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Bacher, Simon

(1823–1891), Hebrew poet and community leader. A branch of the illustrious Bacharach family settled in Hungary around the last third of the eighteenth century. The Bachers (the shortened form of the family name was used among non-Jewish circles; in Hebrew they continued to be called Bacharach) settled in Liptószentmiklós (now Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia) in northwest Hungary. When Simon Bacher was born, the town had a fairly large Jewish community, and was famous as a seat of traditional learning (El‘azar Löw, author of the Shemen rokeaḥ, had just come to serve as rabbi and maintained an important yeshiva), but was also known for its sympathy for the Haskalah.

In 1839, after completing four years of study with the local rabbi, Bacher studied briefly at Moravian yeshivas (in Nikolsburg with Chief Rabbi Neḥemyah Naḥum Trebitsch and in Leipnik with Shelomoh Quetsch), before returning to Hungary to attend the yeshiva of Mosheh Perles at Eisenstadt and then in Bonyhád; Bacher graduated in 1842. These yeshivas had in common (in contrast to Pressburg and some other Hungarian institutions) the fact that their students’ interest in the Haskalah and secular studies was tolerated, and at times even encouraged.

During his yeshiva years, Bacher began to translate German poetry into Hebrew—typically an early effort, Schiller’s “Lied von der Glocke” (Ode to the Bell), was a favorite choice of Jewish readers—and composed original Hebrew poems. He complained bitterly about the neglect of Hebrew in his generation and dedicated himself to its revival.

At age 19, Bacher returned to Liptószentmiklós and worked as a merchant. The community underwent important changes in the 1840s, when moderate reforms were instituted in the synagogue and a modern Jewish school was set up. Thanks to the conciliatory attitude of the rabbi and men whose ideas were similar to Bacher’s, communal conflict was avoided. Bacher soon found himself assuming the post of communal secretary and served as a member of the school board. He spent the 1850s as inspector of the salt mines in Szucsány, a comfortable position that enabled him to devote considerable time to his writings and studies. Returning to Liptószentmiklós in the 1860s, he tried his hand in trade and agriculture, but the Austro-Prussian War ruined him economically. He moved to Pest, where eventually he became the community’s treasurer, a post he held until the end of his life. He married Deborah Tedesco in 1848; the most famous of their eight children was Wilhelm (Vilmos), who became a professor of Talmud at the Budapest Rabbinical Seminary.

During the Jewish Congress of Hungary of 1868–1869, Bacher filed reports with the Hebrew weekly Ha-Magid and translated the regulations of the Congress into Hebrew. He was deeply interested in developments in the Land of Israel and was appointed Hungarian representative by the library established in Jerusalem in 1875. He published regularly in the Jerusalem periodical Ha-Ḥavatselet, including his 1877 poem “Le-Ohave Tsiyon” (To the Lovers of Zion), which declared his abiding love for Palestine in the face of a mocking, assimilating younger generation.

From 1844 on, Bacher published Hebrew poetry in Viennese Haskalah journals, especially Mendel Stern’s Kokheve Yitsḥak; Bacher’s German poems also appeared in periodicals. He wrote reports for both the Jewish and non-Jewish German press, and was a talented translator from German, Hungarian, and French. His first book was a translation of Ludwig Philippson’s Yojachin (1860), followed by a rendering of Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (1866) into Hebrew. A few years later, he translated a volume of Hungarian poems as Zemirot ha-arets (Songs of the Land; 1868). His Hebrew poems were inspired by Jewish legends and history. He also wrote many occasional poems celebrating or commemorating national and Jewish events (such as the inauguration of the rabbinical seminary) and personalities, Jewish and non-Jewish (Mór Wahrmann’s assumption of a seat in parliament; the death of Baron József Eötvös). Many first appeared in the organ of the communal functionaries, A hitközségi hivatalnok közlönye—Beamten-Zeitung.

Suggested Reading

Bacher’s biography and detailed bibliography appear in the introduction written by his son, Wilhelm (Vilmos) Bacher, to his father’s collected Hebrew poems, Sha‘ar Shim‘on, 3 vols. (Vienna, 1894). The first part contains his original poems; the second, translations; the third, his translation of Nathan the Wise. See also Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, Yalkut ha-meshorerim ha-‘ivriyim me-Hungaryah (Tel Aviv, 1977), pp. 109–118.