Society founded at Berlin (Nov. 27, 1819) by Leopold Zunz, Eduard Gans, and Moses Moser. The objects of the society were to improve the social position of the Jews and tocheck the conversions to Christianity which at that time had alarmingly increased in the Berlin community. These aims were to be attained by spreading general culture among the Jews and by furthering the study of Jewish history and literature. About fifty intellectual members of the Berlin community joined the society, among them the philologist Ludwig Markus, to whose character Heinrich Heine paid a glowing tribute. On Aug. 4, 1822, Heine himself joined the society, and later some of the surviving members of Mendelssohn's circle, as David Friedländer and Lazarus Bendavid, followed suit. Outside of Berlin the society was joined by about twenty members of the temple congregation at Hamburg (see Jew. Encyc. vi. 193a), and also by individual Jews in other places.

The society, in spite of its very limited means, planned to establish a complete system of educational institutions, from primary to academic, including industrial schools. It actually opened a school in which Polish baḥurim, who came to Berlin in large numbers, were instructed in secular branches. At the same time the society prepared a program for a normal course of instruction in the Jewish religion. Heine proposed the founding of a women's auxiliary society which should promote the aims of the mother institution in the homes. However, on account of this manifold activity, no tangible results were accomplished, and hence it was decided to limit the work of the society to the furthering of "Jewish science." With this aim in view the society began in 1822 to publish a "Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums," of which Leopold Zunz was the editor. The first number was headed by an article entitled "Ueber den Begriff einer Wissenschaft des Judenthums." Gans wrote on Talmudic law, and Zunz contributed an essay entitled "Salomon ben Isak, Genannt Raschi." As early as May, 1823, however, the editors felt obliged to ask the public to show greater interest in the periodical; this request being unheeded, the society had to cease its activity, a ceremonious farewell-meeting which had been suggested being tactfully omitted. Eduard Gans, who had been among the most active members of the society, was the first to desert the cause; he became converted to Christianity in order to obtain a professorship. Others followed him, and on account of the general lack of interest the rest despaired of attaining any measure of success.

  • Grätz, Gesch. xi. 397 et seq.;
  • Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Markus, Denkworte;
  • G. Karpeles, Heinrich Heine: Aus Seinem Leben und aus Seiner Zeit, Berlin, 1901;
  • Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums, Berlin, 1823.
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