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Stein, August

(1854–1937), Hebrew scholar, translator, journalist, editor, and a founder of the Czech Jewish movement. August Stein was born in Nový Knín, near Dobříš, into a family of a liberal rabbi and teacher of religion. Stein studied law in Prague at the Charles Ferdinand University and received a doctorate in 1880. As a student, he worked as a clerk in the law office of Alois Zucker, a criminal law professor. At the same time, he served as private tutor to Bohuš Rieger, future professor and son of František Ladislav Rieger, leader of the Old Czech Party. Stein originally supported this party before becoming a Social Democrat.

After earning his doctorate, Stein worked for the Prague municipality for 40 years (retiring in 1920). When the Josefov Jewish quarter of the city was ordered to be demolished in 1893, Stein was put in charge of the project. As an expert on this district, he wrote the entry “Josefov, někdejší město židovské” (Josefov, the Former Jewish Town; 1893) for the encyclopedia Ottův slovník naučný. His reputation as a capable and, above all, incorruptible bureaucrat then led him to be offered a transfer to the Austrian civil service, a position that he turned down.

A decade earlier, Stein had played an important part in electing the first Czech representative of Josefov to the municipal council (1882) and the provincial Diet (1883). In 1902, Stein was named to the city’s municipal council and was sent to Liberec (Reichenberg) as a government commissioner following the establishment of the Czechoslovakian republic in 1918.

August Stein is regarded as the initiator and ideological father of the Czech Jewish movement. He was a cofounder in 1876 of the Spolek Českých Akademiků Židů (Society of Czech Academic Jews), for which he performed various functions and was twice elected as chair. In 1881–1882, he served as editor of the first three volumes of the Kalendář českožidovský (Czech Jewish Almanac), to which he also contributed seminal articles.

Active as well in Jewish religious life, Stein helped to found the Or Tomid society (1883) and championed the establishment of its first prayer house in 1886. During this period, he translated the prayer book into Czech (1884). Later translations included Tehilat El: Modlitby israelitů (Tehilat El: Prayers of the Israelites; 1918) and “Machsor,” which remained in manuscript. He also collaborated on Isidor Hirsch and Gustav Sicher’s first Jewish translation of the initial four books of the Torah into Czech.

In 1905, Stein became chair of the Czech Jewish National Association, was one of the pivotal members of the Prague B’nai B’rith lodge, and was a cofounder of the city’s Jewish museum. Following the establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic, he drew up electoral regulations for the Jewish religious community, served as the first deputy chair of the Prague Jewish community in 1921 and as its chair from 1922 to 1930. During this time, he concerned himself with reorganizing religious instruction, drawing up new curricula, and compiling a manual for teachers of religion.

Stein is regarded as the spiritual father of the Union of Religious Communities (three in Bohemia; one each in Moravia and Silesia). In 1925, the united communities established a central office in Prague (the Supreme Council of Jewish Religious Communities in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia) and elected Stein its first chair.

Suggested Reading

“Dodatky,” in Ottův slovník naučný, vol. 28, p. 1093 (Prague, 1909); Dr. G. (Guth Otakar), “Za drem Augustinem Steinem,” Kalendář českožidovský 54 (1938): 5–7; Max Popper, “In memoriam dr. August Stein,” Věstník židovských náboženských obci v Československu 11 (1949): 265; Max Popper, “100 let od narození dr. Augustina Steina,” Věstník židovských náboženských obci v Československu 16 (1954): 54.



Translated from Czech by Martin Ward