Jonas Jeitteles, a physician, ca. 1800. Lithograph. (The Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem)

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Jeitteles Family

Prominent Bohemian family, principally associated with Prague. The main branch of the Jeitteles (Jeiteles, Geidels, Geitler) family descended from David Jeitteles in the seventeenth century. David’s son Leib was a physician; David’s grandson, Mishl Leib (d. 1760) bought the existing Jewish pharmacy in Prague, together with its pertinent privileges, from his cousin David Kisch (d. 1742) in July 1725.

Chart: Genealogy of the Jeitteles Family

Mishl Leib was a respected leader of the Prague community. After purchasing his pharmacy, he controlled the business with his four sons until his death. Mishl Leib’s third son, Hirshl Mishl, was granted an edict from Joseph II in 1783 that changed the pharmacy’s status from a Judenapotheke—an establishment exclusively for Jews—to one that was licensed to sell drugs to Christians as well.

Mishl Leib’s youngest son, Jonas (1735–1806), a renowned physician, had originally prepared for a rabbinical career. However, after his mother’s death in 1749, he worked in the family’s pharmacy. In 1752, he began to study medicine at the University of Leipzig; a year later, he continued these studies at Halle, graduating in 1755 after writing a dissertation on diabetes. Jonas subsequently received a license to practice medicine among Jews. Upon his return to Prague in 1756, he befriended the recently installed chief rabbi, Yeḥezkel Landau. Jonas married in 1761 and had 11 children, 7 of whom survived him. His wife died in 1787; although he remarried three years later, this second marriage produced no children.

In 1763, Jonas became the chief physician of the Jewish community, and was employed permanently at the Jewish hospital. In an audience with Joseph II in 1784, Jonas and “his successors” were granted the right to treat patients “without consideration of their religion.” He published several articles on medical topics; parts of his Observata quaedam medica (1783) were translated and included in contemporary medical textbooks.

Jonas is best remembered for his campaign supporting Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination, which Jonas launched with his sons Baruch (known also as Benedict; 1762–1813), Juda (1773–1838), and Isaac (Ignaz; 1779–1852) at the beginning of the nineteenth century. After publicly vaccinating himself and several members of his family, Jeitteles succeeded in vaccinating more than 1,500 people in Prague. To encourage the procedure, he sought and gained the backing of the traditional Moravian chief rabbi, Mordekhai Banet. Jonas’s sons were equally eager to bring the vaccination debate into a discourse about tradition and modernity; Baruch and Juda condemned the popular reluctance to trust doctors and science as harmful superstition that contradicted divine providence and Jewish tradition.

Baruch Jeitteles was a rabbinic scholar and Hebrew writer who studied with Yeḥezkel Landau. Baruch apparently rejected his teacher and left for Berlin in his youth to meet Moses Mendelssohn and learn about the Haskalah. Though he returned to Prague, was reconciled with Landau, and remained observant for the rest of his life, he adhered to moderate maskilic views. Writing for the periodical Ha-Me’asef during the 1780s and 1790s, Baruch published several poems about the lonesome position of the intellectual. Another of his works, ‘Emek ha-bakha’ (1793), was sharply criticized by the editors of Ha-Me’asef because it was an entirely traditional obituary in memory of Landau. Baruch responded in his anonymously published Sefer ha-orev (1795), a piece sharply attacking what he considered to be the disrespectful attitudes of radical maskilim. He also anonymously published Siḥah ben shenat 5560 ve-5561 (Discussion between the Years 5560 and 5561; 1800–1801), a polemic against the Frankists in Prague. He advocated moderate maskilic views in contributions to the Jüdisch-deutsche Monatschrift (Prague; 1802), the first Jewish monthly in (High) German (printed in Hebrew characters), founded by members of the Jeitteles family (Baruch, Juda, and Ignaz) and other Prague maskilim. His sermon on behalf of his father’s campaign for the smallpox vaccination was published under the title Die Kuhpockenimpfung (1804). Baruch also initiated several new editions of Moses Mendelssohn’s commentary on Maimonides’ Milot ha-higayon, three of them with a German translation in Hebrew characters.

Having inherited considerable wealth from his father-in-law, Samuel Porges, Baruch set up a private yeshiva and attracted students from Moravia and Hungary who later spread the Haskalah to those regions. After the battles of Dresden and Kulm (1813), Baruch persuaded affluent Jews to establish a private hospital for wounded soldiers “without distinction of religion.” He died while personally caring for the wounded, and his death was eulogized as a patriotic sacrifice.

Baruch’s oldest son Ignaz (1783–1843), a German writer and philosopher, studied at the law school of Prague University but dedicated himself to classic languages and literature. His first publications—short pieces on ethical subjects and adapted allegories from midrashim—appeared in the Jüdisch-deutsche Monatschrift (1802). After the periodical ceased publication, Ignaz wrote exclusively in German with Latin characters. His writings include a patriotic poem dedicated to Francis II (1804); a biography of his grandfather Jonas Jeitteles (1806); and poems and numerous articles on the intellectual and economic history of Jews in Bohemia; these were published in the German Jewish periodical Sulamith. In about 1810, Ignaz moved to Vienna and worked as a merchant. An amazingly prolific writer, he contributed some 400 articles to numerous (non-Jewish) Austrian and German periodicals, including Elegante Zeitung (1809–1812), Hormayer’s Archiv (1812–1815), Annalen für österreichische Literatur (1816–1820), Dresdner Abendzeitung (1817), and Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst und Literatur (1817–1820). In 1819, he and his cousin Alois founded the short-lived weekly Siona. His main literary achievement was Ästhetisches Lexicon. Alphabetisches Handbuch zur Theorie der Philosophie des Schönen und der schönen Künste (Lexicon of Aesthetics: Alphabetical Handbook on the Theory of Philosophy of Beauty and Fine Arts, 2 vols.; 1835–1838). His wife Fanni (neé Barrach; 1797–1854), originally from Lemberg, left her considerable fortune to the Jewish community of Vienna.

Ignaz’s brother Samuel (d. 1861) was an affluent wholesale trader and philanthropist in Prague. Baptized in 1828, he changed his name to Sigmund Christian Geitler. In 1854, he was ennobled and received the title Edler von Armingen.

Jonas’s second son, Bezalel (Gottlieb; 1765–1821), operated a Hebrew printing press in Brno. Bezalel’s son Alois (1794–1858), a physician, writer, and editor, studied philosophy and medicine at the universities of Prague and Vienna. During his student days, Alois was interested in belles lettres and associated with writers and musicians in Vienna. He translated Spanish dramas (especially Calderón) into German, published poems in popular collections, and wrote for periodicals. His lyric cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Faraway [Distant] Sweetheart; 1816) was set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven and Mauro Giuliani. With the Austrian playwright Ignaz Franz Castelli, Alois wrote the parody Der Schicksalsstrumpf (lit., The Stocking of Destiny [but a play on the sound of the words in German]; 1818), which was performed on Austrian and German stages with considerable success.

Alois settled as a physician in Brno in 1821, excelling in his profession, especially during the cholera epidemics of 1831 and 1836. In 1848, he was appointed editor in chief of the Brünner Zeitung, the official daily for the province of Moravia, a position he held until his death. With his cousin Ignaz, he also edited the Jewish weekly Siona (1819). He was married to Johanna (neé Brüll). Their daughter Ottilie (1832–1920) married the Prague merchant Israel (Ignaz) Bondy in 1856; after their marriage, the couple moved to Vienna. In 1875, together with other women, she founded the Österreichische Hausfrauen Verein, the first association of the Austrian women’s movement. She was also active in several Jewish women’s organizations. Her two children, Ernst (1864–?) and Helene (1868–1954), converted to Christianity. Ottilie herself was baptized in 1902, shortly before her seventieth birthday. Alois’s son Richard (1839–1909) was an officer in the Habsburg army. In 1868, he joined the state-run railway company and served in several key positions.

Jonas’ third son Juda Löw (1773–1838) was a maskil and Hebrew writer. He received a traditional Jewish education, studying with, among others, his brother Baruch. Around 1812, he was appointed supervisor of the prestigious German Jewish school in Prague. In 1810, he had written a circular advocating reforms for Jewish education, including the abolition of heders and favoring the integration of Jewish religious studies into the curricula of the secular Normalschulen. However, Juda neither circulated nor published this tract until 1828; it then appeared under the title “Devarim nekhoḥim” in Bikure ha-‘itim (1829). At age 40, he was elected to the leadership of Prague’s Jewish community. Like his brother Baruch, he contributed poems to Ha-Me’asef and short allegoric pieces to the Jüdisch-deutsche Monatschrift. He also compiled the first modern grammar of the Aramaic language, Mevo ha-lashon ha-Aramit (Introduction to the Aramaic Language; 1813). His next book, Bene ha-ne‘urim (Sons of [One’s] Youth [a quotation from Ps. 127:4]; 1821), contained a Hebrew biography of his father Jonas as well as poems and prose pieces, including a discussion of Jenner’s smallpox vaccine and Jonas’s efforts to propagate it within the Jewish community. Juda’s contributions to Bikure ha-‘itim and Kerem ḥemed were mostly dedicated to Bohemian Jewish history and demonstrated a strong sense of Habsburg patriotism. He thus expressed fervent opposition to Mordecai Manuel Noah’s program for a Jewish colony in North America, and he also translated the Habsburg imperial anthem into Hebrew and Aramaic (1835). In 1830, he settled in Vienna, where he died in 1838.

Juda’s son Aron (Andreas) Ludwig (1799–1878) was a physician and German writer who had studied medicine at the universities of Prague and Vienna. In 1828, he converted to Catholicism; a year later, he was appointed adjunct professor of anatomy at Vienna University and from 1836 served as professor of medicine at the University of Olmütz (Olomouc). He published various articles on medical subjects and called on physicians to pay special attention to theories of psychology. During the revolution of 1848, he edited the Neue Zeit, the first political newspaper in Olmütz. In May 1848, he served as a deputy in the German National Assembly in Frankfurt, where he sided with the moderate left. Anticipating the failure of the revolution, he returned to Olmütz in December 1848 and lived there until his retirement. In 1869, he moved to Graz, where he died. Drawn to literature already in his youth, Andreas Ludwig published numerous poems, many of them under the pseudonym Justus Frey, pleading for humanity, justice, and freedom. In one of his later poems (“Warnung”), he warned Jewish youth not to rebel and described the pangs of conscience one who renounced his faith would experience. His collected poems, Gesammelte Dichtungen (1899), were issued by his son Adalbert (1831–1908), a renowned German philologist. In addition to numerous studies on German language and grammar, Adalbert also published a biography of his father under the title Justus Frey, ein verschollener österreichischer Dichter (Justus Frey, a Forgotten Austrian Poet; 1898). His brother Ludwig Heinrich (1830–1883) attained considerable fame as a natural scientist, especially in the fields of zoology and geology.

Jonas’s youngest son, Isaac (1779–1852), a distinguished physician, was the only one among Jonas’s sons to receive a formal non-Jewish education at a gymnasium. Following his graduation from medical studies at Vienna, he returned to Prague, worked with his father, and succeeded the latter after his death in 1806. During the plague of 1831, he was appointed head of the Jewish cholera hospital in Prague. He researched and published extensively on homeopathy and the healing power of Bohemian spas. Due to his various patriotic and philanthropic efforts, he was decorated with an order of merit in 1847 and was awarded the title Kaiserlicher Rath (imperial counselor) in 1850. In addition to his scientific publications, he issued parts of his father’s (professional) diary, Mittheilungen aus dem Tagebuch des Dr. Jonas Jeitteles (Fragments from the Diary of Dr. Jonas Jeittels; 1783) and aphoristic observations from his own professional life, Medizinische Erfahrungen aus meiner 50 jährigen Praxis (My Medical Experience from 50 Years of Practice; 1851).

Suggested Reading

“Bondy, Ottilie (geb. Jeitteles),” available at Ariadne: Projekt “Frauen in Bewegung”; Ottilie Bondy, .htm; Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern, vol. 1 Das Zeitalter der Aufklärung 1780–1830 (Tübingen, 1969); Bruno Kisch, “History of the Jewish Pharmacy (Judenapotheke) in Prague,” Historia judaica 8.2 (1946): 149–180; David Ruderman, “Some Jewish Responses to Smallpox Prevention in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: A New Perspective on the Modernization of European Jewry,” Aleph 2 (2002): 111–144; Wilhelm Rudolph Weitenweber, Zur Feier des 50 jährigen Doctorjubiläums des Hrn. Isaac Jeitteles (Prague, 1850).