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Kohn, Sámuel

(1841–1920), rabbi and historian. Sámuel Kohn was born in Baja, Hungary. Several of his ancestors were rabbis, including his paternal grandfather, Götz Kohn-Schwerin, chief rabbi of Baja and Bács County and one of the outstanding rabbinic authorities in the first half of the nineteenth century. Kohn attended the Catholic gymnasium in Baja and then studied at the yeshivas of Esriel Hildesheimer in Kismarton and Sámuel Sommer in Pápa. In 1858, Kohn enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau; at the same time, he attended the University of Breslau, where he studied philosophy, history, and linguistics, completing his doctoral dissertation, “De Pentateucho Samaritano” (The Samaritan Pentateuch), in 1865.

Upon finishing his rabbinic studies in 1866, Kohn was elected rabbi of the Pest Jewish Community, and was the first to preach in Hungarian at the Dohány Street synagogue. He actively participated in the General Jewish Congress of 1868–1869 that led to the split between the Neolog and Orthodox communities. As an officer of the Congress’s educational committee, Kohn enthusiastically supported the establishment of a Neolog Rabbinical Seminary in Hungary, which was finally accomplished in 1877. Between 1868 and 1870, he served as director of Jewish elementary schools in Pest, and from 1875 to 1884 he taught religion in the higher grades of high schools in Pest. In this latter position, he worked with Meir Kayserling, with whom he had previously coedited the short-lived weekly Ungarisch-jüdische Wochenschrift.

Kohn also collected and published his sermons in Zsinagógai szónoklatok (Synagogue Sermons) in 1875. He played a pioneering role not only in establishing Hungarian as the language of sermons, but also in the Magyarization of the rabbinic office. As a leader of the Hungarian Literary Society (IMIT), he later initiated the translation of the Bible into Hungarian.

Kohn was also the ecclesiastical president of IMIT from the year of its inception, 1894, until 1899. He taught homiletics at the Rabbinical Seminary of Hungary between 1899 and 1905, was appointed chief rabbi of the Pest Jewish Community in 1905, and one year later was chosen to be the honorary president of the National Rabbinical Assembly.

Kohn’s research focused on the history of Hungarian Jewry. He discovered several Hebrew-language documents on Hungarian history that he published in 1881 as Héber kutforrások és adatok Magyarország történetéhez (Hebrew Sources and Data on the History of Hungary). His main historical work, based on archival sources, was published in 1884, titled A zsidók története Magyarországon, a legrégibb időktől a mohácsi vészig (The History of Jews in Hungary from the Oldest Times until the Battle of Mohács). In this text, he offered the controversial view that the first conquering Hungarian tribes had arrived in the Carpathian Basin at the end of the ninth century together with Khazar allies, who were Jewish converts. His patriotic theory, which conveyed the views of Neolog Jewry about bonds between Hungarians and Jews, was received coldly by the scholarly community, and the planned chapters on the period after the Battle of Mohács (1526) were never completed. Nevertheless, Kohn is considered to be the author of the first scholarly work on Hungarian Jewish history in the Hungarian language.

Kohn’s later research explored the history of the Sabbatarians, a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century radical Protestant movement in Transylvania; his text on this subject (A szombatosok. Történetük, dogmatikájuk és irodalmuk [The Sabbatarians: Their History, Dogmatics, and Literature]; 1889) emphasized the life and works of Simon Pécsi. Kohn’s last major work, also published in 1889, was a biography of his paternal grandfather, Kohn-Schwerin Götz bajai és bácsmegyei főrabbi. Élet és korrajz 1760–1852 (Götz Kohn-Schwerin, Chief Rabbi of Baja City and Bács County: A Description of an Age, 1760–1852).

Suggested Reading

Zsigmond Groszmann, “Kohn Sámuel, 1841–1920: Élet és korrajz,” Magyar-zsidó szemle (1929): 18–56; Nathaniel Katzburg, “Hungarian Jewish Historiography,” in The Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest, 1877–1977: A Centennial Volume, ed. Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, pp. 215–237 (New York, 1986); Ernő Munkácsi, “Dr. Kohn Sámuel történeti munkáinak jelentősége napjainkban,” in Emlékkönyv dr. Kohn Sámuel pesti főrabbi születésének századik évfordulójára, ed. Dávid Sámuel Loewinger, pp. xvi–xxvi (Budapest, 1941); József Schweitzer, “Kohn Sámuel és a magyar zsidó történetírás két évszázada,” in KohnSámuel: Héber kútforrások és adatok Magyarország történetéhez, pp. i–xi (Budapest, 1990); Miksa Weisz, “Kohn Sámuel írásai,” Magyar-zsidó szemle (1920): 1–5.



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó