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Hurwitz, Sha’ul Yisra’el

(1861–1922), Hebrew essayist and editor. Born near Gomel in White Russia (mod. Homel’, Belarus), Sha’ul Hurwitz (also known as Shai Ish Hurwitz) received an enlightened Talmudic education and emulated the progressive tendentious scholarship of such authors as Mosheh Leib Lilienblum in Hebrew and Il’ia Orshanskii in Russian. After attending university classes in Saint Petersburg, Hurwitz studied Jewish laws concerning women, a project that culminated in his monograph Ha-‘Ivriyah veha-yehudiyah (Hebrew Woman, Jewish Woman; 1892).

While primarily involved in what was to become his flourishing lumber and banking business, Hurwitz published Tsiyun le-nefesh Kroḥmal (A Monument to Krochmal; 1887) a study about nationalistic elements in the work of Naḥman Krochmal. He followed this work with a Hebrew translation, published in the journals Ha-Magid (1888–1889) and Ha-Sharon (1895), of portions of Moses Hess’s Rom und Jerusalem; “Le-Toldot Rav Eli‘ezer Tsevi Tsvifel Zal” (Toward a Biography of Eliezer Tsevi Zweifel, Ha-Magid; 1888), a eulogistic appraisal of Eli‘ezer Zweifel (the apologist for Hasidism who had been Hurwitz’s neighbor in the town of Glukhov); and a single volume of a literary journal, Bet ‘eked (1892).

After a hiatus of 10 years, Hurwitz emerged as a feisty polemicist and promoter of innovative cultural ideas. His article Li-She’elat kiyum ha-yahadut (On the Question of Jewish Existence; 1904), inspired in part by Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, was a provocative challenge to the ideological platforms of Ahad Ha-Am’s cultural Zionists, of Orthodox publicists, of labor-oriented nonidealists such as Lilienblum and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, and others. A significant number of respondents in the Hebrew press were outraged at Hurwitz’s rhetorical proposition that if Judaism could not prove its distinctive contribution to humanistic culture, it should, for the sake of its pogrom-plagued adherents, cease to exist.

Encouraged by Re’uven Brainin, Hurwitz moved in 1905 to Berlin, where with Brainin and the poet Ya‘akov Cahan he established avant-garde Hebrew cultural foundations, in particular, the organization Sinai. Hurwitz’s considerable wealth afforded him the time, means, and independence to foster such enterprises and made him a central figure within the émigré colony of Russian Jewish intellectuals. Hurwitz channeled the momentum of the failed Sinai experiment into his annual journal He-‘Atid (1908–1913). Here, too, he continued to provoke. One article in He-‘Atid pitted his unconventional assessment of Yehudah Halevi against Ahad Ha-Am’s idealization of Maimonides; a second purported to debunk Hasidism and neo-Hasidism; a third contested Ahad Ha-Am’s philosophical stance, this time on the possible affinity of modern Jews for a modernized Christianity; and a fourth hailed the positive features of Sabbatianism.

A second edition of the first five volumes of He-‘Atid appeared in 1923, a year after Hurwitz’s death, and volume 6 (dating from 1914) was issued in 1926. In addition to containing scholarly papers in Hebrew by such authors as Simon Dubnow, Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski and S. A. Horodetsky, the journal included one of the first symposia on Judaism and Its Prospects for Survival (‘Al ha-Yahadut ve-‘al ‘atidoteha’; 1912), as well as Hurwitz’s own highly original articles. While engaging in bitter exchanges and in a libel suit over his allegedly apostate views, Hurwitz made freedom of expression and “Extending of the Boundaries” (“Le-Harḥavat ha-gevulim,” the title of one of his articles) central to his rhetoric. His articles were republished in his collection Me-Ayin ule-ayin? (From Whence and Whither?; 1914).

During World War I, Hurwitz was trapped for seven years as a Russian national in Bolshevik Russia. After teaching for a time, he returned, impoverished, to his family in Berlin. There he did some editorial work and published a study of Baḥya ibn Pakuda’ before dying of cancer.

Suggested Reading

Stanley Nash, “Shay Hurwitz, A Pioneering Polemicist for Truth,” Judaism, 22.3 (Summer 1973): 322–327; Stanley Nash, “The Psychology of Dynamic Self-Negation in a Modern Hebrew Author, Shay Hurwitz, 1861–1922,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 44 (1977): 81–92; Stanley Nash, In Search of Hebraism: Shai Hurwitz and His Polemics in the Hebrew Press (Leiden, 1980); Stanley Nash, “Ahad Ha-Am and ‘Ahad Ha-Amism’: The Onset of Crisis” in At the Crossroads: Essays on Ahad Ha-Am, ed. Jacques Kornberg, pp. 73–83 (Albany, N.Y., 1983).