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Beck, Moritz

(1845–1923), rabbi, biblical scholar, and educator. Moritz (Me’ir) Beck was born in Pápa, Hungary, where he attended Jewish elementary school, Catholic secondary school, and Protestant high school. At the same time, he studied Hebrew, Torah, and the Talmud with a private tutor, Salomon Iosef Goldberg. In 1865, Beck left for Breslau to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary established by Zacharias Frankel, as well as the faculty of philosophy at the University of Breslau. In 1868, he earned his Ph.D. with a dissertation in biblical studies and in 1872 became a rabbi.

In 1873, Beck moved to Iaşi, Romania, to work as a private tutor, and in the fall of that year he moved to Bucharest to become the principal of the Iacob and Carolina Loebel Jewish elementary school for boys that was attached to the city’s Choral Temple; he also served as preacher in the same temple, holding both positions until he retired in 1921.

Beck was the leader promoting modern Jewish education in Romania, and was also a member of the Central Committee of the Israelite Schools. His efforts were central to the establishment of the first Jewish secondary school in Romania in 1898. Beck published a textbook in Romanian for the study of Judaism, Învățătura religiunei mosaice pentru usul junimei Israelite (1879), and his five-volume Vocabular analitic ebraico-românesc la Pentateuchul sau cele cinci cărți ale lui Moise (1881–1923) was the first Hebrew–Romanian biblical dictionary.

In his religious thinking, Beck embraced the path of Positive-Historical Judaism, which rejected both Orthodoxy and radical reform. He was influenced by the Conservative Reform, as it was practiced in the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau. Nevertheless, in 1884, he unsuccessfully attempted to replace the Kol Nidre prayer according to Abraham Geiger’s model. Originally Beck had opposed the idea of bringing an organ into the Choral Temple of Bucharest, but eventually he accepted the change on condition that the organist not be Jewish (1901); he also allowed a choir with both sexes (1905). His conflict on religious issues with the Orthodox rabbi Ḥayim Schor, head of the rabbinical court, was taken before state authorities in 1899–1905; the issue concerned the orientation and the leadership of the Jewish Ashkenazic religious life in Bucharest and also the oath taken by Jewish soldiers in the Romanian army, as well as the Jewish civil oath more judaico. (The oath more judaico was an oath taken on the Torah, which Jewish witnesses to Romanian civil trials were required to swear, calling down curses upon themselves should their testimony be false.) Beck opposed the oath, but Schor accepted it.

Beck was the copresident of the local committee of Alliance Israélite Universelle and was also among the founders of the Fraterna Society and of the Union of Native Jews from Romania. Under the aegis of the B’nai B’rith organization, he edited Revista Israelită (The Israelite Review; 1886–1892), a publication issued twice a month in Romanian; the review was revived again in 1908–1910 under his management and was edited by Saniel Grosman. In his editorials, Beck focused on the struggle for emancipation and on maintaining Jewish identity while preserving Romanian patriotism.

Suggested Reading

Dr. M. Beck: Viața şi opera, 1845–1923; Cuvânt de omagiu (Bucharest, 1925), anthology of fragments of Beck’s works, his memoirs, and articles about him written by some of his friends; Lucian-Zeev Herşcovici (Lusy’an-Ze’ev Hershkovits), “Tenu‘at ha-tikunim be-dat be-kerev yehude Romanyah, 1857–1921,” Ha-Kongres ha-‘olami le-mada‘e ha-yahadut 12.2 (2000): 155–165; Liviu Rotman, Ha-Ḥevrah bi-re’i ha-ḥinukh: Bet ha-sefer ha-yehudi ha-romani, 1851–1914 (Tel Aviv, 1999); Cristina Toma, “Rabinul Meir Beck: O personalitate de prim rang din trecutul evreilor români,” in Buletinul centrului, muzeului şi arhivei istorice a evreilor din România 7 (2001): 70–85.



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea