften (1927)). Shneur Zalman *Shazar blamed Zunz for erecting a wall between Jews and non-Jews out of "the martyrlogium of Jewish history" instead of rejecting such a division, as he had promised (I.S. Rubaschoff, Erstlinge, in: Der Juedische Wille (1918)). Finally, Gershom *Scholem accused the Wissenschaft des Judentums and Zunz as its prominent representative (as well as his younger colleague and friend Moritz *Steinschneider) of pursuing a dialectic between constructive and destructive tendencies (G. Sholem, "Mi-Tokh Hirhurim al Ḥokhmat Yisrael," in: Lu'aḥ ha-Areẓ (1944)). Despite all this criticism, however, fascination for the life and work of Zunz has continued, since he is still to be regarded as one of the most important personalities in the development of the Wissenschaft des Judentums and, arguably, of Jewish studies in general.


L. Wallach, Liberty and Letters: The Thoughts of Leopold Zunz (1959); N.N. Glatzer (ed.), Leopold and Adelheid Zunz; An Account in Letters, 18151885 (1958); idem, in: ylbi, 5 (1960), 122–39; idem (ed.), Leopold Zunz: JudeDeutscherEuropaeer (1964); S. Baruch (= A.S. Oko), in: Menorah Journal, 9 (1923); S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, 3 (1924), 84–142; F. Bamberger, in: paajr, 11 (1941), 1–25; L. Geiger, in: zgjd, 5 (1892), 223–68; S. Maybaum, in: Zwoelfter Bericht ueber die Lehranstalt fuer die Wissenschaft des Judenthums (1894); mgwj, 38 (1894), 481–527; D. Kaufmann, in: adb, 45 (1900), 490–501; M. Wiener, Juedische Religion im Zeitalter der Emanzipation (1933), 177–87; I. Elbogen, in: Fuenfzigster Bericht der Lehranstalt fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums (1936), 14–32; Bernfeld, in: jjgl, 31 (1938), 223–47; A. Altmann, in: ybli, 6 (1961), 3–59. add. bibliography: A. Altmann, in: Der Morgen, 12 (1936), 5–9; I.E. Barzilay, in: jba, 51 (1993), 173–84; M. Brann, in: mwgj, 38 (1894), 493–500; idem, in: jjgl, 5 (1902), 159–205, 6 (1903), 120–157; S.S. Cohon, in: huca, 31 (1960), 251–76; I. Elbogen, in: mgwj, 81 (1937), 177–85; idem; in: jjgl, 30 (1937), 131–72 (with bibliography); L. Geiger, in: zgjd, 5 (1891), 223–68; idem, in: mgwj, 60 (1916), 245–62, 321–74; idem, in: Im deutschen Reich, 5 (1917), 193–201, 6 (1918), 245–50; A. Gottschalk, in: Judaism, 29 (1980), 268–94; G. Jacobsohn, in: azj, 58 (1894), 385–90; M.-R. Hayoun, in: Pardès, 19–20 (1994), 133–43; G. Karpeles, in: azj, 58 (1894), 171–73, 199–200, 234–35; D. Kaufmann, in: mwgj, 38 (1894), 481–93; G. Kisch, in: huca, 38 (1967), 237–58; A. Marx, paajr, 5 (1933–34), 95–153; M.A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew. Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany (1967); idem, in: ybli, 16 (1971), 19–41; M.R. Niehoff, in: ybli, 43 (1998), 3–24; T. Rahe, in: Judaica, 42 (1986), 188–99; J. Raphael, in: zgj, 7 (1970), 31–36; M. Ritter, in: Archiv fuer Begriffsgeschichte, 45 (2003), 121–50; D. Rosin, in: mwgj, 38 (1894), 504–14; H.I. Schmelzer, in: Occident and Orient. A Tribute to the Memory of A. Schreiber (1988), 319–29; I. Schorsch, in: ybli, 22 (1977), 109–28; idem, in: ybli, 31 (1986), 281–315; idem, ybli, 37 (1992), 33–43; M. Simon, in: Kairos, 30–31 (1988–1989), 121–32; H. Soussan, The Science of Judaism. From Leopold Zunz to Leopold Lucas (1999); H.H. Steinthal, Ueber Juden und Judentum (1906), 226–31; J. Theodor, in: mwgj, 38 (1894), 514–23; C. Trautmann-Waller, Philologie allemande et tradition juive. Le parcours intellectuel de L. Zunz (1999); L. Trepp, in: Emuna, 7 (1972), 248–54; Veltri, in: JSQ, 7 (2000), 338–51; K.G. Wesseling, in: bbkl, 14 (1998) (with bibliography); L. Wieseltier, in: History and Theory, 20 (1981), 135–49.

[Nahum N. Glatzer /

Gregor Pelger (2nd ed.) ]

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