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Landau, Mosheh Yisra’el

(1788–1852), Prague communal leader, Hebrew printer, and influential maskil. A scion of the illustrious Polish Landau family, Mosheh Landau was the grandson of Prague’s distinguished chief rabbi, Yeḥezkel Landau (1713–1793). Son of the traditional maskil Yisra’el Landau, Mosheh received both a Jewish and a secular education in Prague. In 1824, he followed his father and began to work as a Hebrew printer for a Christian printing house. In 1827, he bought the press and ran it for 25 years.

Throughout his career, Landau held various distinguished communal and civic posts. In 1819, he was appointed superintendent of Prague’s Jewish Normalschule (modern elementary school). During the 1820s, he served on the community’s board of directors and in 1834 became its president. He frequently interacted with prominent city officials and in 1849 was elected to the city council. Participating in various Prague volunteer organizations, Landau most notably in 1835 established the city’s first Jewish orphanage and remained its director until his death. In 1840, he played a pivotal role in the appointment of Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport (Shir; 1790–1867), an eminent scholar and pioneer of Wissenschaft des Judentums (scientific study of Judaism), as Prague’s chief rabbi.

Landau wrote several lexicographical books, the most important of which is his expanded edition and German translation of Natan ben Yeḥi’el (d. circa 1110) of Rome’s He-‘Arukh, a classical Aramaic Talmudic dictionary. In a section titled Ma‘arkhe lashon, Landau incorporated many of his own remarks about history, archeology, and geography (5 vols., 1819–1824). Another important philological work is his Marpe lashon (first published in his edition of the Mishnah, 1829–1831), which culls and translates vernacular words found in the classical exegetical writings of Rashi and other medieval rabbinic authorities. In a similar vein, Landau composed Pitron ha-milot (1827), a work devoted to defining difficult words in the Pentateuch. As was true of other maskilim, Landau also wrote about the significance of the Hebrew language, in a work, composed ironically in German, titled Geist und Sprache der Hebräer nach dem Zweiten Tempelbau (The Spirit and Language of the Jews after the Building of the Second Temple; 1822).

In addition to his own writings, Landau was actively involved in many of the largest and most significant publication—and at times translation—projects of sacred Hebrew texts. Among these were the Mishnah (1829–1831; 1836), the Talmud (1830–1835; 1839–1846), and numerous maḥzorim (prayer books for holidays) along with accompanying German translation and Hebrew commentaries (1834–1852). From 1833 to 1837, he published a 20-volume edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s German Bible translation, the Bi’ur, which his grandfather Yeḥezkel had vociferously opposed. Even though this and other projects ran counter to positions endorsed by his grandfather, Mosheh Landau often honored his memory with praise.

During the 1820s and 1830s, Landau edited and contributed to various maskilic journals. In 1823 and 1824, he served as editor of Bikure ha-‘itim, which in many respects continued the tradition of the first maskilic periodical, Ha-Me’asef. From 1838 to 1843, he published several volumes of the scholarly journal Kerem ḥemed, which in some ways replaced Bikure ha-‘itim when it was discontinued in 1832. Landau also contributed to the German maskilic periodical Sulamith. Through his involvement with these many projects, he helped spread Haskalah values, nascent ideas of modern Jewish Wissenschaft, and numerous sacred Hebrew writings to other parts of Bohemia, Austria, Moravia, and elsewhere in Europe.

Suggested Reading

Sharon Flatto, A Tale of Three Generations: The Landaus (forthcoming); Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern, pt. 1, Das Zeitalter der Aufklärung, 1780–1830 (Tübingen, 1969); Moses Israel Landau, Hinterlassene vermischte Schriften (Prague, 1867).