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Kaufmann, David

(1852–1899), scholar and manuscript collector. Born in Kojetín (Ger., Kojetein) in the Habsburg province of Moravia, one of five children of a rural leaseholder, David Kaufmann attended the town’s Jewish elementary school from 1856 to 1860. He then studied at the Piarist gymnasium in nearby Kromĕříž from 1860 to 1867, and at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau from 1867 until his ordination as a rabbi in 1877. He took courses at Breslau University, and in 1874 received his doctorate from Leipzig University for a dissertation about Sa‘adyah Gaon’s philosophy of religion.

In 1877, Kaufmann was appointed professor of history, philosophy, and homiletics at the newly founded Budapest Rabbinical Seminary, where he taught until his untimely death. The Hungarian Minister of Religion and Public Education had required him to learn Hungarian, which he did with great alacrity. He also taught Greek and German in the seminary’s lower school and served as the seminary’s librarian for 20 years. In 1881, he married Irma Gomperz, daughter of an affluent Budapest family.

Kaufmann was an extraordinarily prolific writer, publishing 30 books and more than 500 articles in just 25 years of literary activity. (An incomplete bibliography appeared in Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David Kaufmann; 1900.) His scholarship exhibited remarkable breadth, covering nearly the entire warp and woof of Jewish studies. His major works can be divided into four categories: philosophy of religion, genealogy, history, and art. In the first category, his most important works are “Die Theologie des Bachja Ibn Pakuda” (1874); Geschichte der Attributenlehre in der jüdischen Religionsphilosophie des Mittelalters von Sa’adja bis Maimuni (1877); Jehuda Halevy. Versuch einer Charakteristik (1877); and Die Spuren al-Batlajusi’s in der jüdischen Religionsphilosophie (1880).

Kaufmann’s genealogical works, which focus on notable Jewish families from the Habsburg lands, include Samson Wertheimer, der Oberhoffactor und Landesrabbiner (1658–1724) und seine Kinder (1888); Urkundliches aus dem Leben Samson Wertheimers (1891); R. Jaïr Chajjim Bacharach (1638–1702) und seine Ahnen (1894); and Die Memoiren der Glückel von Hameln (1896). Die Familie Gomperz (1907), published posthumously, deals with his wife’s illustrious family.

Kaufmann’s historical works include Die letzte Vertreibung der Juden aus Wien, ihre Vorgeschichte (1625–1670) und ihre Opfer (1888), on the expulsion of Jews from Vienna in 1670; Die Erstürmung Ofens und ihre Vorgeschichte, on the Jews of Buda during the Turkish siege of 1686; and Dr. Israel Conegliano und seine Verdienste um die Republik Venedig bis nach dem Freiden von Carlowitz (1895). With Abraham Berliner (1833–1915), Kaufmann reestablished Mekitse Nirdamim, a society for publishing old Hebrew manuscripts, in 1884. Finally, with Marcus Brann (1849–1920), he published the new series of Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums from 1892 until his death.

Kaufmann wrote numerous articles on synagogue art and Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, making him a pioneer in the field of Jewish art history. He also wrote polemical works, defending Judaism against defamatory attacks by the German orientalist Paul de Lagarde, and the German antisemitic preacher Adolf Stoecker. Kaufmann’s enthusiastic book-length review of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, which he published in German in 1877 (later translated into English), is suffused with the rhetoric of Jewish nationalism. He was a passionate supporter of the Paris-based Alliance Israélite Universelle and was a founding member of its Hungarian branch.

A passionate and prodigious collector, Kaufmann assembled a large collection of Hebrew manuscripts, including the oldest known complete copy of the Mishnah. Following his widow’s death in 1905, the Kaufmann Collection—consisting of 594 manuscripts and 1,092 printed books—was donated to the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1905 and was cataloged by one of his students, Max Weisz (1872–1931), a year later.

Suggested Reading

Éva Apor, ed., David Kaufmann Memorial Volume (Budapest, 2002); Marcus Brann and Ferdinand Rosenthal, eds., Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David Kaufmann (1900; rpt., New York, 1980), contributions in German, English, French, and Hebrew.