Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Bernfeld, Shim‘on

(1860–1940), historian, journalist, editor, and translator. Shim‘on Bernfeld was born in Stanisławów, Galicia (now Ivano-Frankivs’k, Ukraine). In the face of persecution by Hasidic circles in Stanisławów, Bernfeld’s father, who was a maskil, relocated in 1872 to Lwów, where Shim‘on took up Hebrew and general studies. When he was 17, he became acquainted with other young maskilim in Lwów and began reading the works of Voltaire, Rousseau, Goethe, Schiller, and Spinoza.

Bernfeld’s first article, on medieval Jewish history, was published in Magid ha-mishneh (a supplement to Ha-Magid), edited by David Gordon, in 1878. In the summer of 1879, he wrote a collection of articles, La-Torah vela-te‘udah, which was published in Ha-Magid in sequels as of 1880. The articles, published under the pseudonym Peli, made a profound impression because of the author’s erudition and his mockery of the vague, indeterminate style then prevailing in Hebrew political journalism.

In 1880, the publisher and editor of Ha-Kol invited Bernfeld to serve as editor of the weekly publication in Königsberg, where he remained for a short while, serving as an editorial assistant. In early 1881, Gordon accepted Bernfeld’s invitation to join Ha-Magid; he served as Gordon’s assistant and published, anonymously as well as under his own name, editorial articles, critical reviews, and articles on Jewish philosophy and on settling the Land of Israel.

Between 1881 and 1883, Bernfeld was a student at the University of Königsberg, moving in 1883 to Berlin, where he attended the (Reform) College of Jewish Sciences and the University of Berlin, from which he graduated and received his degree in 1885. That same year, he was ordained as a rabbi, and between 1886 and 1894 served as chief rabbi of the Sephardic congregation of Belgrade. Later, he returned to Berlin, where he lived and worked diligently, even after he had become blind.

In his numerous articles and publications, Bernfeld encompassed virtually the entire history of the Jewish people and Hebrew literature. He managed to distill and explain, simply and clearly, the results of contemporary research on Judaism and Jewish history. He was a close acquaintance of Ahad Ha-Am and a regular contributor to Ha-Shiloaḥ. Bernfeld’s book Kore ha-dorot (A History; 1887) addressed, as he himself stated, “the spirit of the Jewish people and Judaism from the earliest generation,” and included a review of Jewish history from the nation’s earliest days to the victory of Judah Maccabee. Dor tahapukhot (Revolutionary Generation; 1897–1898) was a two-volume monograph on the early days of Haskalah in Germany; Da‘at Elohim (Knowledge of God) presented the history of Jewish religious philosophy (1897–1899).

In addition to publishing books on the history of Islam and the history of the Crusades, Bernfeld wrote Mavo sifruti-histori le-khitve ha-kodesh (A Literary-Historical Introduction to the Holy Scriptures; 1923–1929). One of his most influential and characteristic books is Sefer ha-dema‘ot (The Book of Tears; 1923–1926), a three-volume anthology that presents Jewish literary responses to various persecutions from the era of the Maccabees to the nineteenth century. In his extensive introduction, Bernfeld reviews Jewish martyrdom throughout the ages and analyzes the evolution of antisemitism. Shim‘on Bernfeld was murdered by the Nazis, after his attempts to immigrate to Palestine had failed.

Suggested Reading

Simon Bernfeld, “Zikhronot,” Reshumot 4 (1926): 145–193; Jacob Fichman, Ruḥot menagnot: Sofre Polin (Jerusalem, 1952/53), pp. 374–382; Zevi Wislavsky (Woyslawski), “Shim‘on Bernfeld,” in Yeḥidim bi-reshut ha-rabim: Sidrat-masot ‘al ishim ve-de‘ot ba-dor, 2nd exp. ed., pp. 206–212 (Jerusalem, 1955/56).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann