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Rabbinowitz, Sha’ul Pinḥas

(1845–1910), scholar, translator, and Zionist activist. Sha’ul (Saul) Pinḥas Rabbinowitz, known also by the acronym Shefer (after his initials), was born in Taurage, in the Kaunas (Kovno) district of Lithuania. He spent his childhood in Shnipishok (Lith., Šnipiškės), a suburb of Vilna, and in 1868 was ordained as a rabbi at Yisra’el Salanter’s yeshiva in Kovno. Rabbinowitz subsequently worked as a tutor in the homes of wealthy Jewish families.

In 1874, Rabbinowitz published his first article, “‘Atsat emet” (Sincere Advice), in the Hebrew weekly Ha-Magid, signing his name as “Reshef” (another acronym based on his name). His article discussed a burning issue: the growth of Hebrew schools and the potential abolition of heders. In 1875, Rabbinowitz settled with his family in Warsaw and began contributing to the newspaper Ha-Tsefirah. Between 1877 and 1881, he served as a member of the paper’s editorial board and wrote its political column, Divre ha-yamim (Chronicles).

When pogroms broke out in Russia in the early 1880s, Rabbinowitz publicized the attacks to the Western press, and was at the center of a group of writers who organized to alert the European public about Russian acts of antisemitism. Rabbinowitz wrote, edited correspondence, and collected information about the violence, sending the details to newspapers abroad, mainly to the Times of London.

In the wake of the pogroms, Rabbinowitz initially advocated Jewish resettlement in America, but soon joined the ranks of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement. Serving as secretary of the Warsaw chapter of Ḥoveve Tsiyon (as Ḥibat Tsiyon followers were known), he was instrumental in organizing the Katowice conference on Zionism in 1884. Two years later, however, internal quarrels led him to leave the chapter. He then concentrated on scientific work and political journalism.

In 1886, Rabbinowitz founded the annual Keneset Yisra’el, publishing three volumes between 1886 and 1888, with articles on history, biblical studies, literature and literary criticism, ancient manuscripts, science, economics, and commerce. He also included columns devoted to the cause of Ḥibat Tsiyon and to the resettlement of the Land of Israel.

Rabbinowitz’s major work was his translation into Hebrew of Heinrich Graetz’s Geschichte der Juden (History of the Jews), to which he added revisions and supplements. Rabbinowitz’s version, Sefer divre yeme Yisra’el: Mi-Yom heyot Yisra’el le-‘am ‘ad yeme ha-dor ha-aḥaron (The History Book of the Jewish Nation from the Day It Became a Nation to the Days of the Latest Generation) was issued in eight volumes between 1888 and 1899. His changes to the original reflected his desire to avoid offending Orthodox Jews and Russian censors. He also added substantial information about Jewish events in Eastern Europe.

Rabbinowitz published biographies of the scholars Yom Tov Lippman (Leopold) Zunz (1897), Zacharias Frankel (1898), and of Yosel of Rosheim (1902). He created a memorial volume on the four hundredth anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain, titled Motsa’e golah (Origins of the Exile; 1894), and a book about political and practical Zionism, called ‘Al tsiyon ve-‘al mikra’eha (1898). He was a regular contributor to the column Hashkafah kelalit (General Outlook), in the monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ. After the death of Shemu’el Yosef Fuenn in 1891, Rabbinowitz completed Fuenn’s dictionary of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. In 1907, he settled in Frankfurt, where he died three years later.

Suggested Reading

Menuḥah Gilbo‘a, Leksikon ha-‘itonut ha-‘ivrit ba-me’ot ha-shemoneh ‘esreh veha-tesha‘ ‘esreh (Tel Aviv, 1992), pp. 324–327; Getzel Kressel, Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, cols. 823–824 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967); Josef Meisel, R. Sha’ul Pinḥas Rabinovits (Shefer): Ha-Ish u-fo‘olo (Tel Aviv, 1943).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann