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Kohn, Abraham

(1807–1848), rabbi and preacher. Born in Zalužani, Bohemia, Abraham Kohn completed his secondary and religious schooling; he later took courses in philosophy at the University of Prague. Ordained as a rabbi in 1832 by Shemu’el Landau and the two Bohemian district rabbis, in 1833 he was appointed rabbi of Hohenems, a town in which many of the Jews were already progressive in their outlook. Kohn established an artisans’ society and invested his efforts in youth education. During his tenure, the synagogue established a choir, but his attempts to abolish the custom of selling Torah honors on the Sabbath were unsuccessful.

Kohn published articles in Abraham Geiger’s journal Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für jüdische Theologie, as well as in more popular journals. In his writings, Kohn addressed matters of education and religious reform, such as mourning customs, head coverings for women, and music in the synagogue. Kohn was also among the supporters of Geiger in the controversy that erupted surrounding the latter’s appointment as preacher in Breslau (Wrocław).

In 1843, Kohn was appointed religious teacher in the Jewish community of Lemberg (Lwów) and preacher in its new temple. Appointed rabbi for the district in 1847, his duties included overseeing the matrikel (book of registration of births, marriages, and deaths). Kohn preached in German and established a Jewish primary school for girls and boys. In his correspondence with the civil authorities, he worked assiduously to abolish the candle and meat taxes and for an easing of the requirements for obtaining marriage licenses. Kohn also made various proposals to the authorities that were intended to modernize the economic lives of Jews and instill new content into the institution of the rabbinate. When the 1848 revolution broke out in Galicia, he affiliated with the pro-Polish camp. Thanks to his influence, the Polish petition brought to the authorities in Vienna included a paragraph guaranteeing full equality to Jews.

The Orthodox leadership in Lemberg opposed Kohn’s tenure from the start, and made efforts to remove him from office. With the outbreak of the revolution, the incitement against him intensified, and he was vilified in pamphlets, posters, petitions, and meetings in the synagogue. There were even some violent acts committed against him and his children. On 6 September 1848, a local Jew allegedly poisoned the soup in the kitchen of the Kohn household, and the following morning Kohn and his infant daughter died.

At the first murder trial, which involved several defendents, only the poisoner was convicted; the alleged plotters were freed in the absence of compelling evidence against them. The poisoner was later acquitted in the Galician appelate court for the same reason. Kohn’s widow, Magdalena, petitioned Emperor Franz Joseph to reopen the investigation, and as a result the justice minister asked the Austrian Supreme Court in Vienna to review the case. In the absence of new evidence, the Viennese court upheld the acquittal, and on 10 October 1851 the emperor signed the minister’s decision to reject the petition. The shock that prevailed after the murder caused the memory of the incident to be almost completely suppressed.

Suggested Reading

Uri R. Kaufmann, “Die Hohenemser Rabbiner Abraham Kohn und Aron Tänzer und die jüdischen Bestrebungen ihrer Zeit,” in Juden in Hohenems: Ein ganz kleine jüdische Gemeinde, die nur von den Erinnerungen lebt!, ed. Eva Grabherr, pp. 45–57 (Hohenems, Austria, 1996); Gotthilf Kohn, Abraham Kohn imLichte der Geschichtsforschung (Zamarstynow bei Lemberg, Pol., 1898); Michael Stanislawski, A Murder in Lemberg: Politics, Religion, and Violence in Modern Jewish History (Princeton, N.J., 2007).



Translated from Hebrew by Barry D. Walfish