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Munkácsi, Bernát

(1860–1937), Hungarian linguist, ethnographer, and pedagogue. Born in Oradea (Rom., Nagyvárad; Ger., Grosswardein), then located in Hungary, Bernát Munkácsi was the son of Me’ir Avraham Munk, a Hebrew writer. Munkácsi began his education in a traditional heder but later was sent to the local gymnasium. He started his university training in medicine but switched his concentration to Hungarian and German language and literature.

As a student of Ármin Vámbéry and other linguists and orientalists, Munkácsi researched the origins of the Hungarian language. As a specialist in comparative linguistics and ethnography, he uncovered sources for this language and studied the pre-European wanderings of the Magyars. His research tours to the mid-Volga and Kama River region in 1885 and to western Siberia in 1888–1889 were supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was elected a corresponding member of that academy in 1890 and became a full member in 1910.

Munkácsi served for more than 15 years as vice president of the Hungarian Ethnographic Society as well as editor of scientific journals, but was never appointed to a teaching or research position at a state high school or university. For nearly 50 years (1879–1927), he published books and journal articles in Hungarian and German, recording a critical body of linguistic and ethnographic knowledge. He also reconstructed his complex family history and genealogy.

In 1890, Munkácsi was appointed to be the school inspector for the Neolog Jewish community of Pest, whose leadership expected him to improve teaching practices and the curriculum for religious studies. In the 1890s, approximately 20,000 students were receiving Jewish religious education in Pest both in Jewish and “mixed” (non-Jewish) schools. Munkácsi’s attempt to develop a system called the Universal Religious Educational Program for the Jewish Congregation of Pest relied on the assumption that “dignity of religious educational policy can only be maintained and perpetuated if its teachings do not run counter to the pupils’ beliefs.” He and his editorial committee believed that the religious education curriculum should be “universal”—namely, applicable in all types of schools, Jewish and non-Jewish, and differentiated between compulsory and facultative parts in the teaching plan. Accordingly, the study of Hebrew language became an essential part of the curriculum, but the study of the Bible and later Hebrew-language works were to be presented in Hungarian translation. Munkácsi and his team suggested devoting six to eight hours each week to religious education in Jewish schools for boys and three to six hours for girls.

After a long period of preparation, the new curriculum was finally published in 1906 and was accepted by Jewish school authorities in Pest. However, the program never gained widespread acceptance and implementation outside of that city. Though praised as an outstanding achievement of Jewish pedagogy, the new curriculum was implemented in fewer than half a dozen Jewish and non-Jewish schools in Pest, and about the same number of Jewish schools outside the capital. The total number of Jewish schools throughout Hungary before World War I was 500.

Suggested Reading

László Felkai, Zsidó iskolázás Magyarországon, 1780–1990 (Budapest, 1998); Aron Moskovits, Jewish Education in Hungary, 1848–1948 (New York, 1964).