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Rabbis and RevolutionThe Jews of Moravia in the Age of Emancipation$

Michael Miller

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780804770569

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804770569.001.0001

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Nehemias Trebitsch and the Decline of the Moravian Chief Rabbinate, 1832–1842

Nehemias Trebitsch and the Decline of the Moravian Chief Rabbinate, 1832–1842

(p.99) Three Nehemias Trebitsch and the Decline of the Moravian Chief Rabbinate, 1832–1842
Rabbis and Revolution
Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Nehemias Trebitsch was Benet's successor as chief rabbi of Moravia. This chapter discusses Trebitsch's role in the decline of the Moravian chief rabbinate. During Trebitsch's tenure as chief rabbi, many complaints have been raised against him. Trebitsch sought to use his authority to keep reform-minded rabbis out of the Jewish communities under his purview and continuously interfered in the religious, educational, and communal affairs of Moravian Jewry. He also intervened in the Moravian rabbinic elections throughout the 1830s.

Keywords:   Nehemias Trebitsch, Benet, Moravia, chief rabbinate, Moravian Jewry, rabbinic elections

We are well aware of the respect we owe the dead. We take to heart the teachings of our sages: to treat the name and reputation of the deceased with leniency; therefore, we will only momentarily touch upon the failings, which had a decidedly detrimental impact on the Chief Rabbi's official activity, embroiling many Moravian Jewish communities in objectionable lawsuits and disputes.

Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, November 5, 1842

With an almost palpable sigh of relief, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums reported the death of Rabbi Nehemias (Nah. um) Trebitsch in 1842, just ten years after he had succeeded Mordecai Benet as chief rabbi of Moravia and Austrian Silesia. Like Benet, Trebitsch met his death after taking a summer cure in Carlsbad, Bohemia, but the impact of these two deaths could not have been more different. The Nikolsburg Jewish community took painstaking efforts to have Benet disinterred from the Jewish cemetery in Lichtenstadt (near Carlsbad) so that he could be laid to rest in the community he had lovingly served for forty years. No such effort was mounted to bring the deceased Nehemias Trebitsch back to Nikolsburg; instead, the late chief rabbi was buried in his native Prague, far from the province where—in the words of another obituary—“his strict and loveless hostility towards all innovation made him many enemies.”1

A string of bitter and protracted conflicts during Trebitsch's tenure as chief rabbi (1832–1842) “made him many enemies” among the Jewish population in Moravia. For the most part, these conflicts were initiated by Trebitsch, who sought to use his authority to keep reform-minded rabbis out of the fifty-two Jewish communities under his purview. From (p.100) the beginning of his tenure as chief rabbi, Trebitsch (Figure 7) continuously tried to shore up his authority over the religious and educational affairs of Moravian Jewry, but his attempts repeatedly backfired. His many “improprieties” riled the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, especially after his detractors succeeded in portraying him—somewhat disingenuously—as an “enemy of German language and literature.” As a result, he was stripped of or denied a number of prerogatives regarding the appointment and certification of communal rabbis and religious teachers. During Trebitsch's ten years in Nikolsburg, these prerogatives devolved—de facto if not de jure—to Moravia's individual Jewish communities. In the case of rabbinic elections, the Gubernium repeatedly resolved disputes so that the “will of the community” took precedence over the will of the chief rabbi. In the case of Jewish education, the chief rabbi was repeatedly denied the exclusive authority to examine and approve religious teachers. When community religious schools were set up in the late 1830s, Trebitsch had little influence beyond the confines of his own community.

Born in Prague on August 14, 1779, Trebitsch spent his first forty-seven years in the Bohemian capital, where he acquired a reputation as a talmudic scholar of first rank. Son of the prayer-leader at Prague's Altneuschul (Old-New Synagogue), Trebitsch received his first instruction in Bible and Talmud at the community-supported talmud torah school for indigent children. After his father's death, the young Nehemias was brought up in the house of Rabbi Jacob Günsburg, one of the leading talmudists in Prague. Günsburg sat on Prague's rabbinic court and headed one of Prague's yeshivas for nearly forty years. Trebitsch, one of Günsburg's “most distinguished and beloved students,” was ordained by him in 1811 and began conducting Talmud lessons at his yeshiva in the same year.2 In 1813, Trebitsch was appointed rabbi at Prague's Klausen Synagogue and became a state-approved Talmud teacher in 1823.

Trebitsch's relationship with Mordecai Benet proved decisive for the rest of his rabbinic career. In 1816, Benet bestowed upon Trebitsch the title of morenu (our teacher), which allowed him to make halakhic decisions, and described him as “one of the most brilliant, laudable, and learned students of religious jurisprudence.”3 Benet himself admired Trebitsch's “extensive talmudic erudition and extraordinary genius and (p.101)

Nehemias Trebitsch and the Decline of the Moravian Chief Rabbinate, 1832–1842

Figure 7. Nehemias Trebitsch, Moravian-Silesian chief rabbi, 1832–1842. Courtesy of Jewish Museum in Prague, inv. č. 63124.

(p.102) sagacity” and expressed a desire to have him close to Nikolsburg.4 When the Prossnitz community elected a rabbi in September 1825, Benet used his influence to ensure that Trebitsch was their first choice. In March 1826, Trebitsch left Prague, accompanied by “a large crowd of friends and admirers,” and was welcomed as the new rabbi in Prossnitz “with particular honor and great distinction.”5

Trebitsch's rabbinic stature was enhanced by his association with Benet, but his predecessor's specter proved almost impossible to escape after Trebitsch was installed as Moravian chief rabbi in 1832. As Isaac Hirsch Weiss, one of Trebitsch's students in Nikolsburg, observed in his memoirs, “It is no wonder that there were people in the community who could not transfer their love for the deceased rabbi to the living rabbi, for his memory was still alive in their souls.” As Weiss recalled, comparisons between the two rabbis were unavoidable, with Trebitsch always on the losing side. One of Benet's former students even disparaged Trebitsch's talmudic knowledge with the following wisecrack: “Our teacher, Rabbi Mordecai received the tablets directly from God, whereas Rabbi Nah. um was nourished merely by their scraps [nit'asher min ha-pesolet she-ba-luḥot].”6 Trebitsch was well aware of the difficulties inherent in succeeding a rabbinic luminary of Benet's stature. In accepting the invitation to become Nikolsburg's communal rabbi, Trebitsch humbled himself before his deceased predecessor, asking, “Who could possibly succeed the king? [Who could possibly] fill his shoes? Who am I that you have placed this authority on my shoulders, elevating me to a higher plane, to the exalted throne sanctified by him?”7 In subsequent years, these same questions would be asked by Trebitsch's many detractors—with the rhetorical politeness conspicuously absent, however. As a traveler later observed, Trebitsch “possesses the knowledge of his predecessor, but of [Benet's] exquisite character, he does not possess particularly much.”8

When Trebitsch was elected Moravian chief rabbi in 1830, Benet's specter was already discernible. Trebitsch's only serious challenge came from Isaias Benet, Mordecai Benet's second-born son, and the communal rabbi of Misslitz since 1823.9 Although the chief rabbinate had never been an inherited office, Isaias asserted a dynastic right to his father's position. Mordecai Benet had made such a deep and lasting impression (p.103) during his forty-year tenure that the claims of his 38-year-old son found resonance in the ears of the six rabbinic electors. The electors, rabbis from each of Moravia's six administrative districts, convened in Brünn on December 22, 1830, to choose the new chief rabbi.10 Each elector chose three candidates, ranking them in order of preference. Trebitsch received five primo votes and one secundo vote, and Isaias Benet received one primo vote and five secundo votes. As the son of the late chief rabbi, Isaias overshadowed other, more renowned Moravian talmudists, such as Joseph Feilbogen, Bernard Oppenheim, and Abraham Bäck, who received two tertio votes each.11

Before Trebitsch could be installed as chief rabbi, his election had to be confirmed by the Court Chancery. The Gubernium expected this largely formal procedure to take a few weeks, but Trebitsch had to wait more than sixteen months before his final confirmation came through.12 A sluggish bureaucracy may have been one factor in this delay, but most of the blame rests with Isaias Benet and his wife, Juditha. In a series of letters to Emperor Franz I, the couple contested Trebitsch's election, arguing that Isaias was rightly entitled to his late father's post. Isaias claimed that from his childhood onward he was “educated and cultivated for the post by his deceased father,”13 and Juditha presented the chief rabbinate as Isaias's lawful patrimony, arguing that his “deceased father held this post for forty years to the complete and utter satisfaction of the government and could not leave him any other property besides the necessary qualifications for this post.”14 Furthermore, Isaias sought to bolster his own position by underscoring his status as a native-born Moravian. As rabbi of Misslitz, he noted, he was much better acquainted with the conditions of “all the Israelite communities in the province” than the Prague-born Trebitsch. His status as a native son, he argued, made his claim particularly strong, “especially against those who were not born in Moravia.” Isaias and Juditha's appeals fell on deaf ears, but they did succeed in delaying Trebitsch's confirmation, leaving Moravia without a chief rabbi until the spring of 1832. The Court Chancery finally confirmed Trebitsch on May 13, 1832, and he was officially installed in Nikolsburg on June 27.15

The sixteenth-month delay left Trebitsch powerless to influence the election of his own successor in Prossnitz. Had his election as chief rabbi (p.104) been confirmed immediately, he could have exercised the chief rabbi's prerogative to approve or disapprove communal rabbis. In the absence of a chief rabbi, however, the Prossnitz Jewish community had considerable latitude in choosing Trebitsch's replacement. The community held elections for a new rabbi while Trebitsch was still in town, and—adding insult to injury—its members elected Löw Schwab (1794–1857), a rabbi known for his reformist tendencies. Although Schwab received his early talmudic education from Mordecai Benet and Moses Sofer, he eventually strayed from both of their paths. As he acquired the reputation of a “German” rabbi, his former teachers turned against him, vehemently opposing his election to one rabbinic post after another. When the Eibenschitz Jewish community elected Schwab in 1824, Benet adamantly refused to approve the election.16 When he was elected by the Gewitsch Jewish community in the same year, Benet withheld his approval for more than four years. Following Benet's death in 1829, Moses Sofer continued the battle against Schwab, spearheading the opposition after the Prossnitz Jewish community elected him in November 1831.17 Sofer's efforts notwithstanding, Schwab was confirmed in 1831 as Trebitsch's replacement.

Did Trebitsch play a role in the campaign against Schwab? According to rumors circulating at the time, Trebitsch was working behind the scenes to thwart Schwab's election.18 Perhaps he even solicited Moses Sofer's help (as he would do later in his drawn-out conflict with Hirsch Fassel, Schwab's successor to the Prossnitz rabbinate). Whatever the case, members of the Prossnitz Jewish community were certainly aware of Trebitsch's enmity toward Schwab,19 and in all probability they elected Schwab during the interregnum precisely because Trebitsch lacked all power to stop them. Had Trebitsch already been installed as chief rabbi in 1831, he could have simply refused to approve Schwab's election, but as Schwab himself later pointed out, Trebitsch “lacked all authority [Amtsgewalt] to act publicly against my nomination as his successor in Prossnitz.”20 Because the confirmation was still tied up by the appeals of Isaias and Juditha Benet, there was nothing Trebitsch could really do.

Powerless to prevent the election of Schwab in 1831, Trebitsch became determined to thwart the election of similarly unacceptable rabbis on his watch. For the next decade, this single-minded determination become (p.105) the defining feature of Trebitsch's activity as Moravian chief rabbi. Because the Polizei-Ordnung of 1754 required all rabbis to be examined and certified by the chief rabbi before they could assume rabbinic posts, Trebitsch ostensibly had the legal authority to decide who could become a communal rabbi.21 As the 1833 election in Mährisch-Weisskirchen showed, however, under certain circumstances the chief rabbi's authority could be easily circumvented. When Abraham Placzek was elected to replace David Buchheim as rabbi of Mährisch-Weisskirchen, the Jewish community saw no need to consult the new chief rabbi, because Placzek had already been certified as rabbi of Prerau in 1829. If he was qualified to be rabbi of Prerau, was he not also qualified for Mährisch-Weisskirchen? Trebitsch did not think so. He thought that Placzek's four years of experience in Prerau (44 Jewish families) did not necessarily make him well suited for a much larger community like Mährisch-Weisskirchen (120 Jewish families). He believed that Placzek should have been reexamined before moving from one community to another.22

Although Trebitsch's authority was undermined by the election of Placzek, a decree later that year promised to greatly expand it. On September 6, 1833, the Gubernium amended the Polizei-Ordnung of 1754, authorizing the chief rabbi not only to propose candidates for vacant rabbinates but also to fill these rabbinates with his own choice if a Jewish community either failed to publicize its search for a rabbi or rejected the slate of candidates proposed by the chief rabbi.23 This decree provided the legal basis for Trebitsch's subsequent intervention in Moravian rabbinic elections throughout the 1830s. To contemporaries, the origins of this decree were shrouded in mystery. Trebitsch's “opponents” presumed that the chief rabbi solicited it himself; his “friends” insisted that it took Trebitsch by pleasant surprise.24 As the archives of the Gubernium reveal, Trebitsch did indeed solicit this decree, but it fell somewhat short of his expectations.

On July 27, 1833, Trebitsch asked the Gubernium to expand the chief rabbi's authority over rabbinic appointments and religious instruction.25 He offered four suggestions; the first three related to rabbinic appointments, and the last one related to “Hebrew” instruction. First, the chief rabbi's certification of communal rabbis should be valid only for the community in which a rabbi is being installed. Trebitsch cited the (p.106) election in Mährisch-Weisskirchen, arguing that a rabbi who is qualified to serve a small community may lack the proper qualifications for a larger one. Second, the chief rabbi should propose candidates after a rabbinic post has been vacated. This was presumably meant to prevent objectionable candidates from ever being considered. Third, in communities without rabbis, only those individuals authorized by the chief rabbi should perform marriages and keep the communal birth, marriage, and death registers. This was intended to prevent the proliferation of “corrupted pseudo-scholars” (bestochenen Scheingelerten) who often performed these duties. Trebitsch's fourth suggestion, dealing with religious instruction, will be examined later in this chapter.

The 1833 decree incorporated some of Trebitsch's suggestions but not all of them. His first suggestion—that the chief rabbi's certification of a communal rabbi should not be transferable from one community to another—was not incorporated into the 1833 decree. This weakened Trebitsch's position in his opposition to Hirsch Fassel's election as Prossnitz communal rabbi in 1836. His second suggestion, however—that the chief rabbi should propose all rabbinic candidates (Vorschlagsrecht)—was incorporated. Endowed with this new prerogative, Trebitsch hoped to keep reform-minded rabbis out of Moravia's communal rabbinates.

At the time, Löw Schwab was the only Moravian communal rabbi who exhibited any clear proclivities for religious reform. In 1832, Schwab ruled that all weddings in Prossnitz would henceforth take place inside the synagogue—thereby contravening the established tradition of holding Jewish weddings under the open sky. Schwab, like many German Jewish reformers, considered outdoor weddings unseemly and sought to bring dignity and decorum to Jewish nuptials by holding the wedding ceremony inside the synagogue.26 Trebitsch, however, viewed Schwab's ruling as an “injurious innovation” and an “insolent profanation” of the Jewish religion. As Schwab later recalled, Trebitsch “rose up with great zeal and indignation,” writing truculent letters to the Prossnitz Jewish community and even threatening to resort to government intervention.27 Schwab is also credited with introducing another hallmark of

German-Jewish reform to Moravia's synagogues: the German-language (p.107) sermon.28 On March 28, 1835, in the Prossnitz synagogue, Schwab departed from the traditional Hebrew or Yiddish derasha (homily) when he gave a German eulogy for the recently deceased Emperor Franz I. The eulogy was subsequently published in Vienna, reportedly causing “a great sensation.”29 There is no record of Trebitsch's reaction to Schwab's sermon, but a look at Trebitsch's own eulogy for Emperor Franz I may illuminate the matter. On March 14 in Nikolsburg's Altschul, Trebitsch delivered a traditional Hebrew eulogy for “our master, the pious, mighty, and merciful king, Franz I, Emperor of Austria, may his memory be for a blessing.” The full text of the Hebrew eulogy was published in Vienna, together with an abbreviated German translation.30 Yet, lest anyone think the eulogy itself had been given in German, the title page clearly stated that it was “delivered in the Hebrew language” by Nehemias Trebitsch and translated into German by Joseph Deutsch, a Jewish schoolteacher in Nikolsburg. As became readily apparent, Trebitsch had no tolerance for German sermons or “German preachers” in any of Moravia's synagogues.

Schwab had introduced both the German sermon and the indoor wedding to Moravia's synagogues, and Trebitsch intended to eliminate these practices before they became widespread. With the authority vested in him by the Gubernium, he hoped to weed out “modern” rabbis of Schwab's ilk so that they could not even be considered for communal rabbinates. This hope rested on the supposition that Moravia's Jewish communities would consult him—as required by the 1833 decree—before choosing their rabbis. As Isaac Hirsch Weiss later observed, “Communities began hiring rabbis without first turning to the chief rabbi.”31 In the ensuing six years, three communities ignored Trebitsch's prerogative when choosing their rabbis: Loschitz, Prossnitz (for a second time), and Neu-Rausnitz. Trebitsch contested all three elections with great zeal in an effort not only to rid Moravia of unacceptable rabbis but also to reassert his supreme authority over religious affairs.

In Loschitz and Prossnitz, the contested rabbinic elections brought Trebitsch censure, humiliation, and ignoble defeat. Although situated near one another in the district of Olmütz, the Jewish communities of Loschitz and Prossnitz differed considerably in both size and (p.108) stature. The Loschitz Jewish community was medium size by Moravian standards, numbering 71 families (approximately 400 people). It was large enough to support a rabbi but had never attracted a rabbinic sage of great renown. Prossnitz, in contrast, boasted the second largest Jewish community in Moravia, with 328 families (more than 1,700 people). With a celebrated yeshiva and a long tradition of eminent rabbis, it could vie with Nikolsburg for importance. Within a period of three months (October 1835–January 1836), Loschitz and Prossnitz elected new rabbis with intimate ties to Löw Schwab. Loschitz elected Abraham Neuda, Schwab's “personal friend,” and Prossnitz elected Hirsch Fassel, Schwab's protégé.32

Abraham Neuda's father, Aron Moses Neuda, had served as communal rabbi in Loschitz for nearly twenty years, until his ailing body and deteriorating eyesight made it increasingly difficult for him to perform his rabbinic duties. At the time, 22-year-old Abraham had been studying for four years at the Nikolsburg yeshiva, where he was known to be one of Trebitsch's favorite pupils.33 When the Loschitz community asked Trebitsch to appoint him as a substitute rabbi in September 1835, the chief rabbi recommended his student in “the most laudatory terms.” As substitute rabbi, Neuda was authorized by Trebitsch to perform all his ailing father's rabbinic duties and even to decide halakhic questions. At this stage, as one historian noted, Trebitsch may not have even suspected that “the good bachur [yeshiva student] Neuda secretly occupied himself with profane studies.” This may have first become apparent when, shortly after Neuda's arrival in Loschitz, the young rabbi delivered a Sabbath sermon “in pure German.”34

In late September, Aron Neuda's health took a turn for the worse, and he proposed that his son Abraham replace him “definitively.” Even though Abraham had not yet been examined and certified by Trebitsch, the Loschitz community asked the Olmütz district office to confirm him as his father's successor. With this request, the community hoped to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would the community have a rabbi to its liking, but the inevitable burden of supporting Aron Neuda's widow would also be considerably lightened if the rabbinate remained in the family. Along with its request, the Loschitz Jewish community enclosed letters of recommendation from two Moravian (p.109) rabbis, Tsvi Hirsch Toff of Bisenz and Löw Schwab of Prossnitz, but it failed to involve Trebitsch in the process. It is not clear whether the community deliberately circumvented Trebitsch or simply assumed that the chief rabbi had already certified Neuda when he approved him as substitute rabbi a few weeks earlier. Members of the community would later argue that “whoever can occupy a rabbinate as a substitute must also be qualified to serve as an actual rabbi [wirklicher Rabbiner].” Working with this assumption, the community leaders prepared a contract for Abraham Neuda on October 11, 1835.

Meanwhile, Löw Schwab accepted an invitation to become rabbi of Pest just four years after his controversial election in Prossnitz. In January 1836, members of the Prossnitz Jewish community met to elect his replacement. Trebitsch, who surely welcomed Schwab's departure with great joy, viewed the election as an opportunity to restore rabbinic glory to the community he had proudly served six years earlier. Yet, much to his chagrin, the Prossnitz community elected Hirsch Fassel—without consulting the chief rabbi first. Born in Boskowitz in 1802, Fassel had studied with Moses Sofer in Pressburg, but like Schwab, he subsequently developed a reputation as a moderate religious reformer.35 As another strike against him, Fassel had never held a rabbinic post—in contrast to the decidedly more experienced candidate, Chaim Josef Pollak. Pollak, who had been ordained by both Mordecai Benet and Moses Sofer, had served as rabbi and head of the yeshiva in Trebitsch (Moravia's fourth largest Jewish community) since 1828. In the eyes of many, Fassel was unqualified to become the rabbi of Moravia's second largest Jewish community. Ber Schiff, a Prossnitz-born leaseholder living in Wojetin, Bohemia, expressed this opinion in a letter to his nephew, Gideon Brecher. In March 1836, shortly after Fassel was elected, Shiff wrote that the Prossnitz Jewish community had given

the staff of glory to a man who has not placed his feet on the stones of the rabbinate. They placed the glory on the head of a yeshiva student from Boskowitz who has not yet engaged in instruction, nor delivered sermons [derashot]…. Who would believe the news that the rabbinical seat in the holy community of Prossnitz…. will go to a new king, who does not know how to fight a holy war [milḥemet kodesh]? I am astounded that they would replace the “land of the (p.110) living” [erets ha-ḥayyim, i.e., Chaim Pollack] with the “land of the deer” [erets ha-tsvi, i.e., Tsvi Hirsch Fassel].36

Schiff hid neither his preference for Pollak nor his disdain for Fassel, who had been a failed businessman before applying for the Prossnitz rabbinate.37 Like Trebitsch, Schiff had no influence over the election's outcome, and Fassel was elected by members of the Prossnitz community who, in the words of Bonaventura Mayer, “had desired a less strict rabbi for a long time, so they could lead a freer life.”38

Trebitsch contested the elections in both Prossnitz and Loschitz on grounds that neither community had followed proper procedure in electing its rabbi. In both cases the communities had failed to consult the chief rabbi as required by the 1833 decree. The question of certification presented a slightly more complicated problem. In both cases, it could be—and was—argued that Trebitsch had actually approved the rabbinic candidates because he had recommended Neuda in “the most laudatory terms” for the post of substitute rabbi. Although not an actual certification, Trebitsch's recommendation certainly presented Neuda as a qualified rabbinic candidate. Fassel's case was even more problematic. As it later emerged, Trebitsch had certified Fassel at an earlier date, deeming him “suitable” for a rabbinic post.39 Thus, in contesting Fassel's election, Trebitsch seemed to rescind his earlier certification. As the Gubernium later charged, Trebitsch had “declared [Fassel] suitable as a rabbi, but then dismissed this certificate as inadequate.”40

Trebitsch did not see any inconsistency because in his view a rabbinic certificate was not transferable from one post to another. Although the Gubernium did not adopt his 1833 suggestion that communal rabbis be certified anew by the chief rabbi whenever they move posts, Trebitsch stood firm in this belief. As he explained in a letter to the Gubernium, Fassel may have been qualified to be the rabbi of a small Jewish community, but he was “inadequate and unsuitable” for the needs of a community the size of Prossnitz because he “had not learned enough to be rabbi of a large town.” With this line of reasoning, Trebitsch attempted to explain how he could now oppose Fassel in Prossnitz after having previously certified him. Trebitsch saw no necessary contradiction: Fassel was still qualified to be a rabbi, just (p.111) not in Moravia's second largest Jewish community. (Trebitsch later used the same argument against Michael Stössel when Neu-Rausnitz, Moravia's sixth largest Jewish community, elected him rabbi in 1839.) In fact, Trebitsch allegedly offered Fassel the communal rabbinate in Boskowitz (Fassel's hometown and a considerably smaller Jewish community) if he would agree to leave Prossnitz.41

Throughout 1836 and 1837, Trebitsch pulled out all the stops in his effort to remove Fassel from the Prossnitz rabbinate. Attempting to exercise his authority as chief rabbi, he ordered the Prossnitz Jewish community to dismiss Fassel and appoint a rabbi more to his liking.42 He proposed five rabbis, all of whom belonged to his own generation—and presumably shared his fierce opposition to German sermons.43 Like Trebitsch, one of the proposed rabbis (Hirsch Klein of Prossnitz) had vehemently opposed the election of Schwab in 1830. Some Prossnitz Jews may have welcomed Trebitsch's overtures, but the board rebuffed the chief rabbi and stood firmly behind Fassel. Trebitsch directly pressured Fassel to step down. According to Trebitsch's account—related in a letter to Moses Sofer—the chief rabbi repeatedly tried to “make peace” with Fassel, even offering him an opportunity to remain in Prossnitz if certain conditions were met. As he explained to Sofer, “I wrote [to Fassel] that if he took the straight path and listened to my advice … then I would love him and do everything for his benefit. In the end, he returned to his former ways and went against my will by performing weddings in the synagogue and the like.”44 If Trebitsch viewed this effort to bring Fassel back in line as an attempt to “make peace,” he seems to have been alone in his appraisal. Fassel's friend Gideon Brecher described Trebitsch's missive as nothing more than a “fulminating, threatening letter” (einen fulminanten Drohbrief) that admonished Fassel to heed Trebitsch's words, “lest [my] wrath pour out against you.”45 Trebitsch tried to recruit Moses Sofer in his battle, hoping that this preeminent opponent of religious reform would use his connections to remove Fassel—Sofer's wayward student—from the Prossnitz rabbinate. Sofer died shortly thereafter, and Trebitsch was left to fight alone.

Meanwhile, Trebitsch faced similar difficulties in his effort to remove Abraham Neuda from Loschitz. Although the Gubernium had initially (p.112) ordered Trebitsch to propose four new candidates for the Loschitz rabbinate, the Loschitz community completely ignored Trebitsch's proposals (four of whom he had earlier proposed for Prossnitz). As members of the Loschitz community later observed, Trebitsch proposed “four candidates whose utter uselessness [gänzliche Unbrauchbarkeit] was already evident from their own applications.” The Loschitz community found recourse in the Olmütz district office, which investigated the contested election and then confirmed Abraham Neuda as the rabbi of Loschitz on August 24, 1837, “in accordance with the will of the community.” Because Neuda had still not been examined by the chief rabbi, it is not entirely clear how the district office justified this surprising decision. Trebitsch would later claim that Neuda intentionally misled the district officials, which is one possible explanation.46 In any case, Neuda's confirmation—against the will of the chief rabbi—was commonly seen as a turning point in the Neuda-Trebitsch affair. As the Gubernium pointed out in 1841, the district office's decision “significantly exacerbated the tensions” between the Loschitz community and Trebitsch and, of course, between Neuda and Trebitsch.47 Although the confirmation was overruled on June 2, 1838, the seeds of mutual mistrust had already been sown.

While Trebitsch was contesting the elections in Prossnitz and Loschitz, Fassel and Neuda were not sitting idly by. On the contrary, they testified against the chief rabbi on July 13, 1836, condemning his arbitrary behavior and accusing him of engaging in criminal acts. A letter from Moravian governor Ugarte to the Pest magistracy succinctly summarized the numerous grievances that had piled up against Trebitsch by 1836.

Many complaints have been raised against the [Moravian] chief rabbi. He has been charged primarily with acting arbitrarily: he refuses to examine rabbinic candidates he does not desire, he denies them certificates of competency, and he imposes rabbis on the Jewish communities. As a result, a number of communities, e.g., Prossnitz and Loschitz, are in conflict with him. This is especially the case with Hirsch Fassel, who is desired as a rabbi by the Prossnitz community; Löw Schwab, currently rabbi in Pest and formerly in Prossnitz; and Abraham Neuda, who the Loschitz community has appointed rabbi.48

(p.113) In addition to these complaints, a more serious charge was made about Trebitsch's attitude toward German language and literature: “The Chief Rabbi has been further charged with persecuting those rabbinical candidates, who possess knowledge outside the talmudic subjects, especially of German literature; and those who wish to obtain a certificate of competency must take an oath not to read any German books nor to give any German speeches.”49 If this charge was true, Trebitsch had contravened two court decrees—one from 1808 forbidding excommunication and the other from 1820 requiring the chief rabbi to disseminate the German language among the Jews. At Governor Ugarte's behest, the Pest magistracy sought to clarify this and other issues by asking Schwab to comment on the litany of charges that had been leveled against Trebitsch. With regard to the chief rabbi's attitude toward extratalmudic knowledge, Schwab declared it an “incontrovertible fact” that Trebitsch was vehemently opposed to all rabbis, rabbinic candidates, and teachers who evinced a predilection for German language and literature; however, Schwab doubted whether Trebitsch's prejudices had actually led to the persecution of rabbinic candidates or the requirement that they take the alleged oath. “Based on my own experience,” he wrote, “I am unaware of this; and the rumors that have spread regarding this matter have had no influence on my current remarks, because I do not find them entirely convincing.”50 Regardless of the truth behind these accusations (which will be examined later in this chapter), the Gubernium gave them full credence and took them into consideration when settling the Fassel-Trebitsch dispute.

The Gubernium dealt Trebitsch a double defeat. A gubernial decree from March 23, 1838, confirmed Fassel as Prossnitz's rabbi and removed his right to propose rabbinic candidates.51 Trebitsch was censured on three counts. First, he had acted “out of order” by giving Fassel a certificate of competency and then declaring this very certificate inadequate. Second, he had violated the law by requiring rabbinic students—under threat of excommunication—to refrain from reading German books and delivering German sermons. Third, in a further abuse of his authority, Trebitsch had improperly taxed private teachers for their certificates of competency. Consequently, at the suggestion of the Nikolsburg police director, the Gubernium ordered Trebitsch's conduct to be “duly watched over” in the future.

(p.114) In the most serious blow to Trebitsch's authority, the Gubernium eliminated the chief rabbi's prerogative to propose rabbinic candidates to individual communities. This prerogative (Vorschlagsrecht), which had been solicited by Trebitsch in 1833, was repealed in 1838 as a result of the chief rabbi's alleged misconduct. Thereafter, Trebitsch's prerogatives in relation to rabbinic elections reverted to those spelled out in the Polizei-Ordnung from 1754, according to which “no Jewish community can confer a rabbinic post by itself, nor can anyone be authorized to take up such a post without first being properly examined and declared suitable by the chief rabbi or his representative.”52 Under the new restrictions, Trebitsch could no longer prevent an examined and certified rabbi like Fassel from being elected to a rabbinic post in Moravia, but he continued to wield significant power over candidates like Neuda, who had still not been properly examined and certified. When the Gubernium decreed on May 19, 1838, that all communal rabbis must have valid certificates of competency from the chief rabbi, the next clash between Trebitsch and Neuda was only a matter of time.

In November 1838, Neuda left for an anticipated two years in Vienna—with the financial backing of the Loschitz community—to conduct “theological research” in the city's world-renowned libraries.53 The Loschitz community sought a substitute rabbi to fill Neuda's position during his absence. With Trebitsch's consent, the community contracted Moses Rössler of Gewitsch to serve as its rabbi from November 1838 until October 1840. At first glance, the choice of Rössler appears quite odd, because he lacked Neuda's enlightened qualifications. Whereas Neuda was renowned for his edifying German sermons, Rössler was apparently “not entirely conversant in the German language.”54 Whereas Neuda had acquired “a significant degree of literary education” in addition to his rabbinic training, Rössler's formal secular education was limited to two years of Normalschule.55 In light of these contrasts, the Loschitz community presumably selected Rössler as a kind of peace offering, as a means to appease Trebitsch during Neuda's temporary absence. Upon Neuda's premature return in September 1839, however, the conflict between Trebitsch and Neuda resumed with added intensity.

During his ten-month stay in Vienna, Neuda established contact with some of the most prominent religious reformers in the Habsburg (p.115) monarchy, including Isak Noa Mannheimer and Aron Chorin. As “religious teacher” of the Viennese Jewish community since the 1820s, Mannheimer helped create the Vienna Rite, which eventually served as a model for religious innovation in the rest of the monarchy. Mannheimer was also an orator of great renown, whose preaching style was praised and emulated by “modern” rabbis across Europe.56 Neuda not only attended Mannheimer's sermons at Vienna's Stadttempel but also received a certificate of competency from the celebrated preacher before returning to Loschitz. While in Vienna, Neuda also received a certificate of competency from Chorin, the septuagenarian rabbi of Arad who had repeatedly come into conflict with Mordecai Benet.57 These new credentials certainly made Neuda even more suspect in Trebitsch's eyes, but his expanded network of rabbinic contacts also served as additional protection against an arbitrary and vindictive chief rabbi.

Abraham Neuda returned to Loschitz on September 6, 1839, just in time to deliver a German sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.58 He resumed his rabbinic duties “to the joy of the entire community” but soon confronted two obstacles.59 First, on September 19, the Gubernium informed Neuda that—in accordance with a decree from May 19, 1838—he still needed to be examined and certified by Trebitsch. Second, Moses Rössler's contract as substitute rabbi was still valid for another year. Although the Loschitz community wished to be rid of him—and not be burdened with salaries for two rabbis—Rössler insisted that the terms of his contract be honored. In a complaint to the Olmütz district office, Rössler noted that Neuda had been hired by the Loschitz Jewish community without the knowledge or approval of the Moravian chief rabbi. On top of that, Rössler argued, Neuda was not even qualified to function as a communal rabbi at this time because he had still not been examined or certified by the chief rabbi.60 The district office supported the complaint, ruling that Rössler should finish out his contract with the Loschitz Jewish community. Although the Jewish community appealed this decision, it was upheld by the Gubernium. Rössler, it was decided, would remain the substitute rabbi in Loschitz until October 1840. In the meantime, Neuda had to figure out how to obtain proper certification in the face of the perceived “hatefulness that the Chief Rabbi harbors towards him.”61

(p.116) Wishing to sidestep Trebitsch entirely, Neuda initially set his sights on the Habsburg provinces of Lombard-Venetia and Bohemia. First, he sought permission to be examined at Padua's Collegio Rabbinico, which had been established in 1829 for the Italian-speaking Jews of Lombard-Venetia. As Europe's first academic institution to combine traditional talmudic learning with general secular studies, the Collegio Rabbinico seemed particularly well suited to Neuda's needs. Because it was the empire's only rabbinical seminary, Neuda hoped he could get a special dispensation to be examined there. In January 1840, the Loschitz community pleaded Neuda's case in a letter to the Court Chancery, requesting that the jurisdiction of the Collegio Rabbinico be extended to all the empire's hereditary lands, because only such a “public and imperial institute” could provide the necessary “impartiality” (Unpartheylichkeit). In May 1840, Neuda personally asked the Court Commission on Education for a special dispensation, also arguing that only the Padua institute could guarantee him an impartial examination. In June, however, the Court Commission rejected Neuda's request on several grounds. First, the Collegio Rabbinico was authorized to certify rabbis only in the Italian provinces. Second, according to the Polizei-Ordnung, rabbis were required to obtain certification from the Moravian chief rabbi, “which Neuda has not yet tried to do.” Third, if Neuda were granted a dispensation, the authority of the chief rabbi would be greatly undermined. “It is easily conceivable,” observed the Court Commission, “that soon no rabbinical candidate will want to be examined by the chief rabbi, and his authoritative influence [leitender Einfluss] will be completely paralyzed.”62

Neuda's efforts in Bohemia proved equally futile. There, he based his case on an 1830 decree regulating the election of the Moravian chief rabbi, which required candidates for this post to have certificates of competency from either two Moravian communal rabbis or two Bohemian district rabbis. Neuda reasoned that the requirements for the highest rabbinic post in the province should be sufficient for communal rabbinates as well. He went to Bohemia, was examined by four district rabbis,63 and presented his certificates to the Gubernium. His indefatigable efforts notwithstanding, Neuda was still required to obtain certification from Trebitsch.64

(p.117) In their correspondence with the Gubernium, Neuda and the Loschitz community consistently argued that Trebitsch was simply incapable of being an impartial examiner. They did their utmost to portray him as an inveterate enemy of culture and Enlightenment, fully consumed by his own “despotism” and “vindictiveness.” As the Loschitz community saw it, Trebitsch was persecuting Neuda “with the bitterest and most unrelenting fury,” solely because Neuda “acquired a significant degree of literary education alongside his consummate rabbinical skills” and “respects the purity of linguistic forms in his edifying sermons.” In sharp contrast, Trebitsch's knowledge “did not extend beyond the realm of the Talmud,” nor was he able to sign “more than his name” in German.65 Neuda similarly presented his conflict with Trebitsch as a battle between Enlightenment and obscurantism.

His hatefulness towards me is by no means directed against my personality, but rather, as is generally known, against the manner and method in which I deliver sermons. In the few years since the conflict began, many young rabbinical colleagues have been hounded and persecuted.

My removal from office, which the Chief Rabbi still pursues with great despotism, would give him unbridled authority and influence to stunt the progressive development of talent among my fellow rabbis and to privilege narrow-mindedness over talent. In light of the Chief Rabbi's well-known views, and the manifold complaints against him … nothing more could be expected from him than the greatest arbitrariness and despotism.66

Neuda explained to the Gubernium that the very nature of a rabbinic examination left him completely defenseless against Trebitsch. Because such examinations are “so all-encompassing, dealing with the smallest details,” he wrote, “it is impossible to limit arbitrariness and avoid severity and malevolence.” Trebitsch would inevitably become “both judge and jury.” The Loschitz community accused Trebitsch of using such examinations—“where the most unbounded arbitrariness reigns”—to keep enlightened candidates out of the rabbinate.

In a letter to the Brünn district office dated November 10, 1840, Trebitsch sought to justify his opposition to Neuda on intellectual, moral, and religious grounds.67 As Neuda's teacher for “about six (p.118) years,” Trebitsch claimed to be familiar with his erstwhile student's intellectual failings. Neuda was an intellectual lightweight, he maintained, whose “superficial knowledge” made him unqualified to serve as a communal rabbi. This, Trebitsch later claimed, was precisely why Neuda had been trying to avoid an examination for so long.68 Trebitsch also denounced Neuda as a “reprehensible and immoral” person, accusing him of giving false and malicious testimony. Specifically, he blamed Neuda for testifying that the chief rabbi had required his students to take a pledge (Handschlag)—which Neuda allegedly compared to a ban (Bannfluch)—not to read German books or deliver German sermons. Trebitsch wrote to the Brünn district office:

It is doubly punishable, unforgivable, and inconceivable that a student could make a false testimony against his teacher and master, with the result that his [teacher's] reputation is ruined in the eyes of the government, his civil status is threatened, and his religiosity is brought into question. Through this testimony, Abraham Neuda has not only revealed his corrupt soul, but also his ignorance, since a pledge [Handschlag] can in no way be compared to a ban [Bannfluch].69

Neuda's “ignorance” and “corrupt soul” aside, Trebitsch asserted that, as a bachelor, Neuda should have never been considered for a communal rabbinate in the first place. “It is a one-hundred-year practice of the chief rabbinate in Moravia,” wrote Trebitsch, “to entrust a rabbinical post, under no condition, to an unmarried candidate. [This] custom is founded on religious principles.” In any case, as far as Trebitsch was concerned, the question of the Loschitz rabbinate had already been settled. Moses Rössler, in his view, was Loschitz's legitimate rabbi.

When the Gubernium discussed the Trebitsch-Neuda affair in early January 1841, it gave little credence to Trebitsch's disparaging claims.70 The Gubernium possessed independent reports from the Brünn district office, the Mährisch-Neustadt magistracy, and the Loschitz mayor, all of which described Neuda as “an intellectually educated, well-behaved young man.” Furthermore, the numerous certificates of competency—from several Moravian rabbis (Tsvi Hirsch Toff, Michael Wronik, and Löbel Pollak), three Bohemian district rabbis,71 the “Viennese Jewish religious teacher” (Mannheimer), and “the rabbi of Pest” (Schwab)—appeared to dispel Trebitsch's claim that Neuda was unqualified to be a rabbi.72

(p.119) At the same time, Neuda's claims against Trebitsch were increasingly confirmed as the chief rabbi became embroiled in at least two more disputed rabbinic elections. These disputes—in Neu-Rausnitz and Misslitz—saw the standard complaints against Trebitsch's “arbitrary” and “despotic” behavior, but they also carried the additional taint of nepotism. In Misslitz, Trebitsch tried to appoint a son-in-law, Simson Kulke, to the rabbinate after Isaias Benet left for Nagykálló, Hungary, in 1840.73 In Neu-Rausnitz, Trebitsch tried to appoint another son-inlaw, Jakob Brüll, even though Michael Stössel had just been elected rabbi. In a by now familiar pattern, the Jewish community failed to consult Trebitsch, who later explained to the Gubernium: “Had the Neu-Rausnitz community followed the good example of other communities and requested approval from me … I would have never approved this candidate. Even though he possesses the proper certificates, his reputation … has been sullied the world over.”74 Trebitsch, with the support of some Neu-Rausnitz Jews, tried to install Jakob Brüll as rabbi, attracting much criticism in the contemporary German-Jewish press and triggering yet another complaint to the authorities.75 Because the complaint was anonymous, the Gubernium advised the Court Chancery to ignore it. The Gubernium observed that Trebitsch had not engaged in any disorderly conduct “this time.” “Besides,” it continued, “his behavior is [already] being strictly watched.”76

Even if the Gubernium seemed to support Neuda in the six-year-old dispute, there was no getting around the requirement that he be tested by Trebitsch. In a letter to the Court Chancery from January 4, 1841, the Gubernium proposed a solution that would allow Trebitsch to examine Neuda without “any fear of partisanship.”77 A commission was to be set up comprising Trebitsch, two Moravian communal rabbis, and a Catholic commissar. The commissar was to ask questions from Herz Homberg's Bne Zion, and the three rabbis were to test Neuda in biblical exegesis and talmudic law.78 Ferdinand Panschab, Professor of Dogma at the Brünn Theological Seminary, was selected by the Brünn Episcopal Consistory as the Catholic commissar;79 Trebitsch and Neuda were entitled to select the two additional rabbis. Trebitsch chose Joseph Feilbogen, the 57-year-old rabbi of Holleschau and a celebrated talmudist in his own right. Neuda, in a move surely designed to infuriate and (p.120) humiliate Trebitsch, chose the 38-year-old Hirsch Fassel of Prossnitz. One can only imagine Trebitsch's silent, simmering rage—and Fassel's irrepressible delight—when the examination took place in Brünn on May 18, 1841.

Even before arriving in Brünn, Neuda could claim an astounding victory over Trebitsch. Neuda not only had forced the chief rabbi to examine him but also had constrained him to do so under extraordinarily favorable conditions. First, the presence of three other examiners meant that Trebitsch's influence would be significantly weakened. Second, the inclusion of a wide range of topics, including biblical exegesis and homiletics, meant that Trebitsch would not always be on familiar terrain. Third, the presence of Professor Panschab meant that the examination would be conducted in German.80 At the actual examination, each examiner posed three questions, Trebitsch going first. As could be expected, Trebitsch asked difficult and convoluted questions, apparently hoping to stump his former student.81 Although even Feilbogen reportedly considered the examination “much too difficult,”82 Abraham Neuda successfully passed, putting an end to his six-year conflict with the chief rabbi. As one historian wrote, Neuda was escorted “in triumph” back to Loschitz.83

Neuda's triumph was Trebitsch's final degradation and defeat. Although the chief rabbi's prerogative to test rabbinic candidates was upheld in 1841, the examination in Brünn served to completely undermine any remaining “authoritative influence” that Trebitsch may have possessed. Not only had the Jewish communities of Mährisch-Weisskirchen, Loschitz, Neu-Rausnitz, and Prossnitz ignored, circumvented, or otherwise challenged Trebitsch's authority throughout the 1830s, but the Gubernium had also consistently sided with the chief rabbi's detractors, who had successfully—although perhaps exaggeratedly—portrayed Trebitsch as an obscurantist opponent of Enlightenment who would brazenly disregard the law of the land in his efforts to keep German language and literature from contaminating Moravia's Jews. Largely because of this portrayal, the Gubernium gradually whittled away Trebitsch's rabbinic prerogatives—first through the censure in 1838 (and the concomitant removal of the Vorschlagsrecht) and then through the humiliating examination in 1841. When the 63-year-old (p.121) chief rabbi passed away on July 4, 1842—less than fourteen months after Neuda's examination—it was commonly understood that Trebitsch was not steeled by such adversity but was rather vanquished by it.84

An Enemy of the German Language?

The depiction of Trebitsch as “an enemy of all German literature” lay at the root of the chief rabbi's eventual demise, so it is worth examining this characterization in some depth. Although Trebitsch's unbending and undisguised opposition to German sermons is undisputable, his view of German language and literature was not as “medieval” as many of his detractors led the Jewish public and the Gubernium to believe. It must be remembered that Trebitsch, born two years before the promulgation of the Edict of Tolerance, never received a secular education during his youth in Prague. He learned enough German to communicate with the government authorities but apparently failed to fully master the written language. As Isaac Hirsch Weiss recalled, his rabbi and teacher often relied on a certain Bohemian student for help with his German correspondence.85 Nonetheless, the claim that Trebitsch could not sign “more than his name” in German was a patent lie. In 1838, Nathan Denneberger, a teacher at Nikolsburg's German-Jewish school, came to Trebitsch's defense after Gideon Brecher characterized the chief rabbi as a “coryphaeus of Orthodoxy, engaged in a fruitless struggle with the Genius of the age,” and as an “enemy of all German literature.”86 Denneberger, a selfidentified reformer, conceded that Trebitsch could not “be celebrated as a learned linguist of modern languages,” but he attested to the chief rabbi's general proficiency in the German language. “He was brought up in an age when it was considered a sin for talmudists to touch a German work,” Denneberger wrote. “Nevertheless, he reads German works and understands them. Pure German is spoken in his home. His son [Rabbi Seligman Trebitsch] and son-in-law [Rabbi Jakob Brüll] are wellrounded, cultivated men.”87

If Denneberger could point to Trebitsch's close family circle as evidence of an openness toward the German language, Trebitsch's detractors could draw attention to the chief rabbi's halakhic writings—not to mention (p.122) the uninterrupted string of conflicts over rabbinic appointments—to reach the opposite conclusion. Much ado was made about a single line in Shalom Yerushalayim (1821), a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud and one of only two halakhic works published by Trebitsch during his lifetime.88 According to a discussion in Tractate Shabbat of the Jerusalem Talmud, Hillel and Shammai (rabbis from the first century B.C.E.) were in full agreement that “a Jew should not accustom himself or his children to speak in the language of the Gentiles” (ledaber bi-lshon aku"m). In his commentary on this discussion, Trebitsch observed that “from this [prohibition, we learn] a wonderful admonition for our generation” (umi-ze tokhah. a nifla'a le-doreynu).89 One of Trebitsch's detractors cited this fleeting observation as a succinct summary of the chief rabbi's rigorously conservative outlook and as solid proof of his intolerant attitude toward the German language as a whole. In the detractor's view, Trebitsch's observation was a clear admonition not only against learning a “proper vernacular language” but also against allowing “preaching rabbis” into the synagogue. As such, he quipped, Trebitsch's opus was inappropriately named. Rather than promoting “the peace of Jerusalem” (shalom yerushalayim), it actually instigated conflict and discord.90

In light of the accusations leveled against Trebitsch throughout the 1830s, it may come as a surprise that his yeshiva in Nikolsburg was reputed to be quite progressive—at least compared to the yeshivas in nearby Hungary. In fact, after attending a number of Hungarian yeshivas, Isaac Hirsch Weiss came to Nikolsburg largely because Trebitsch's yeshiva was known to be more receptive to secular studies. He had heard that a large number of students not only “had command of important linguistic and other secular knowledge, but were also considered skillful talmudists.”91 Gutmann Klemperer recalled a similar atmosphere at the Prague yeshiva, which Trebitsch had headed before coming to Moravia in 1826.92 Like Weiss, Klemperer contrasted Trebitsch with the stricter Hungarian rabbis, particularly Moses Sofer. Whereas Sofer had forbidden the reading of Mendelssohn's writings, Trebitsch “had told [Klemperer's] father in 1820 to teach [his son] the Torah with the translation by Moses Dessau [i.e., Mendelssohn].” Whereas Sofer could never admit that his students read books other than those “written in the Hebrew language and in a strictly Orthodox (p.123) manner,” Trebitsch counted among his preeminent students Ahron Rosenbach, who had completed gymnasium and received a doctorate in philosophy.93 As evidence of Trebitsch's approval of secular studies, Klemperer pointed out that the relationship between rabbi and student “did not change in the slightest” after Rosenbach earned his academic degree. “With doctor's hat on his head, [Rosenbach] came to the rabbi's apartment every Friday evening for prayers—just as before.”

Trebitsch was not opposed ipso facto to the study of “German language and literature” so long as such study did not interfere with traditional religious practice. What he resented in Fassel and Neuda were their efforts to introduce changes, such as the German sermon, into the synagogue service. In Trebitsch's eyes, such “innovations” turned the old Jewish value system on its head by using the “spirit of the times” rather than divinely inspired tradition as the yardstick for Jewish ritual practice. In contrast to Rosenbach, Fassel and Neuda did not conduct themselves “just as before” but instead sought to use their newly acquired knowledge to “renew” and “improve” tried and true forms of Jewish worship.

Jewish Schools and Schooling

Just as he tried to keep the German language—and all that it represented—out of the synagogue, Trebitsch also tried to ensure that “German” studies and “Hebrew” studies remained separate and distinct in Moravia's Jewish schools. Ever since the introduction of mandatory schooling under Joseph II, German and Hebrew instruction had been relegated to separate spheres in Moravia and elsewhere in the Habsburg monarchy. Officially, there was a kind of division of labor, with German subjects being taught by state-certified teachers in the German- Jewish Trivialschulen (or in Christian Trivialschulen if the Jewish community could not afford to establish its own school) and Hebrew subjects being taught by private teachers in individual Jewish homes. Special consideration was taken to ensure that the new German-Jewish Trivialschulen—which could be found, by the 1830s, in thirty-four of Moravia's fifty-two Jewish communities—did not interfere with the (p.124) Jews' own religious observance. The curriculum focused on technical subjects, such as grammar, penmanship, physical science, and geography, for which “neutral” textbooks already existed. Because there were no neutral German language primers—the existing ones being heavily suffused with Christian moralistic teachings—the Edict of Tolerance allowed the Jews to compile their own moral books (“because of their religious practices”). In places where no German-Jewish schools were established, Jewish parents were ordered to send their children to the local Christian schools; there, Christian and Jewish children learned together, with the proviso that Jewish children be let out of school during religious instruction and not be “compelled or enticed to any action that goes against their religious practice.” This meant that Jewish children were excused from school on the Sabbath and festivals and were allowed to keep their heads covered during instruction.94

For centuries, Hebrew subjects had been taught in Moravia by private teachers, or melamedim. As elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, these melamedim (also known as Winkellehrer, Stubenlehrer, or simply Privatlehrer) gave primary religious instruction in makeshift private schools called heders or Winkelschulen. Although the Shai Takkanot (and later the Polizei-Ordnung of 1754) required each of Moravia's Jewish communities to employ a teacher who could instruct young Jewish boys in the Hebrew language and “Mosaic Law,” few regulations were in place stipulating qualifications for melamedim or a specific curriculum to be taught in heders. As the memoir literature attests, few melamedim had any formal pedagogical training, even as late as the 1820s and 1830s. The melamed who taught Ignaz Briess in Prerau in the late 1830s was apparently nothing more than “an old, failed merchant” who taught a motley group of boys “of all different ages and levels” in his cramped living room. In this heder, instruction entailed rote memorization of ḥumash (Pentateuch), Mishnah, and Talmud, with little regard for the different abilities of the students.95 Isaac Hirsch Weiss, who attended a heder in Gross-Meseritsch around 1820, had similar recollections of his early education. He described religious education in Moravia at the time in the following terms:

In every single community, there were primary teachers, who practiced their vocation without being appointed or sanctioned by any authority; (p.125) they simply opened up a school. Such a private school was called a heder, a very apt name, since the teacher, who was poor as could be, possessed nothing but this single room, where all of his domestic duties were performed, where he and his family slept and took their meals, and where he taught his students…. The melamedim were mostly men who, in their youth, engaged, more or less, in intensive Torah study, but without great success. Afterward, they pursued a commercial career and ultimately failed in this vocation, too. Teaching was then their last resort. But, even if they were qualified Torah scholars, they generally lacked pedagogical skills and also the first precondition for a primary teacher: perseverance and composure.96

Struggling to eke out a meager living, melamedim also found themselves in competition with other Jews who, like themselves, came upon teaching as an occupation of last resort. It was not uncommon to find five or six private teachers in one of Moravia's larger Jewish communities, all trying to draw from a finite pool of potential students.97

Private teachers did not necessarily limit themselves to instruction in ḥumash, Mishnah, and Talmud but could also be found teaching German Trivialschule subjects. Many Jewish parents preferred to have their children educated in these subjects by private teachers rather than send them to the German-Jewish Trivialschule (or the Christian Trivialschule). There were a number of reasons for this. First, because the Trivialschule teachers were predominantly Christian (and overseen by a Catholic superintendent), the schools were often viewed as religiously suspect. Only in the 1830s did the schools begin hiring Jewish teachers (who belonged to the new generation of Moravian Jews that had attended Trivialschule in their youth). Second, because the German-Jewish Trivialschule was often dismissed as a “charity school” for poor or orphaned children, many parents—particularly among the more affluent members of the community—preferred the luxury of a private teacher for their children. Weiss, for example, attended the Gross-Meseritsch Trivialschule only on rare occasions. His parents hired a private teacher, who gave daily instruction in German and other profane subjects. Once Weiss had outgrown this teacher, his parents hired Wolf Mühlrad, who later became rabbi of Lundenburg, to teach him religious and profane subjects.98

(p.126) Throughout the first decades of the nineteenth century, private teachers were subject to criticism from all directions. Teachers at Moravia's Trivialschulen regularly complained that private teachers were depriving them of much-needed income by keeping Jewish students away from their schools. Because Trivialschule teachers were paid by the parents of the students, a reduced number of students meant reduced income for the teachers. The brunt of their criticism was directed at private teachers who taught German subjects without the proper qualifications. Trivialschule teachers blamed them not only for taking away students but also for giving these students inadequate instruction. Such complaints found resonance with the government, which continually sought to increase the number of Jewish students attending Trivialschulen. The complaints also contributed to the Gubernium's decision to crack down on unauthorized Jewish private teachers in 1826. In that year, the Gubernium decreed that all Jewish private teachers must be certified in the subjects they teach and demonstrate their “irreproachable morality.” In addition, the decree stipulated that Jewish private teachers could give only private instruction, and only in students' own homes.99 This was aimed at eliminating larger Winkelschulen that functioned, for all intents and purposes, as “public” schools. These schools, which were often held in a private teacher's home, directly competed with the Trivialschulen.

Trebitsch also expressed concern about the proliferation of unauthorized private teachers, but for entirely different reasons. Although the Gubernium was troubled by poor attendance at the German-Jewish Trivialschulen, the chief rabbi was troubled by the growing threat to traditional Jewish education. As Trebitsch saw it, teachers who combined both Hebrew and German subjects in their private instruction were a corrupting influence on Moravia's Jewish youth and needed to be eliminated before they caused any further harm. As he explained in his letter to the Gubernium (July 27, 1833), the “skulking Winkellehrer” who mixed Hebrew and German subjects were usually not qualified to teach either subject.100 Because they taught an incoherent jumble, Trebitsch claimed, instruction in both Hebrew and German subjects was “either completely distorted or exceedingly deficient.” Trebitsch also took private teachers to task for their depraved character, complaining (p.127) that religious instruction was often given by “persons whose immoral and irreligious behavior precisely contradicts their teachings.” As such, he explained, “they serve as a corrupting example for the inexperienced youth.” In his letter to the Gubernium, Trebitsch put forth a solution that was intended to restore German and Hebrew instruction to their separate and distinct spheres. With regard to German instruction, he proposed that private teachers be completely eliminated and that Jewish children be sent—“without exception”—to the existing German schools. (This, from a chief rabbi who was repeatedly branded an enemy of German language and literature!) With regard to Hebrew instruction, he proposed that each Jewish community employ several teachers who are “examined directly by the chief rabbi” and recognized by him as qualified to teach Torah, Prophets, Writings, Mishnah, and elementary Talmud. Trebitsch's proposal, like his entire letter to the Gubernium, aimed to reinforce his authority over religious affairs in Moravia. Just as he sought to exert control over rabbinic appointments and thereby keep Moravia's Jewish communities free of German sermons, indoor weddings, and other perceived deviations from Jewish tradition, he also sought to exert control over religious teachers and thereby shield Moravia's Jewish youth from potentially destructive attitudes toward religion.

Trebitsch's proposal was never implemented, but a number of Jewish communities took their own steps—beginning in the late 1830s—to do away with private religious teachers altogether. Inspired in large part by debates on educational reform in the German-Jewish press, lay leaders in Moravia's larger Jewish communities began rallying for a new kind of religious school with properly trained teachers and pedagogically sound curricula. Such schools were designed to take the place of heders and their perfunctory private teachers. They were first established in Prossnitz (1838) and Nikolsburg (1839), but other communities—such as Trebitsch and Gross-Meseritsch—tried to emulate the educational advances of Moravia's two largest Jewish communities. Before examining the Prossnitz and Nikolsburg schools in more detail, it will be helpful to look at a petition from the Gross-Meseritsch Jewish community, which clearly portrays such new schools as an innovative solution to the many and sundry shortcomings of private religious (p.128) education. The petition, submitted to the Gubernium at the end of 1842, reads as a scathing indictment of private instruction—on pecuniary, pedagogical, religious, and moral grounds.101 First, it argued, the cost of paying private teachers (including room and board) was so high that private teachers were beyond the means of most families. Second, the Jewish quarter was already so overcrowded that most families did not have a suitable place for instruction in the confines of their own homes. Third, children were taught in private homes, where instruction was subject to all sorts of interruptions and disturbances. Fourth, private teachers were not subject to supervision or control, so students were exposed to arbitrary teaching methods, creating a situation in which a teacher's pecuniary interests took precedence over the needs of his students, leaving parents in the dark about their children's inability to learn and wasting the children's precious time, which could be better spent learning a useful trade. Fifth, private teachers frequently came into conflict with local Trivialschule teachers but also with their own professional duties as religious educators. Echoing Trebitsch's observations, the petition claimed that many private teachers “abandoned everything holy and decent” and instilled in their students “disrespect and disdain” for the synagogue. To remedy these problems, the board of the Gross-Meseritsch community sought to set up a community religious school—under the supervision of the local rabbi—just as in Prossnitz and Nikolsburg.

The schools established in Prossnitz and Nikolsburg in the late 1830s represented two different attempts to reform Jewish primary education in Moravia. Although lay leaders took the initiative in both communities, the schools themselves took shape under the discernible influence of the communal rabbis—Hirsch Fassel in Prossnitz and Nehemias Trebitsch in Nikolsburg.102 Not surprisingly, the ideological split that pitted Fassel and Trebitsch against one another throughout the 1830s also manifested itself in the two rabbis' respective approaches to educational reform. Fassel, who criticized traditional melamedim for their inability to make Jewish customs and beliefs relevant to contemporary youth, envisioned a school whose teachers would combine profound talmudic knowledge with a modern critical sensibility. Without such school reform, he feared, the scourge of indifference would continue to (p.129) grow out of hand.103 Trebitsch, as we have seen, thought that precisely such an intermingling of religious and secular—whether in a heder or in a full-fledged school—was to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, he had sought the authority to approve religious teachers in all of Moravia's Jewish communities, in large part so that religious teachers with a modern critical sensibility could be kept at bay. Still, with little authority over the affairs of the Prossnitz Jewish community—especially after his censure by the Gubernium in 1838—Trebitsch could exert influence only on his own community. In Prossnitz, much to Trebitsch's chagrin, the new school came into being without his input.

In 1838, substantial changes were introduced to the talmud torah school in the Prossnitz Jewish community. This school, which provided religious instruction for Prossnitz's poor and orphaned Jewish children, had been run along the lines of a traditional heder until steps were taken to transform it into a modern “Hebrew school” (hebräische Lehranstalt). Gideon Brecher, a driving force behind this transformation, published a series of articles in 1838 arguing that educational reform was essential for battling the religious “indifference” rampant among the younger generation.104 In his view, traditional religious instruction—which he characterized as “mythical explication of Holy Scripture, obfuscation of the text through aggadic obscurities, and mystification of micrological observances”—was driving the youth away from Jewish observance. His criticism, however, was not limited to the traditional heder alone. He also cautioned against excessive “rationalism,” which ignored the fact that religion was, above all, a “matter of the soul” (Sache des Gemuethes). Thus, he insisted, any educational reform must strike a happy balance between rationalism and emotion. In this respect, the object of Brecher's scholarly attention, Judah Halevi, also exemplified his educational ideal, as the Spanish-Jewish poet and philosopher employed both rationalism and emotion in his twelfth-century defense of Judaism.

In 1838, the board of the Jewish community—which counted Brecher among its members—hired Josef Weisse (1812–1897), a 26-year-old native of Moravia, to head the school and redesign its curriculum.105 Born in Plumenau (near Prossnitz), Weisse had spent the previous six years in Prague, where he established lifelong friendships with Moritz (p.130) Steinschneider (Brecher's nephew) and Leopold Löw, fellow Moravians who shared an ideological commitment to the critical study of Judaism. While in Prague, Weisse was mentored by Leopold Zunz, a founding member of Berlin's Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews and, for a short time, preacher at Prague's “Association for the Improvement of Jewish Worship.”106 Weisse, whose scholarly interests were clearly influenced by his mentor, wrote rabbinic biographies and exhibited a keen interest in Hebrew literature and poetry.107 When Prossnitz's Hebrew school opened its doors in 1838, Weisse marked the occasion with an original Hebrew poem.108

Weisse's curriculum for the Prossnitz school represented a sharp departure from the traditional course of study in Moravia's heders. Rather than placing emphasis on the rote memorization of rabbinic literature, Weisse's curriculum was designed to ensure that Jewish students learned—and understood—the Hebrew Bible as well as the Sabbath, festival, and daily prayers. Special attention was paid to the fundamentals of Hebrew grammar, which was treated as a discrete discipline and deemed essential for understanding Judaism's central texts. With regard to Bible study, the narrative sections were given precedence over strictly halakhic ones. In contrast to traditional heder instruction, which began with the book of Leviticus, Weisse's curriculum started with the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—leaving the dry, ritual-laden book of Leviticus for later. Weisse's curriculum also focused on the Prophets and Writings, which were largely ignored in the traditional heders. In addition, the prayer book was studied—and not just memorized—with the help of a German translation. Daily prayers were learned first, followed by the Sabbath prayers and the occasional festival prayers. This corresponded to the overriding goals of the curriculum, which was designed so that students could learn the basics first and then progress incrementally to the more difficult or less quotidian subjects.

Talmud instruction was not a central feature of the school curriculum. Only students who intended to become rabbis were required to study Talmud—and only after they had completed the basic curriculum in grammar, Bible, and prayer. Beginning in their fourth year, these students received instruction from Hirsch Fassel in Talmud as well as (p.131) instruction in “practical” and “ceremonial” law. These future rabbis also studied Aramaic grammar and translations (Targumim), Jewish history, and biblical geography as part of their professional training. These subjects were considered essential only for those students, like Fassel's son Moritz, who had their sights set on the rabbinate. For others, the basic curriculum—which covered the skills and knowledge necessary for daily religious observance—was deemed sufficient. They could use their additional time to learn “useful” trades—instead of being driven into petty trade or becoming members of what one Moravian Jew later called the “theological proletariat.”109

To this end, the Prossnitz Jewish community, at the initiative of Hirsch Fassel, set up a Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts Among the Israelites in April 1839, the first such society established in Moravia.110 Modeled after similar societies in the German states and elsewhere in the Habsburg monarchy, the Prossnitz society had the stated aim of reducing the number of Jews in petty trade by encouraging children “to learn useful trades.” The Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts was composed of Prossnitz Jews who helped pay, through weekly donations, for the vocational training of some of the community's poor and orphaned children. By 1843, the Society was supporting twenty-one such individuals: six cobblers, three tailors, three hat makers, three weavers, two cloth makers, one baker, one locksmith, one butcher, and one tanner. Not surprisingly, there was much overlap between the supporters of the Hebrew school and the supporters of the Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts. Although the school and the Society were institutionally separate, they clearly complemented one another. The school was set up to impart the basic knowledge necessary for religious observance, with the expectation that students would devote additional time to training in their chosen vocations. For those who intended to enter the rabbinate or become schoolteachers, the Hebrew school provided specialization in Talmud, Jewish history, and so on. For those who wished to pursue a different path, the Society helped ensure that they had the necessary training.

Although the Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts received government approval almost immediately, the Gubernium did not know what to do with the Hebrew school. In light of the 1826 decree (p.132) prohibiting Moravia's Jewish communities from running their own public institutions for religious instruction, the Gubernium investigated the legality of the Prossnitz Hebrew school. Fassel testified that the school did not require government approval at all because of its indispensability for the practice of the Jewish religion. He explained that the Shulḥan Arukh required every Jewish community to have its own talmud torah, without which the children of poor parents would be deprived of instruction in Hebrew and Talmud. In Prossnitz, one of Moravia's largest Jewish communities, the talmud torah took the form of a separate institution that employed its own teachers. Housed in a building bequeathed to the community by Veit Ehrenstamm and supported by contributions from community members, the school had already received government approval in 1830.

Simon Bree, the first Jewish teacher at Prossnitz's German-Jewish Trivialschule, viewed the Prossnitz Hebrew school as a direct threat to his livelihood and tried to get the Gubernium to shut it down. When Bree was hired in 1830, the superintendent of the Prossnitz school district (Ignaz Kirchner) had hoped that the presence of a Jewish teacher would encourage Jewish parents to send their children to the German-Jewish Trivialschule rather than to private teachers.111 Instead, as Bree's regular complaints to the Gubernium attest, the problem of Jewish truancy continued, allegedly exacerbated by the new Hebrew school.112 Bree claimed that instruction at the Hebrew school was scheduled for the same time as instruction at the German-Jewish school, thus preventing students who attended the former from also attending the latter. In addition, strenuous instruction at the Hebrew school completely exhausted the students, leaving them with little energy for their studies at the German-Jewish school. (He also asked the Gubernium to determine which of the two teachers—Josef Weisse or Mayer Broll—was responsible for harming the German-Jewish school by “improperly prolonging” instruction time and “overtaxing” the students' abilities.)113 By framing his complaint in these terms, Bree tried to strike a chord at the Gubernium, which had been trying for years to improve attendance at the province's German-Jewish schools.

Bree also played on the Gubernium's fear of “rationalism” and “indifference” by drawing attention to Josef Weisse's reputed connections (p.133) to Jewish reformers in northern Germany. “Weisse studied in Prague,” Bree pointed out, “where the learned Jews are in contact with the Jews of Berlin, Hamburg, and other places in northern Germany, who pass themselves off as scholars on account of their writings. [These Prague Jews] rejoice at the literary fame [of the northern German Jews], embrace their decisions and proposals, and attempt to introduce the latter here [in Austria].”114 Josef Weisse, he claimed, fit this mold. Weisse's school curriculum, Bree suggested, was taken directly from the pages of the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums (“appearing in Berlin [sic!]”), where the curriculum for Prussia's Jewish Trivialschulen had recently been published. Bree's comments were echoed by Ignaz Kirchner, who similarly warned the Gubernium of the dangers emanating from northern Germany. “If one allows all of the writings of the Berlin Jews, without distinction, into the hands of the local inhabitants,” he warned, “rationalism and indifference will gradually insinuate themselves among the so-called cultivated Jews of the Austrian Monarchy. As a result, the belief in divine revelation, which provides the sole guaranty for conscientiousness and loyalty towards the government, will disappear among the members of this nation—or at least among its most influential segment.”115 Kirchner considered Weisse's curriculum a paving stone on the path to godlessness and sedition, leading to “the forfeiture and weakening of the spiritual powers of children, but not to their edification, calming, and useful application in life.” Kirchner even recommended that Trebitsch propose an alternative school curriculum, based on the rationale that the “strictly Orthodox” chief rabbi would never allow “Berlin Jewish rationalism” into the schools.

In his role as chief rabbi, Trebitsch was asked to comment on the Hebrew school in Prossnitz. As could be expected, he vehemently opposed this educational institution, seeing it as both a deviation from traditional forms of Jewish instruction and a direct challenge to his own rabbinic authority. In his testimony at the district office in Brünn, Trebitsch stressed that the school was not only unprecedented and unnecessary but also illegal.116 He began by debunking Fassel's claim that a talmud torah school, like the one in Prossnitz, could be found in every Jewish community since time immemorial. “It is not true,” he testified, (p.134) “that every Jewish community has an educational institution called a talmud torah, where instruction in the Hebrew language and the Old Testament is given publicly.” He explained that Fassel had completely misconstrued the talmud torah. In fact, the term talmud torah did not designate a school at all but rather an endowment—which could be found in every Jewish community—that supports private teachers for the Jewish poor. Such teachers, “who are examined and certified by me, according to the regulations,” had always provided instruction in the mentioned subjects (“as well as the Talmud”) for rich and poor children alike. Thus a public religious school was unnecessary and redundant. In addition, the 1826 decree had expressly forbidden just this kind of “public educational institution.”

Despite the pedagogical, legal, and religious arguments presented by Bree, Kirchner, and Trebitsch, the Gubernium adopted a highly positive stance in relation to the Hebrew school in Prossnitz.117 Far from viewing the school as a thorn in the side of the German-Jewish school, the Gubernium deemed it “indispensable” for the Jews of Prossnitz. The Gubernium looked especially favorably on Weisse, even though Bree and Kirchner had taken pains to cast aspersions on him. “Josef Weisse enjoys an exceptional reputation among the Jewish people,” reported the Gubernium, “not only in the Hebrew language, Bible, and Talmud, but also in Hebrew stylistics and poetry, Aramaic grammar, rabbinic commentaries, biblical geography, and Jewish history.” The Gubernium dismissed Kirchner's concerns about Weisse as an ideologically disruptive force. “Rationalism and indifference,” it noted, had been endemic (sehr heimisch) among the cultivated Jews of Prossnitz, even before Weisse's arrival. The main concern of the Gubernium was the legality of the school in light of the 1826 decree. If the Hebrew school was a public educational institution, then it was clearly interdicted by law. If it was a private educational institution—as Fassel asserted—then a major obstacle could be removed. The Gubernium recommended that this question be investigated further.

Shortly after the establishment of the Hebrew school in Prossnitz, the Nikolsburg Jewish community decided to set up its own religious school (as well as a Society for the Promotion of Handicrafts among the Israelites).118 In Nikolsburg, as in Prossnitz, the drive for (p.135) educational (and occupational) reform originated with the lay leaders, but the actual course of these reforms bore the unmistakable mark of the respective communal rabbis. It should come as no surprise that Trebitsch, who shunned the innovations introduced by the Prossnitz school, took steps to uphold traditional Jewish education, placing a primary emphasis on the study of Talmud. In October 1838, the board of the Nikolsburg Jewish community proposed the establishment of a “combined Hebrew-Talmudic-German educational institution,” consisting of two divisions: one focusing on German subjects and the other on “Hebrew and other moral subjects.”119 Although the proposal envisioned German and Hebrew instruction under one roof, the two were to be kept separate, with German subjects being overseen by the district superintendent and Hebrew subjects being supervised by Trebitsch. Trebitsch gave his assent to this proposal in the following terms:

As the supreme religious authority, I must say that I am most pleased to see the awakening of the charitable spirit in this community, the first and largest [Jewish] community in Moravia, which lends a hand to the establishment of this highly important German-Hebrew and Talmudic educational institution. As for me, I will immediately put together a plan for the public teaching of all Hebrew subjects—and especially Talmud—in a well-regulated school.120

Trebitsch's curriculum undoubtedly differed substantially from the curriculum of the Prossnitz Hebrew school. Although Weisse and Fassel had altered the content of Jewish instruction in Prossnitz—placing emphasis on Bible, Hebrew grammar, and the prayer book—Trebitsch repeatedly stressed the centrality of Talmud study. This was presumably reflected in his curriculum as well.

Trebitsch recognized that the ideological disposition of the religious teachers would determine whether the school became a transmitter of religious reform or a tool for strengthening religious knowledge, observance, and piety. As the “supreme religious authority” in Nikolsburg, he was in a position to weed out the rotten apples and ensure that the community school hire teachers “to whom Talmud instruction can be entrusted.” In Trebitsch's view, adherence to “true religion” (wahrer Religion) was just as important as talmudic erudition in establishing an (p.136) individual teacher's suitability for the job. As he explained to the board of the community:

With the absolute condition that true religion, and not innovation [Neuerungssucht], is the motivating force behind this communal undertaking, it is also necessary to ascertain when hiring teachers, whether they think and act in a religious-moral way, whether they will plant the seed of pure morality and fear of God in the hearts of the youth, so that this institution will become an exemplary institution [Musteranstalt] for all of our Moravian coreligionists.121

Although his remarks were addressed to the board of the Nikolsburg Jewish community, Trebitsch clearly had the whole of Moravian Jewry in mind. This became apparent in 1839, when he reiterated to the Gubernium his earlier 1833 proposal that the chief rabbi be given exclusive authority to examine and approve all religious teachers in Moravia.122

By 1839, there was little hope that Trebitsch's efforts to increase his authority beyond the confines of Nikolsburg would meet with any success. From the very beginning of his tenure as chief rabbi, his attempts to impose his will on Moravia's Jewish communities invariably resulted in a backlash against his rabbinic authority. Although Trebitsch was officially responsible for the educational affairs of Moravian Jewry, his efforts to gain exclusive authority over all the province's religious teachers seemed to many a recipe for disaster. One correspondent warned that such a prerogative would lead to a repeat of the “misunderstandings, frictions, and hilul ha-shem [desecration of God's name]” that resulted from Trebitsch's authority over rabbinic candidates. Rather than increase the chief rabbi's prerogatives, the correspondent sought to further diminish them. He proposed a commission—to be elected by Moravia's fifty-two Jewish communities—that would be charged with designing a Hebrew curriculum for Moravia's Jews.123 Educational policy, he implied, should reflect the collective will of the Jewish communities, not the arbitrary dictates of the chief rabbi.

Throughout the 1830s, the will of the community came to take precedence over the will of the chief rabbi. As it turned out, Nehemias Trebitsch remained in the shadow of his illustrious predecessor and never managed to endear himself to the Jewish population he ostensibly oversaw. Ignored by the Jewish communities in Mährisch-Weisskirchen, (p.137) Prossnitz, Loschitz, and Neu-Rausnitz; challenged by rabbis Hirsch Fassel and Abraham Neuda; and censured by the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, Trebitsch was remembered more than anything else for diminishing the stature of the venerable Moravian chief rabbinate. During his ten years in Nikolsburg, many of the prerogatives associated with this office devolved, for all intents and purposes, to Moravia's Jewish communities.


(1.) “Nekrologe,” Kalendar und Jahrbuch für Israeliten 2 (1843–44), 233.

(2.) Schlesinger, Biographische Skizze, 10.

(3.) Benet's certificate is quoted in a letter from Karl Fischer, Hebrew censor in Prague, July 8, 1823, Národní Archiv (Prague), ČG-Publicum 97/12, Karton 7334 (1825). I thank Louise Hecht for bringing this document to my attention.

(4.) Letter from Karl Fischer.

(5.) Letter from Karl Fischer.

(6.) Weiss, Zikhronotai, 44.

(7.) Kahan, “Drei unveröffentlichte Briefe,” 71.

(8.) Mayer, Die Juden unserer Zeit, 43.

(9.) Early on, the Nikolsburg Jewish community favored Eleazar Landau of Prague, grandson of Ezekiel Landau. Koppel Deutsch of Prossnitz vehemently opposed Landau, arguing that it was not customary to elect a chief rabbi whose character was unknown. Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 198. Akiva Eger (1761–1837), rabbi of Posen, was also approached by the Nikolsburg Jewish community. (p.375) See letter (1830) to his son-in-law, Moses Sofer, in Sofer, Igrot Sofrim, v. 1, 20–31.

(10.) The six electors were Moses Karpeles (1765–1837) in Boskowitz, Joseph Feilbogen (1784–1869) in Gross-Meseritsch, Bernard Oppenheim (1791–1859) in Eibenschitz, Bernard Kramer in Hotzenplotz, Aron Stössel (1796/7–1849) in Gaya, and Aron Neuda (d. 1835) in Loschitz. Feilbogen and Oppenheim were candidates as well as electors. Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 201.

(11.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 201.

(12.) The Moravian-Silesian Gubernium expected approval from the Court Chancery within a “suitable period, in any event by the end of January [1831].” Letter from the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to the Court Chancery, December 28, 1830, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5).

(13.) Letter from Jesayes Benedikt [Isaias Benet] to Emperor Franz I, June 29, 1831, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5).

(14.) Letter from Juditha Benedikt [Benet] to Emperor Franz I, February 6, 1832, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5).

(15.) The letter of confirmation is reprinted in Schlesinger, Biographisches Skizze, 11. Trebitsch's installation ceremony is described by Abraham Trebitsch in Korot ha-Ittim (quoted in Buxbaum, “Introduction,” 11).

(16.) A number of letters regarding Schwab's election to the Eibenschitz rabbinate and Benet's subsequent refusal to approve him can be found in the Löw Schwab Archive, JNUL, 4°, 1619/2.

(17.) In Prossnitz, there was some opposition from the more conservative elements. As Gideon Brecher observed, “While N. Trebitsch was still amongst us, all the people gathered together … and elected Löw Schwab—with the exception of M[oses] Katz Wan[e]fried and H[irsch] Klein and their party,” who opposed his election. G. Brecher to Ber Schiff (1830), Gideon Brecher Correspondence, JTSA, AR 22.

(18.) Letter from L. Schwab to the Pest Magistracy, 1837. Quoted in Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 207.

(19.) Weiss, Zikhronotai, 45.

(20.) Letter from L. Schwab to Pest Magistracy, 1837. Quoted in Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 207.

(21.) General-Polizei-Ordnung, Art. I, §6. Scari, Systematische Darstellung, §47.

(22.) Trebitsch to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, July 27, 1833, MZA, B14, M565, no. 28709.

(23.) Scari, Systematische Darstellung, 88–89; Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 202.

(24.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 202.

(25.) Trebitsch to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, July 27, 1833, MZA, B14, M565, no. 28709.

(26.) On the debate over weddings in synagogues, see Guttmann, Struggle over Reform, 58–64.

(27.) Letter from L. Schwab to Pest Magistracy, 1837. Quoted in Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 202.

(28.) For a discussion of the German sermon, see Altmann, “New Style of Preaching,” 65–116.

(29.) Schwab, Das Gedächtniss; Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 212–13.

(30.) Trebitsch, Trauerrede.

(31.) Weiss, Zikhronotai, 45.

(32.) Israelitische Annalen, March 20, 1840, 110.

(33.) Friedlaender, Kore Haddoroth, 53.

(34.) Friedlaender, Kore Haddoroth, 53. According to Friedlaender, Neuda's study companions included Majer Zipser, A. Ehrlich, and Michael Lazar Kohn. On Neuda's friendship with Zipser, see Reich, Beth-El, v. 2, 11–13.

(35.) Die Neuzeit, January 4, 1884, 3; AZJ, January 15, 1884, 45.

(36.) Ber Schiff to G. Brecher, 1836, Gideon Brecher Correspondence, JTSA, AR 22.

(37.) Újvári, Magyar zsidó Lexikon, 202; AZJ, January 15, 1884, 45.

(38.) Mayer, Die Juden unserer Zeit, 44. Mayer's observation is borne out by a letter from Mordecai Benet's eldest son, Naftali, to Isaac Brill of Prossnitz from 13 Heshvan 5596 (November 5, 1835). Naftali inquired about the post in Prossnitz, expressing his willingness to give sermons in both German (pa'am bi-sfat le'umim) and Hebrew (u-fa'am bi-l'shonenu ha-kadosha ve-ha-yekara). He also promised to distinguish himself as a moderate (anokhi elekh ba-derekh ha-memutsa). Gideon Brecher Correspondence, JTSA, AR 22.

(39.) This certification must have taken place at some point between 1832 and 1835, but it is not clear which Jewish community Fassel had been considered for.

(40.) AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 3856/646, 1838.

(41.) This offer may have been made after Moses Karpeles, the rabbi of Boskowitz, died in 1837.

(42.) A section of this letter, dated March 30, 1837, is quoted by Fassel in a letter to Leopold Löw, April 15, 1853. Löw, Gesammelten Schriften, v. 5, 147–48.

(43.) The five rabbis were Salomon Haas (d. 1847) of Strassnitz, Heschel Gläser (d. 1854) of Kremsier, Lowy Hahn (d. 1847) of Tobitschau, Aron Schüller (d. 1846) of Jamnitz, and Hirsch Klein of Prossnitz. Heschel Gläser adamantly refused to give a German sermon in Kremsier in 1843, despite pressure from members of the Jewish community; see AZJ, September 18, 1843, 573.

(44.) N. Trebitsch to Moses Sofer, in Sofer, Igrot Sofrim, v. 2, 68–70.

(45.) G. Brecher to L. Löw, June 26, 1851; Löw, Gesammelte Schriften, v. 5, 145–47.

(46.) Trebitsch to Brünn District Office, November 30, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 53210.

(47.) Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(48.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 203–4.

(49.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 204.

(50.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 205–6.

(51.) AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 3856/646, 1838.

(52.) AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 3856/646, 1838.

(53.) Loschitz Jewish community to Court Chancery, February 1, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 10435.

(54.) Loschitz Jewish community to Court Chancery.

(55.) Loschitz Jewish community to Court Chancery.

(56.) Rozenblit, “Struggle over Religious Reform.”

(57.) Löw, “Aron Chorin,” 251–420.

(58.) Abraham Neuda, “Das Jahrhundert nach seinen Licht- und Schattenseiten, gehalten am Neujahrstage (Rosch Haschana) 5600,” in his Mase davar adonai, 8–26.

(59.) Loschitz Jewish community to Court Chancery, February 1, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 10435.

(60.) Olmütz District Office to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, July 24, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 29274.

(61.) Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(62.) Pillersdorf to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, June 10, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 25942; Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(63.) District rabbis from Beraun, Leitmeritz, Saatz, and Ellenbogen.

(64.) Abraham Neuda to Court Chancery, September 30, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 44035.

(65.) Loschitz Jewish community to Court Chancery, February 1, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 10435.

(66.) Abr. Neuda to Court Chancery, September 30, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 44035.

(67.) Trebitsch to Brünn District Office, November 30, 1840, MZA, B14, M602, no. 53210.

(68.) Trebitsch to Brünn District Office, December 10, 1840. Quoted in a letter from the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to the Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, (p.378) AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(69.) Trebitsch to Brünn District Office, December 10, 1840.

(70.) Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(71.) Although Neuda had been examined by four Bohemian district rabbis, the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium was apparently in possession of only three certificates of competency.

(72.) In fact, only one of Trebitsch's claims—that Neuda's bachelor status made him unqualified for a rabbinic post—seemed to trouble any of the discussants. Perhaps they were wary of interfering with a custom that Trebitsch claimed was “founded on religious principles.”

(73.) Mitterauer, Gelobt sei, 84.

(74.) Trebitsch to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, September 17, 1840, MZA, B14, M605.

(75.) AZJ, November 9, 1839, 576; Israelitische Annalen, April 10, 1840, 133–34.

(76.) Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, December 20, 1841, MZA, B14, M605, no. 3021.

(77.) Moravian-Silesian Gubernium to Court Chancery, January 4, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5), no. 53210.

(78.) Pillersdorf to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, March 11, 1841, AVA, Alter Kultus–Israelitischer Kultus, Rabbiner: Mähren-Schlesien, Karton 3 (IV T 5). See also Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 208–9.

(79.) Brünn Episcopal Consistory to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, April 23, 1841, MZA, B14, M602, no. 17758.

(80.) Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 211.

(81.) Weiss, Zikhronotai, 48. The questions are reproduced in Weiss, Zikhronotai, 48n; and Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 210n. For English translation, see Miller, “Crisis of Rabbinical Authority,” 90.

(82.) Friedlaender, Kore Haddoroth, 54.

(83.) Friedlaender, Kore Haddoroth, 54.

(84.) Schlesinger, Biographische Skizze, 14. “Doch es konnte in einer Zeit, wo so viele religiöse Spaltungen in Israel nicht fremd sind, auch nicht fehlen, dass ein solcher Mann, hat schwer die Bürde seines Amtes fühlen musste [und manche lieblose Beurtheilung sein Herz verwundete]” (In a time when the many religious divisions are no stranger to Israel, it was unavoidable that such a man had difficulties fulfilling the burdens of his office and that some unloving judgment wounded his heart).

(85.) Weiss, Zikhronotai, 41n.

(86.) G. B[recher], “Zwei allgemeine und ein specieller Brief,” AZJ, April 17, (p.379) 1838, 183–84; “Dritter Brief,” April 24, 1838, 195–96. See also letter from G. Brecher to Löw, June 26, 1851, in Löw, Gesammelte Schriften, v. 5, 145–47.

(87.) Nathan Denneberger, “Rabbiner,” AZJ, July 28, 1838, 365–66. According to Israelitische Annalen (March 13, 1840, 100), Trebitsch examined his Talmud students in Prague in “pure German” and allowed his son Seligmann to study ancient and modern languages.

(88.) The other work was Trebitsch's Kovets ‘al Yad ha-ḥazakah, a volume of commentary on Maimonides’ Mishne Torah. Recently, a number of Trebitsch's manuscripts (in the private collection of Mach. on Yerushalayim) have been published, for example, Sefer Shalom Yerushalayim: ḥidushim u-ferushim, hagahot ve-tikunim ̒al Talmud Yerushalmi, Seder Zera'im and Sefer Shalom Yerushalayim: ḥidushim ̒al ha-Mishnah, Masekhet Zevaḥim. A collection of his rabbinic responsa was published as She'elot u-teshuvot Rabi Naḥum Trebitsch.

(89.) Trebitsch, Sefer Shalom yerushalayim (Vienna, 1821), commentary on paragraph 463.

(90.) “Aus Mähren,” AZJ, November 5, 1842, 663–66. See also Löw, “Das mährische Landesrabbinat,” 204n1.

(91.) Weiss, Meine Lehrjahre, 76. Among these students were Abraham Neuda, Michael Lazar Kohn, Majer Zipser, and A. Ehrlich.

(92.) Klemperer, “Remeniszenzen,” 25–37.

(93.) Dr. Ahron (Adolf) Rosenbach (1799–1870), head of the firm Bloch & Sohn in Prague, owned a significant Jewish library and gave occasional lectures in philosophy. Although Klemperer recalled that Rosenbach received his doctorate in Prague, Rosenmann states that he received it at the university in Vienna. Rosenmann, Dr. Adolf Jellinek, 23n41.

(94.) Translations of the Moravian Edict of Toleration are adapted from Iggers, Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, 48–52. For the original German, see Müller, Urkundliche Beiträge, 185–90. See Kieval, “Caution's Progress,” 71–105.

(95.) Briess, Schilderung, 57.

(96.) Weiss, Meine Lehrjahre, 16–18.

(97.) In Schulgesetzgebung und Methodik der alten Israeliten, Moritz Duschak described the situation of private teachers as follows: “There was no shortage of teachers; when one left, another would come who legitimized himself through his overflowing knowledge and his skill…. Since the permanence of the job was not guaranteed, and since [the teacher] could be easily dismissed if his knowledge, actions, and [way of] life were found to be unsatisfactory, the loss of a bad teacher was not a big deal. The teaching methods and educational level of the teacher were not inquired about, no certificate of maturity or good standing was required, and it was considered a happy coincidence if the teacher happened to be endowed with a ḥaver or morenu title. The term of the contract was usually one semester, from Passover until Sukkot, and then from Sukkot until Passover” (p. 45).

(98.) Duschak, Schulgesetzgebung, 22. According to one obituary, not only was (p.380) Wolf Mühlrad (1807–1862) an “astute talmudist, well-read in every branch of rabbinic and Jewish literature,” but he also wrote a “correct and graceful” German even though he was a complete autodidact in this language. BCh 5(3) (1862), 21–22.

(99.) Scari, Systematische Darstellung, 102.

(100.) Trebitsch to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, July 27, 1833, MZA, B14, M565, no. 28709.

(101.) Gross-Meseritsch Jewish community to the Moravian-Silesian Gubernium, December 28, 1842, MZA, B14, M613, no. 13993.

(102.) Trebitsch, like his predecessors in the Moravian chief rabbinate, was also communal rabbi of Nikolsburg.

(103.) For Fassel's criticism of traditional heder education, see Ḥorev be-tsiyyon, 24–26.

(104.) AZJ, April 17–23, 1838, 183–84, 195–96.

(105.) Wurzbach 54 (1856): 159–60; Die Neuzeit, December 10, 1897, 503–5; AZJ, November 29, 1912, 570–72.

(106.) Meyer, Response to Modernity, 153–54; Sadek, “La synagogue réformée,” 119–23.

(107.) Joseph Weisse, “Biographische Einleitung” to Jedaja Penini Bedarschi in Bechinat Olam (Vienna: F. Edler von Schmid and S. S. Busch, 1847).

(108.) The poem was published in KI 2 (1845): 75–76.

(109.) WB, August 11, 1850.

(110.) AZJ, May 29, 1843, 324. The Society was set up in April 1839 and given government approval three months later. MZA, M599, no. 12869, April 3, 1840.

(111.) Ignaz Kirchner, Prossnitz Schuldistriktsaufseher und Land, Pfarrer in Moskowitz to Plumenau district office, March 17, 1839, MZA Kunštat, F 264, ev. č. 257, sign. M XXVI, Fasz. 39.

(112.) MZA Kunštat, F 264, ev. č. 257, sign. M XXVI, Fasz. 33.

(113.) MZA, B14, M597, no. 25248, December 29, 1838.

(114.) MZA, B14, M597, no. 25248, December 29, 1838.

(115.) MZA, B14, M597, no. 25248, December 29, 1838.

(116.) MZA, B14, M597, August 8, 1838.

(117.) MZA, B14, M565, no. 44444, October 19, 1841.

(118.) The school was officially established on April 19, 1839. For a history of Jewish education in Nikolsburg, see Anton Altrichter, “Das jüdische Schulwesen in Nikolsburg,” CAHJP HM 2/8202.

(119.) Jewish Museum in Prague, Sitzungsprotokolle des Gemeinde-Vorstands (Mikulov), October 7, 1838.

(120.) Jewish Museum in Prague, Sitzungsprotokolle des Gemeinde-Vorstands (Mikulov).

(121.) Jewish Museum in Prague, Sitzungsprotokolle des Gemeinde-Vorstands (Mikulov).

(122.) AZJ, November 2, 1839, 565–66.

(123.) AZJ, November 2, 1839, 565–66.