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Rosenthal, Leon

(Yehudah Leib; 1817–1887), business entrepreneur, public figure, and philanthropist. Leon Rosenthal received both a religious and a secular education, and he was particularly drawn to Hebrew literature. His father Mosheh’s house in Vilna was a popular place for maskilim to gather.

After marrying, Rosenthal moved to Brest-Litovsk, where he led a circle of maskilim. In 1844 he became a follower of the Haskalah scholar Yitsḥak Ber Levinzon, and in 1846 when Sir Moses Montefiore visited Russia, Rosenthal gave him a memorandum in which he stressed the urgent need to educate Jews so that they could improve their economic and cultural conditions.

In the late 1850s, Rosenthal moved to Saint Petersburg. He worked there as an associate banker for the Gintsburg (Günzburg) family and was involved in commercial and Jewish communal activities. In 1863, he was among the founders and benefactors of the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE); later he served as its treasurer and secretary and wrote a two-volume history of the organization (1885). Under his influence, the organization supported Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski, who published natural science papers in Hebrew. Rosenthal also aided Kalman Schulman, who translated scientific and literary texts into Hebrew. Rosenthal himself believed that the ideas of the society were best promoted in both Russian and Hebrew.

Rosenthal continued to associate with maskilim. He donated funds for Jewish students studying at the polytechnic of Riga; was a patron of the Jewish orphanage of Saint Petersburg; and served as a member of the Jewish community council. From 1871 on, he supported an agency that provided kosher food for Jewish soldiers and poor Jews. He also signed a request for a building license for the synagogue of Saint Petersburg and donated money for its foundation. Beyond his participation in Jewish activities, Rosenthal was a member of two Russian organizations in Saint Petersburg: the Free Economical Society and the Geographical Society, the latter of which sponsored an ethnographic study of Jews.

Suggested Reading

Shemu’el Feiner, Haskalah ve-historyah: Toldoteha shel hakarat- ‘avar yehudit modernit (Jerusalem, 1995); Valeri Gessen, K istorii Sankt-Peterburgskoi evreiskoi religioznoi obshchiny: Ot pervykh evreiev do XX veka (Saint Petersburg, 2000); Leon Rozenthal, Toldot ḥevrat marbe haskalah be-Yisra’el be-erets Rusyah (Saint Petersburg, 1885); Yehuda Slutsky, Tenu‘at ha-haskalah be-yahadut Rusyah (Jerusalem, 1977); Mordechai Zalkin, Ba-‘alot ha-shaḥar: Ha-Haskalah ha-yehudit ba-Imperyah ha-Rusit ba-me’ah ha-tesh‘a ‘esreh (Jerusalem, 2000).