A Prospectus for the First Hebrew Periodical, "Hame'assef"

המאסף: "הקדמה ופתיחת מכתב אשר יצא לאור": מנשר של כתב העת העברי הראשון ודרכו


The first Hebrew periodical ever, Hame'assef ("The Compiler") was launched in Koenigsberg, Prussia, in 1784 and appeared until 1811. Revolutionary for its time, the monthly advocated secular study, a new attitude by Jews to the arts and sciences, and integration into the surrounding milieu. Prior to publication, in 1783, the publisher issued a 16-page prospectus titled "Nahal Habesor" ("Stream of Good Tidings"), signed by Yitzhak Eichel, editor, and three additional editors: Mendel Breslau, Shimon Friedlander and Zanwil Friedlander. Laid out in the same style as the future Hame'assef itself, this lengthy manifesto addresses five questions: What? Who? For whom? Why? How? The answers provide information on the content of the planned periodical; the identity of the editors and their initial task — requesting the participation of the Hebrew literary authority then, Naphtali Herz Wiesel, and his encouraging reply; and the founding of a publishing society. The entire document reflects an analytic approach to the undertaking of publishing a periodical. The authors plan to organize the monthly in five divisions: poetry, articles, biographies, news and new books. The poetry to be published will be devoted to wisdom and ethics, not to "lustful topics" or to "imitations of paganism" (i.e., classical mythology) or foreign gods. The articles section, to be titled "Letters," will contain linguistic essays on all aspects of Hebrew, reflecting Enlightenment research with an emphasis on rejuvenating the language; Bible commentary and translation into German, reflecting the influence of Moses Mendelssohn in this area; general knowledge and ethics; and Talmud study according to a rational system with emphasis on the sources. Education of the mind, the authors emphasized, was to be accompanied by physical education," a notion typical of the new enlightenment outlook. Biographies would be devoted to the lives of outstanding Jews in the religious and scholarly area; in the realm of Enlightenment scholarship; and in the mercantile sector. These three sectors reflect the Enlightenment approach: the integration of tradition with innovation. News reports would focus on events in Jewish life in various countries, which, in the editors' view, was particularly important at that time when modern education and an emphasis on tolerance were attributes that were spreading through Europe and would have a significant effect on Jewish life. Lastly, new books of interest in Hebrew and foreign languages would be announced and reviews would be published. While most of these categories were borrowed from the contemporary European press, what was significant was the distinctly Jewish-Hebraic imprint that the proposed periodical would have. Even the name of the prospectus, the biblical Nahal Habesor, and linguistic formulations in the text that reflect the theme of a stream that waters a garden, i.e., the Garden of Eden, are rooted in familiar hallowed biblical texts. The authors present themselves as a homogeneous group of Enlightenment thinkers who blend religious study with modern scholarship. Anxious not to be perceived as a threat to the traditional Jewish establishment, they are careful to underline their devotion to the Torah, yet they clearly want to draw the young generation — their intended audience — to the Enlightenment. Nahal Habesor, as Hame'assef itself, reflects the unique character of the Hebrew Enlightenment, a movement that stemmed from the general enlightenment atmosphere of Europe but carved out its own particular channel.

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Kesher /קשר

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