Hagadah shel Pesaḥ (Passover Haggadah), translated into German by Alexander Kisch (Prague: Verlag Samuel Pascheles, 1889). (Leo Baeck Institute, New York)

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Kisch, Alexander

(1848–1917), rabbi, educator, and publicist. Alexander Kisch came from an established family in Prague, where his father, Joseph Kisch, was director of the first modern private school in the city’s Jewish quarter. Beginning in 1863, Kisch studied first at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau and later at the local university there. In 1871, he received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tübingen. He then lived in Paris, where he attended lectures at the Séminaire Israélite while working as a private tutor to the children of Russian financier and Jewish philanthropist Baron Horace Gintsburg (Günzburg).

Kisch secured his first formal position as rabbi in 1874, serving initially in the Bohemian city of Most (Ger., Brüx; 1874–1877) and then in Zurich (1877–1881). He then worked as a rabbi in Mladá Boleslav (Jungbunzlau), also in Bohemia (1881–1886). From 1886 until his death in 1917 he served at the Maisel Synagogue and as a municipal rabbi in Prague. During this same period he also worked as an inspector of religious education classes at Prague schools and, beginning in 1874, as field preacher of the Prague army garrison. For the latter work he received the Gold Cross for Merit from Emperor Franz Joseph I. During the awards ceremony (at a private audience held on 11 December 1899), Kisch persuaded the emperor to condemn the antisemitism that at the time of the Hilsner Affair was sweeping through the Czech lands. His private audience received considerable coverage in the press and provoked widespread debate.

Kisch’s most significant work involved preaching and teaching, and he influenced a number of Prague Jews, including both Max Brod and Franz Werfel, to whom he taught religion at a gymnasium. He was considered to be a brilliant orator, and his sermons—in which he sought to draw biblical thought closer to the present—were extremely popular. Consequently, he was often invited to deliver speeches in other cities. In 1884 he was associated with Or Tomid, an association for the promotion of Jewish prayer services in the Czech language, and was one of the first preachers in Prague to use Czech in his sermons.

Kisch published numerous articles in academic journals and newspapers, including Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Archives Israélites de France, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, Archiv für die Geschichte der Juden in Böhmen, Die Wahrheit, and Prager Tagblatt. The topics ranged from the Bible, the Talmud, liturgy, and Jewish history to education and politics. He was one of the first to explore the history of Prague’s Jews. Particularly worthy of mention is his edition of a Hebrew version of the “Megilat Purim ha-kela‘im,” a family scroll dating from 1623, which was published in Jubelschrift zum siebzigsten Geburtstage des Prof. Dr. H. Graetz (1887), as well as several important contributions on the Prague financier and patron Mordecai Maisel.

Suggested Reading

Guido Kisch, Alexander Kisch, 1848–1917: Eine Skizze seines Lebens und Werkens (Halle, Ger., 1934); Guido Kisch, “Das jüdische Prag vor zwei Generationen: Zur fünfzigsten Wiederkehr des Todestages von Rabbiner Alexander Kisch,” Judaica Bohemiae 3.2 (1967): 87–100; Guido Kisch, “Alexander Kisch, 1848–1917: Biographische Übersicht,” Udim: Zeitschrift der Rabbinerkonferenz in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 6 (1975/76): 33–45.



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley