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Eisenbaum, Antoni

(1791–1852), director of the Warsaw Rabbinical School and leader of the radical integrationist movement in the Kingdom of Poland. Born in Warsaw, Antoni Eisenbaum was orphaned at an early age and received an incomplete secular secondary education. As a young man he was fluent in Polish, German, English, French, and Italian but never mastered Hebrew. He first earned his living as a private teacher and bookkeeper.

From as early as 1818, Eisenbaum worked as an interpreter for the secret military police. He began his public career in 1822 with a series of articles in the Polish press, urging reforms of the kahal (the self-governing Jewish community), the rabbinate, and traditional elementary education. He soon acquired government support for a periodical for Jews and in 1823–1824 published 44 issues of Dostrzegacz Nadwiślański (Observer at the Vistula; also issued in German in Hebrew characters as Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel), the first Jewish periodical in Poland. Eisenbaum was its editor and the author of the majority of its articles, as he failed to secure the collaboration of Polish maskilim. The periodical failed after 10 months.

Eisenbaum remained a close collaborator for the government. In 1826, he was appointed guardian of the boarding school and manager of the government-sponsored Rabbinical School in Warsaw. Under his influence, the school became a secular Jewish secondary school with a strongly pro-Polish curriculum. Arrested during the insurrection of 1830–1831 on charges of spying for Russia, Eisenbaum was soon released and joined Polish auxiliary military formations. After the defeat of the rebellion, his pro-Polish sympathies were the subject of police investigation, but the support he enjoyed in government circles saved him from prosecution.

In the rabbinical school, Eisenbaum created a library, a chemistry laboratory, and a synagogue with a choir, where he introduced reformed rites. He was an active member of the council of the Daniłowiczowska Street synagogue (the so-called German synagogue), which in 1852 succeeded in gaining independence from the Jewish community board.

Although Eisenbaum was a skillful journalist, little of his work has survived and his only lengthy text, a memorandum to Alexander I, “Essais sur l’état des juifs en Pologne et les moyens de les utiliser” (Essay on the State of Jews in Poland and a Means of Making Them Useful; 1823) is lost. Eisenbaum was a typical post-Haskalah advocate of emancipation and profound integration. He was the first and for many years the only “progressive” Jew in Poland who openly broke with Moses Mendelssohn’s legacy. His conflict with the community of Warsaw maskilim resulted from his aspirations for radical religious reform and, later, from his openly demonstrated religious indifference. Nevertheless, Eisenbaum had the support of some of Warsaw’s Jewish bourgeoisie and the government, and was able to significantly influence the ideological profile of his rabbinical school and its graduates. Through them, he had an effect on the pro-Polish ideology of the integration faction during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Suggested Reading

“Antoni Eisenbaum,” Izraelita 12 (1877): 205–207; Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Eugene Orenstein, Aaron Klein, and Jenny Machlowitz Klein (Philadelphia, 1985), pp. 219–220; Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 1–2 (New York, 1947–1948).



Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski