The First Hebrew Periodicals of the Hebrew Haskalah: The Transition from Hame’asef (1783-1811) to Bikurei Ha’itim (1820-1831)

כתבי-העת העבריים הראשונים של ההשכלה העברית: המעבר מהמאסף (1783-1811) לבכורי העתים (1820-1831)


The article examines some of the cultural trends that developed among the Maskilim in Germany since the demise of Ha-me'asef first in 1797 and then in 1811, relating them to the emergence of the Haskalah in Austria and to the launching of the periodical Bikurei ha'itim. The folding of Ha-me'asef came as a result of the changes in cultural needs of the intellectual elite among the Maskilim who increasingly resorted to the use of German culture and literature instead of Hebrew. This trend is documented in the correspondence between the first editor of Ha-me'asef, Isaac Euchel, and its last editor, Shalom Hacohen, and in the writings of the contemporary Maskil Juda Leib Ben Zeev, among others. Nevertheless, there were attempts to revive that Hebrew journal. First, in 1799, there was an unsuccessful attempt, as Hacohen prompted Euchel to assume again the editorship of Ha-me'asef. Then, in 1808, Hacohen himself launched the new Ha-me'asef, which continued publication for three years, till 1811. Seven years after the closing of the journal, in 1818, there was an attempt to publish selections from Ha-me'asef, a plan that most probably did not materialize. The emergence of the Haskalah in Austria is said to have been a gradual process, following in the footsteps of the Berlin Haskalah, although its course eventually took a somewhat different path.The author notes that two institutions which become active in Vienna in these years led to the growing interest in the Haskalah. They were the Hebrew printing presses, which employed Hebrew proofreaders and editors, and the beginning of modern Hebrew schools and the practice of private Hebrew tutoring. Both institutions attracted noted Hebrew writers and educators, the carriers of Hebrew culture, to Vienna. When Shalom Hacohen came to Vienna in 1820 at the invitation of Anton Schmid, the publisher of Hebrew books and owner of the printing press, to become a proofreader and an editor, he found the ground prepared for launching a journal, following somewhat in the footsteps of Ha-me'asef. While this is the generally accepted overview of the backdrop leading to the appearance of Bikurei Ha'itim, the writer undertook to examine some other phenomena on the Jewish publications scene that he believes have some bearing on the launching of Bikurei Ha'itim. The first phenomenon is the publication of several Jewish journals, which attempted to fill the lacuna of the demised Hebrew journal, Hame'asef. In 1806, between the first Hame'asef and the renewed one, two Jewish educators, David Fraenkel and Joseph Wolf, published a German periodical, Sulamith, It undertook to promote culture and humanism among the 'Jewish nation' and to advocate brotherhood and tolerance. Sulamith was intended to serve the remnants of the Hebrew Maskilim who wished to read a Hebrew periodical or were nostalgic about Hame'asef and its authors. The second German Jewish periodical was Jedidja, published first in 1817 by Jeremias Heinemann, as a religious, ethical and pedagogic quarterly. It, too, carried articles and poems in Hebrew, and was intended as well to serve Hebrew Maskilim. Meanwhile in Amsterdam, the Hebrew society 'Hevrat To'elet' launched its Hebrew periodical, Bikurei To'elet, in 1820, prior to the publication of Bikurei Ha'itim. This writer asserts that these three periodicals must have been on the desk of Shalom Hacohen and Anton Schmid when they were contemplating their plans to publish a new Hebrew journal in Austria. In March 1820, Schmid announced that he was going to publish a calendar, titled Itim Mezumanim, and an annual by the name of Bikurei Ha'itim. The simultaneous publication of the annual and calendar attests to an innovative concept. According to this writer, these two publications were interrelated and interdependent, a view that was not been discussed in any critical writing on Bikurei Ha'itim. To understand this innovative concept, this writer proposes to examine the contemporary phenomenon of Jewish pocket calendars. The contents, style and essence of some calendars were examined while particular attention was given to Joseph Perl's special calendar, Zir Ne'eman. It was published in 1814 — 1816. Thus, it is the conclusion of this writer that Bikurei Ha'itim at its inception was planned as an almanac, incorporating data, business and practical information with intellectual and literary material.

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Kesher /קשר

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