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Nussbaum, Hilary

(1820–1895), activist, journalist, and cofounder of the Jewish integration movement in Warsaw. Born in Warsaw, Hilary (Hillel) Nussbaum graduated from rabbinical school and taught at an elementary school. He then became a merchant, possibly under the influence of his father-in-law, the prominent maskil Mosheh Tannenbaum (1795–1849).

Active in community work, in 1852 Nussbaum was a major force behind the establishment of the Nalewki Street synagogue, where sermons were delivered in Polish. Beginning in 1855, he served on the Jewish community board in Warsaw, and in 1867 became a guardian of the Jewish orphanage and a member of the Main Council of Charity Establishments in the Kingdom of Poland.

Nussbaum dreamed of setting up a magazine for Polish Jews; in 1861, he reached this goal with his creation of Jutrzenka (Dawn) and became one of its columnists. In the two-year period of unrest preceding the insurrection against Russia of 1863–1864, he supported the Polish–Jewish Fraternity and the involvement of the Jewish community in the Polish cause. During the rebellion he worked for the Jewish committee that backed the insurgents; later (after the political defeat) he focused on education and community work, adopting the ideology of Polish Positivism. Among his projects were a foundation sponsoring education abroad for preachers in Polish Jewish communities, a college for training elementary school teachers, and a committee to plan the Tłomackie Street synagogue. After 1880, he devoted himself to journalism and historical research.

As was the case with many Jews in Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century, Nussbaum promoted moderate integration into the larger community. He advocated major educational and communal reforms, combatted separatism, and supported the use of the Polish language. At the same time, the bulk of his writing, in particular his historical studies, was devoted to strengthening Jewish identity, which he understood as both religious and cultural. Although amateurish and biased, his Szkice historyczne z życia Żydów w Warszawie (Historical Sketches from the Lives of Jews in Warsaw; 1881) and Historia Żydów od Mojżesza do epoki obecnej (History of Jews from Moses to the Present Time; 1888–1890) are significant sources of information. Nussbaum simultaneously encouraged integration and tried to connect the traditional and modernizing divisions of Jewish society; in his community work he also struggled against what he felt were erroneous types of change. He highlighted this issue in his novels Leon i Lajb (Leon and Lajb; 1883) and Jakub Izraelowicz (1886). Nussbaum’s other publications included Der Talmud in seiner Wichtigkeit, which was a German translation of his father-in-law’s unpublished 1849 polemic against Abraham Buchner’s anti-Talmudic treatise Der Talmud in seiner Nichtigkeit; a Hebrew elegy called “Kol nehi” (Sounds of Lamentation; 1866); a Polish-language handbook titled Przewodnik judaistyczny (Guide to Judaism; 1893); and numerous articles for the Polish and Hebrew press.

Nussbaum had three sons: Henryk, a neurologist; Józef, the head of the biology department at the University of Lwów; and Maksymilian, an industrialist. All his children were baptized.

Suggested Reading

Artur Eisenbach, “Nussbaum Hilary,” in Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 23, pp. 416–417 (Kraków, 1978); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 2 and 3 (New York, 1947–1953).



Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski