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Steinschneider, Moritz

(1816–1907), bibliographer, historian, and linguist; a founder of modern Jewish studies. Born in Prossnitz (Prostějov, Moravia), Moritz Steinschneider received both a general and a Jewish education, including yeshiva studies in Nikolsburg (Mikulov). In Prague, he qualified for a Hebrew teacher’s diploma. In the course of his academic studies at the universities of Vienna, Leipzig, and Berlin, Steinschneider made the acquaintance of Leopold Dukes, Leopold Zunz, and Abraham Geiger, as well as Michael Sachs, who had formative influences on him. While working at a series of teaching jobs in Prague, Steinschneider obtained his rabbinical ordination in Prossnitz in 1843, and moved to Berlin in 1845 in search of employment.

Steinschneider found work as a cataloger for the Berlin firm of booksellers A. Asher & Co., supplier to the British Library and the Bodleian Library. In 1848, the year Steinschneider received Prussian citizenship and married Auguste Auerbach, he was commissioned to prepare an analytical catalog of the collection of Hebrew printed books in the Bodleian Library, which was to become one of his most important and best-known publications (Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana; 1852–1860 [rpt., 1932, 1964]).

Steinschneider never became a university lecturer, but supported himself and his wife as a private tutor, administrator of the Jewish oath in courts of law (1860–1869), head of a Jewish girls’ school (1869–1890), and assistant librarian at the Prussian Royal Library (1869–1907). He avoided teaching at rabbinical seminaries, which he regarded as institutions that put Jewish scholarship in the service of theology. From 1859 until his death in 1907, Steinschneider gave evening classes at the Veitel Heine Ephraim’sche Lehranstalt, a small Jewish educational institute supported by a family foundation, which attracted both Jews and non-Jews. It is known that Steinschneider’s lectures on Hebrew bibliography and literature were attended by Ignác Goldziher, Solomon Schechter, Ḥayim Brody, Judah Magnes, Henry Malter, Alexander Marx, George Kohut, and Salman Schocken—men who went on to become scholars of Judaism and intellectual leaders in the United States and Israel. These lectures at the Lehranstalt often became the starting points for subsequent publications, such as Steinschneider’s “Allgemeine Einleitung in die jüdische Literatur des Mittelalters” (Jewish Quarterly Review; 1903–1905), based on lectures he gave between 1859 and 1897.

Steinschneider was the first modern scholar to attempt an overview of Jewish literature; this approach appears in his seminal article “Jüdische Literatur” that appeared in the Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste (ed. J. S. Ersch and J. G. Gruber, vol. 27 [1850]). This article was complemented by an equally original outline of the history of Jewish printing and bookselling, prepared jointly with David Cassel, entitled “Jüdische Typographie und Jüdischer Buchhandel” (vol. 28 [1851]). These two articles as well as the Bodleian Catalogus contain a wealth of information about Jewish booklore in Eastern Europe. Steinschneider included in his studies descriptions of publications in languages other than Hebrew and Aramaic, including Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Italian.

Steinschneider founded the bibliographic journal Ha-Maskir: Hebräsche Bibliographie (1858–1882) and contributed to the Zeitschrift für Hebräische Bibliographie (1896–1921), founded by his former pupil Ḥayim Brody and edited from 1900 by Aron Freimann, who is regarded as Steinschneider’s successor in the field of Hebrew bibliography. Toward the end of his life, Steinschneider received the title of professor from the Prussian government as well as honorary doctorates from Columbia University, New York, and Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.

Through the efforts of his former pupil George Kohut, Steinschneider agreed to sell his working library of 4,500 manuscripts and printed books, as well as his private papers, to Mayer Sulzberger, who donated them after Steinschneider’s death to the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1902. Some of these documents were destroyed in a library fire in 1966.

Suggested Reading

Robert Dán, “Steinschneider, Moritz,” in Accumulated Index of Jewish Bibliographical Periodicals, pp. 53 [Hebrew publications], 173–201 [chiefly publications in German] (Budapest, 1979); George Alexander Kohut, “Bibliography of the Writings of Professor Dr. Moritz Steinschneider,” in Festschrift zum achtzigsten Geburtstage Moritz Steinschneider’s, pp. v–xxxix (1896; rpt., Leipzig, 1969/70).