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Reifmann, Ya‘akov

(1818–1894), Hebrew writer and scholar, historian of ancient Jewish literature, the Bible, and Jewish philosophy. Ya‘akov Reifmann was born in Łagów, Poland. He spent his childhood in nearby Opatów, where he acquired a basic religious education, but subsequently spent most of his life—including the days of his extensive and highly diversified scholastic achievements—in Szczebrzeszyn, near Zamość, where he relocated after marrying. There he was introduced to classic Jewish philosophical literature and was profoundly influenced by MaimonidesGuide of the Perplexed. Reifmann, who lived most of his life in poverty, learned German on his own, and, like others who followed the Haskalah, read the writings of German philosophers, which introduced him to scholarly research methods.

Reifmann’s projects and studies, published in various pamphlets and in contemporary newspapers and periodicals (Ha-Melits, Ha-Magid, Ha-Tsefirah, Keneset Yisra’el, Ha-Shaḥar, Isaac Marcus Jost’s Tsiyon, and others), dealt with an extensive range of subjects, including ancient Jewish literature (Talmud and Midrash), biblical criticism, the Apocrypha, Jewish philosophy, and history. He wrote all of his studies in Hebrew, and some were subsequently translated into German and published in German periodicals, which also issued reviews of his work, gaining him recognition in the West.

Reifmann regarded the rabbis of Late Antiquity as the first biblical critics. He also studied Aramaic translations of the Bible, offering different textual revisions based on comparisons of the Targums. Relying on ancient Jewish literature as well as—in all probability—the writings of contemporary German critics (whom he never mentioned), he suggested different times of writing for some of the books of the Bible, and raised somewhat new ideas regarding their composition. However, as was the case with most of his contemporary ḥokhmat Yisra’el scholars who practiced biblical criticism, he usually avoided dealing with the composition of the Pentateuch (except in the context of his dealings with the teachings of Avraham ibn Ezra, one of the most prominent figures of Jewish philosophy, particularly for maskilim). Although he sought to avoid disputes and controversy, Reifmann was nevertheless committed to scientific truth, and his conclusions about sacred Jewish writings were often conceived, within Jewish traditional society as well as among moderate maskilim, as radical views that undermined the foundations of Jewish faith.

Reifmann’s scholarly corpus also includes studies of medieval works such as the Sefer ḥasidim (Book of the Pious) of Yehudah ben Shemu’el (ca. 1150–1217), and a groundbreaking monograph about the Spanish Jewish philosopher Zeraḥyah ha-Levi Gerondi (1853). Despite Reifmann’s limited access to sources, these research projects bear witness to his original way of thinking and to the breadth and profundity of his knowledge of Jewish literature. He also compiled studies about Avraham ibn Ezra, wrote essays about Avraham ibn Daud, and published parts of a critical edition of the Passover Haggadah.

In addition to his research, Reifmann played an important social role by maintaining ties to fellow maskilim (including Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport, Abraham Geiger, Jost, Yitsḥak Shemu’el Reggio, Shemu’el David Luzzatto, and Salomon Buber), with whom he corresponded on subjects relating to his research. He also led a circle of young maskilim from Zamość, who met regularly at his home in Szczebrzeszyn. Through these meetings, Reifmann became one of the most prominent figures in Zamość maskilic circles. A pamphlet containing various conversations of this circle, titled Mo‘ade ‘erev, was published in Vilna in 1863.

Suggested Reading

A. M. Haberman, “Ḥokhmat ha-Misken,” Gilyonot 2 (1938): 128–134; Dov Heiman, “Hitkatvut ‘im R. Ya‘akov Raifman u-vene doro,” Sinai 112 (1993): 193–220; Meir Hershkovitz, “Titen emet le-Ya‘akov,” Ha-Darom 18 (1963): 35–78; Jacob Reifmann, “Rashe perakim mi-toldot yeme ḥayai asher katavti zikaron be-sefer le-dor aḥaron,” Keneset Yisra’el [Warsaw] 3 (1888): 173–184; Jacob Reifmann, Kol sifre Ya‘akov Raifman ‘im hosafot (New York, 1991); Haim Shely, Meḥkar ha-mikra’ be-sifrut ha-haskalah (Jerusalem, 1941/42), pp. 128–137.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann