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Muneles, Otto

(1894–1967), Hebraist and historian. Otto Muneles was descended from an old Jewish family in Prague, records of which date to the sixteenth century; one of his ancestors was Avraham Muneles, who wrote an index to the Shulḥan ‘arukh. From 1904 to 1912, Muneles attended the German gymnasium in Prague and studied halakhic literature at a Talmud Torah school. From 1912 to 1915, he studied classical philology at the German University in Prague and continued to pursue Judaic studies.

At the beginning of World War I, Muneles and his friend Jiří Mordecai Langer, author of Devět bran (Nine Gates; 1937), left for Galicia. Muneles stayed in a Hasidic community in Bełz and spent several years in Rzeczic (a district of Rawa-Ruska), where he studied halakhah and Hasidic literature with Berl Weiss (who became his father-in-law). In 1921 he received rabbinic ordination from El‘azar Rokeaḥ of Uhnov; this was confirmed by Heinrich Brody, the chief rabbi of Prague, in early 1922, following Muneles’s return to that city. Muneles then continued to study Semitic philology at the University of Prague, completing a dissertation on the Septuagint in 1924. After graduating, he was involved with the Prague ḥevrah kadisha’ (burial society) and worked as a private teacher. Over the next 15 years, he continued his research on literary and scientific works.

Muneles lost his entire family in the Shoah. He survived in the Terezín ghetto, where he cataloged Hebrew books that had been confiscated from libraries by the Nazis. After World War II he was employed as an expert at the Jewish Museum in Prague, where he documented books and archival holdings. His work resulted in the publication in 1952 of an important bibliographical overview of Jewish literature related to Jewish life in that city. Based on his long-term research into epitaphs, he published the monograph Der Alte jüdische Friedhof in Prag (The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague; 1955), which contains the Hebrew texts of 170 of the earliest tombstone inscriptions (1439–1588) in that cemetery. His research into the museum’s archival holdings resulted in such studies as “Die Briefsammlung in Simon Hocks Nachlass” (The Collection of Letters in Simon Hock’s Literary Estate; 1965), “Zur Namengebung der Juden in Böhmen” (On the Assignment of Names for Jews in Bohemia; 1966), “Zur Prosopographie der Prager Juden im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert” (On the Prosopography of Prague’s Jews in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries; 1966), “Die Rabbiner der Altneuschul (The Rabbis of the Altneuschul; 1969), and “Die Hebräische Literatur auf dem Boden der ČSSR” (Hebrew Literature in the Lands of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic; 1969), which were published in the journal Judaica Bohemiae. In 1954–1956 he lectured on Judaic studies at the philosophy faculty of Charles University in Prague. Otto Muneles is of particular importance in that he combined traditional rabbinic scholarship and knowledge of the Talmud, Hasidism, and Kabbalah with a critical approach to Jewish and Hebrew literature.

Suggested Reading

Otto Muneles, Bibliographical Survey of Jewish Prague (Prague, 1952); Otto Muneles, “The Prague Jewish Community in the Sixteenth Century: Spiritual Life,” in Prague Ghetto in the Renaissance Period, pp. 65–98 (Prague, 1965); Otto Muneles, Ketovot mi-bet he-‘almin ha-Yehudi ha-‘atik be-Prag (Jerusalem, 1988); Vladimir Sadek, “Dr. Otto Muneles und sein wissenschaftliches Werk,” Judaica bohemiae 3.2 (1967): 73–78.



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley