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Neufeld, Daniel

(1814–1874), Polish assimilationist activist, pedagogue, and journalist. Daniel Neufeld was born in Praszka near Wieluń, Great Poland, which from the beginning of the nineteenth century was a center of the Haskalah. He received a traditional religious education and attended a Catholic secondary school, although he ended his formal education in 1830. He was an autodidact both in the traditional literature of Judaism, as well as in contemporary academic literature about Jews, which he explored mainly in German.

In 1838, Neufeld opened a Jewish elementary school for boys in Praszka, with a curriculum that included the exact sciences, foreign languages, and principles of progressive Judaism. In 1840–1860 he directed a private boarding school in Częstochowa, of a similar character, and was active in the Jewish communal organization there. Searching for better opportunities for his educational activities, he settled in Warsaw around 1860, working as a teacher in Jewish government schools as well as in a self-education circle organized by the industrialist Henryk Toeplitz.

Neufeld contributed entries on Jewish topics to the Encyklopedia powszechna (General Encyclopedia; 1858–1868) edited by Samuel Orgelbrand. In entries about Hasidism he toned down the ordinarily uncompromising criticism of this movement by maskilim and assimilators, even though he was an active proponent of assimilation and a Polish patriot. Neufeld advocated integration with Polish society from the point of view of language and custom (supporting, for example, the abandonment of traditional attire and ways of life that isolated Jews from Christians).

Before the January uprising, Neufeld established the Polish-language weekly Jutrzenka (Morning Star), which was published between 1861 and 1863. This was the second Polish-language Jewish periodical (after Izraelita Polski; 1830–1831, published during the November uprising), advocating full emancipation as well as promoting Jewish integration in Poland and Polish patriotism among Jews. In a series of articles in Jutrzenka, he even presented a plan for spreading the idea of assimilation among Hasidim, not by compulsion, but by convincing them through “gentle means” and persuasion.

Even though Neufeld did not directly support the January uprising, Jutrzenka was closed by the tsarist authorities, and he was arrested and sent into exile in Chelyabinsk (Russia), returning two years later. The tsarist authorities forbade him to teach or publish in the press; he therefore dedicated himself to promoting progressive Judaism and assimilation. Before his arrest he had published a commentary on the Book of Genesis, Or (Light of the Torah; 1863) written in the spirit of progressive Judaism and on the basis of the newest findings of German biblicists. After his return from exile, he translated prayer books into Polish, producing editions titled Modlitewnik dla Żydów-Polaków (Prayer Book for Jewish Poles; 1865), Modlitwy dla dzieci izraelskich (Prayers for Israelite Children; 1865), and the Hagada szel Pesach (Haggadah for Passover; n.d.), and similar publications. He wrote verse in Hebrew and Polish as well.

Suggested Reading

Alina Cała, Asymilacja Żydów w Królestwie Polskim, 1864–1897: Postawy, konflikty, stereotypy (Warsaw, 1989); Artur Eisenbach, Kwestia równouprawnienia Żydów w Królestwie Polskim (Warsaw, 1972); Jacob Shatzky, “A tsushtayer tsu der biografye fun Daniel Neufeld,” YIVO-bleter 7 (1934): 110–116; Marcin Wodziński, Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland: A History of Conflict, trans. Sarah Cozens and Agnieszka Mirowska (Oxford and Portland, Ore., 2005).



Translated from Polish by Karen Auerbach