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Bacher, Vilmos

(1850–1913), Talmudic scholar, orientalist, and rector of the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest. A descendant of the eighteenth-century German rabbi Ya’ir Ḥayim Bacharach, and a son of Hebrew poet Simon Bacher (Bacharach), Vilmos (Wilhelm) Bacher was born in Liptószentmiklós (now Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia), a region in which traditional rabbinic culture was relatively open to secular ideas.

Bacher finished high school at an evangelical Protestant institution in Pressburg, where he learned classical Greek and Latin. He subsequently studied Arabic, Sanskrit, Persian, and other disciplines at the universities of Pest and Breslau. Earning his doctorate from the University of Leipzig at the age of 20, he wrote his dissertation on the medieval Jewish Persian poet Nizāmī. In 1868, Bacher had also enrolled at the Rabbinical Seminary of Breslau, and received rabbinic ordination in 1876. He succeeded Leopold (Lipót) Löw as rabbi of Szeged but left this position in 1877 when the newly established Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest offered him a chair. There, Bacher taught medieval biblical exegesis, midrash, Hebrew poetry and grammar, and served as rector from 1907 until his death. He also associated with Ignác Goldziher; in their youth they had studied together and later became in-laws, though their relationship ultimately grew strained and hostile.

Many of Bacher’s works are still indispensable references for several branches of ancient and medieval Jewish literature, among them his works on the theological and moral teachings as well as the biblical exegesis of the Talmudic rabbis: Die Agada der Tannaiten (1884–1890), Die Agada der palästinensischen Amoräer (1892–1899), Die Agada der babylonischen Amoräer (1878), and Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditions-Literatur (1899–1905). His writings on medieval Hebrew grammar and lexicography include Die Anfänge der hebräischen Grammatik (1895) and Sepher Haschoraschim, Wurzelwörterbuch der hebräischen Sprache von Abulwalid Merwan Ibn Ganah (1894–1897). Besides other important works on Semitic philology, he also wrote monographs on medieval Jewish biblical exegesis as well as a pioneering volume on the transmission of the attributed traditions of the Talmud (Tradition und Tradenten in den Schulen Palästinas und Babyloniens; 1914).

Bacher initiated several significant scholarly and literary projects in Hungary that reached a wide audience. He launched and was the editor in chief of the quarterly Magyar Zsidó Szemle (1884), and founded and guided the Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat (Hungarian Jewish Literary Society; 1894) and a Hungarian translation of the Bible by Jewish scholars (1898–1907). He enjoyed enormous prestige among scholars of Judaica worldwide, and played key roles in important international scholarly endeavors of his time, including the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Mekitse Nirdamim society, and the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaft des Judentums.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Krauss, “Binyamin Zev Bakher,” Ha-Shiloaḥ 30 (1914): 168–178, 385–392, 487–497; Magyar Zsidó Szemle 27.1–2 (1910), double issue devoted to Bacher; Raphael Patai, “Wilhelm Bacher,” in The Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest, 1877–1977: A Centennial Volume, ed. Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, pp. 151–161 (New York, 1986).