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Gurland, Ḥayim Yonah

(1843–1890), Russian Jewish intellectual and crown rabbi. Born in Kleck, Belorussia (mod. Kletsk, Belarus), Ḥayim Yonah Gurland received a maskilic education at the Vilna rabbinical seminary. After graduating in 1860, he was accepted at the University of Saint Petersburg, where he studied Semitic languages under the convert Daniil Khvol’son (Daniel Chwolson), whose work on the Babylonian god Tammuz he translated into Hebrew. Gurland also translated the fables of Lockman (Ar., Lugmān) from Arabic into Russian, and in 1863 was awarded a gold medal for his thesis on the influence of Arabic philosophy on Maimonides.

Gurland worked for several years on the Firkovich collection of Karaite manuscripts in the Imperial Library, identifying some of the counterfeits it contained. After three years of research, he produced a master’s thesis on the Karaite Mordecai Comtino and his contemporaries, for which he received a degree in 1866. He also published a Hebrew-language study on Samaritan language and culture in Ha-Karmel (1866–1867).

Gurland was then employed to produce a catalog of Hebrew manuscripts in the Imperial Library dealing with mathematics, astronomy, and astrology, which he published in 1866 under the title Ginze Yisra’el be-St. Piturburg. The other volumes of this work presented his studies on Karaite pilgrims to the Holy Land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on Hebrew proverbs and sayings, and on Comtino’s literary production. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Moses Montefiore’s 1846 visit to Russia, Gurland published a panegyric to the Anglo-Jewish philanthropist.

In 1869, Gurland moved to Ekaterinoslav, where he married into a wealthy family. While in that city, he published a number of bilingual Russian–Hebrew Jewish annual calendars with articles and items of interest to Russian Jews. When the rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir was closed in 1873, leaving only a teachers’ seminary, Gurland was appointed government inspector. He worked closely with the college and its staff until poor health forced him to resign in 1880. After a period of recuperation in Germany, he moved to Odessa in 1883, establishing a high school where Jewish pupils could study the government curriculum along with Hebrew and Jewish history.

In the mid-1880s, perhaps under the influence of the pogroms of 1881, Gurland began to collect materials dealing with the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprisings of 1648 and the massacres of 1768. These were published (some posthumously), with commentaries, in a series of pamphlets titled Le-korot ha-gezerot ‘al Yisra’el (1886–1892).

In 1887, four years before Simon Dubnow made a similar request, Gurland called upon Jews in Russia and Poland to collect historical materials and send them to him. He consequently maintained an extensive correspondence with Jewish scholars in Central and Western Europe. In 1888, he was appointed crown rabbi (official state rabbi) of Odessa. He died in the pulpit in the spring of 1890.

Suggested Reading

Nahum Sokolow, Sefer zikaron le-sofre Yisra’el ha-ḥayim itanu ka-yom (Warsaw, 1889), pp. 133–140; Moshe Ungerfeld, “Ha-Bibliyograf Ḥayim Yonah Gurland (Ḥayug),” Tagim: Kovets bibliyografi torani-mada‘i 3–4 (1972): 87–90; Binyamim Zadka, “Ḥayim Yonah Gurland (Ḥayug): Ḥaluts ha-meḥkar be-Rusyah ‘al ha-shomronim,” A. B. ḥadshot ha-shomronim 10 [no. 247] (1979): 5–8; William Zeitlin, Kiryat sefer: Bibliotheca hebraica post-Mendelssohniana, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1891), pp. 131–132.