Hugo Bergmann (center right) with Czechoslovakian President Tomáš Masaryk (left), in a photograph possibly taken at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. From Masaryk und das Judentum (Masaryk and the Jews), edited by Ernst Rychnovsky (Prague, 1931). (Leo Baeck Institute, New York).

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Bergmann, Hugo

(1883–1975), philosopher and early Zionist. Hugo Bergmann (also Shemu’el Hugo Bergman) was a member of the German-speaking Jewish minority of Prague in the generation most closely associated with his classmate and friend Franz Kafka. As a young student of philosophy and natural science, Bergmann was an active participant in the Prague philosophical salon of Berta Fanta, along with other Prague Jewish intellectuals of his generation including Felix Weltsch, Emil Utitz, Max Brod, and, more occasionally, Kafka.

In these early years, Bergmann was influenced by the schools of Bernard Bolzano and Franz Brentano, leaning toward mysticism and revision of the Kantian philosophy of science. Bergmann’s interest in philosophical critiques of rationalism would continue, and his influences included not only the anti-Kantianism of Brentano but also Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, the engagement of Jewish religion and phenomenology represented by Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and the Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo.

Bergmann was the first of his circle to turn to Zionism. He was a founding member of the Maccabi Association and the Organization of Jewish Students in Prague, later the Bar Kochba student association. Bergmann and his cohort in Bar Kochba were influenced by the cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha-Am, as opposed to the Zionism of Theodor Herzl. The Prague Zionists are credited with having played an important role in mediating East and West European rethinking of Jewish identity. Under Bergmann’s leadership, Bar Kochba sponsored a cultural program encouraging the acquisition of Hebrew language and the study of traditional Jewish texts.

Martin Buber was invited as a guest lecturer as early as 1903. Between 1909 and 1911 in Prague under the auspices of Bar Kochba, Buber delivered his famous three addresses on Judaism (later published as Drei Reden über das Judentum; 1916). Buber’s approach to Judaism and the associated notion of a Jewish Renaissance became characteristic also of Bergmann’s early Zionism. His own writings between 1903 and 1920 stress Zionism and Jewish identity as problems internal to the Jewish individual and the Jewish community, and the mystical and “dialogic” (Buber’s term) relationship between humanity and God. In practical terms, this branch of Zionism chose to focus more on Jewish development, education, and community building in the Diaspora than on the life of the Yishuv (settlement in Palestine) and emigration to it. Bergmann was hence important not only for his efforts to bring Jewish self-knowledge to assimilated Central European Jews, but also for his contribution to the Labor Zionist movement in the region. He was an organizer of the founding congress of the Hit’aḥadut in Prague in 1920.

After studies in philosophy and natural science at the German branch of the Charles University in Prague and the University of Berlin, Bergmann worked in the library of the former institution from 1907 to 1919, with time out for military service in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. In 1919, he served in the delegation representing Czechoslovak Jewry at the Paris Peace Conference. Thereafter he worked as secretary of the cultural department of the Zionist Executive in London (1920). Arriving in Palestine in the same year, he became the first director of the Jewish National and University Library and began lecturing in philosophy. He was appointed professor in philosophy of the newly established Hebrew University and served as its first rector from 1935 to 1938. He continued his professorship until retirement in 1955. Bergmann’s scholarly and journalistic production was enormous, and beyond his own work he was responsible for translations of German philosophy into Hebrew, especially Kant.

Once in Palestine, Bergmann became skeptical of the value of the Central European cultural Zionism he had been committed to as a youth, but several continuities are worth noting. Politically, Bergmann continued his activity after moving to Palestine by becoming a member of Ha-Po‘el ha-Tsa‘ir (Socialist Youth Organization) and continuing labor organization work as a founding member and delegate on the executive council of the Histadrut ha-‘Ovdim (Jewish National Trade Union). From his earliest engagement with Palestine, he called attention to the Arab presence there in his writings and attempted to maintain a dialogue with them, and this may be considered a legacy of his experience as a Jew in multinational Prague. With other cultural Zionists including Buber, Bergmann affiliated with the Berit Shalom movement, a branch of Zionism that aimed for the peaceful coexistence of Palestinian Jews and Arabs, and he edited its organ She’ifotenu.

Suggested Reading

Abraham Zvie Bar-On, ed., On Shmuel Hugo Bergman’s Philosophy (Amsterdam, 1986); Baruch Shohetman and Shlomo Shunami, eds., Kitve Shemu’el Hugo Bergman: Bibliyografyah, 1903–1967 (Jerusalem, 1967/68); Scott Spector, “Another Zionism: Hugo Bergmann’s Circumscription of Spiritual Territory,” Journal of Contemporary History 34.1 (January 1999): 87–108.