Jewish historians in the office of the Jewish Section at an international historical congress, Warsaw, 1933: (left to right) Ignacy Schiper, Abraham Duker, Emanuel Ringelblum, Raphael Mahler, Salo W. Baron, Me’ir Halevi, Majer Bałaban, M. Stein, and an unidentified participant. (YIVO)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Mahler, Raphael

(1899–1977), historian. Born in Nowy Sącz, Raphael Mahler received a traditional yeshiva education until age 15. He completed secondary school in Kraków before matriculating at the University of Vienna in history and philosophy and continued his Talmudic studies at the modern rabbinical seminary in Vienna. After earning his doctorate in 1922 with a dissertation on the sociological problems of progress, Mahler returned to Poland. There he taught history at Jewish secondary schools while participating in the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon and promoting modern Jewish historical research. With Emanuel Ringelblum, Mahler cofounded the Jewish Young Historians Circle that eventually affiliated with YIVO’s Historical Section, where he was actively involved both as a researcher and an editor.

In 1937, Mahler immigrated to the United States. He taught at Jewish teachers’ colleges in New York and at YIVO, in addition to writing for a variety of publications. In 1950, he moved to Israel, where he lectured on Jewish economic history at the Tel Aviv School of Law and Economics before joining the faculty of Tel Aviv University in 1959. Mahler’s distinguished contributions to Jewish scholarship were recognized in 1977, when he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize.

Jewish writers and scholars, Poland, ca. 1930s. (Left to right) Emanuel Ringelblum, Itsik Manger, Rokhl Oyerbakh; Yankev Shatzky, Ber Horovits, Raphael Mahler, and M. Weinberg. (YIVO)

Active in the left-wing Israeli Mapam party, Mahler was a doctrinaire Marxist scholar who emphasized the importance of economics and social conflict for understanding Jewish history. He wrote extensively on the history of Polish Jews, Jewish communal autonomy in eighteenth-century Poland, the Karaites, Hasidic movements, Jewish historiography, and the Haskalah. Mahler sought to apply the concepts of dialectical materialism and class conflict together with study of a multiplicity of sources to arrive at a realistic portrayal of dynamic change in the Jewish past. His prolific output was written in Yiddish, Polish, German, Hebrew, and English. Among his most substantial works are Di Yidn in amolikn Poyln (The Jews in Former Poland, in Di Yidn in Poyln; 1946); Ha-Kara’im (The Karaites; 1946); Yidn in amolikn Poyln in likht fun tsifern (Jews in Former Poland in the Light of Statistics; 1958); Ha-Ḥasidut veha-Haskalah (Hasidism and Haskalah; 1961); and Yehude Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam (Poland’s Jews between the Two World Wars; 1968). Mahler’s magnum opus is the unfinished Divre yeme Yisra’el: Dorot aḥaronim (History of the Jewish People in Modern Times; 1952–1979), of which seven volumes were published. He published both Yiddish and Hebrew versions of his most important works, while English translations exist for a few of them, including the abridgement A History of Modern Jewry (1971).

A bibliography of Mahler’s publications, compiled for the 1974 Festschrift titled Sefer Refa’el Maler, enumerates well more than 500 publications. Mahler’s combination of intensive training in rabbinic literature and modern scholarly methods of history, sociology, economics, and demography gave him access to a wide array of sources and topics for study, ranging from medieval Jewry to messianism, to early modern Polish Jewry and the transformations of Jewish social, cultural, and economic life in the modern period.

Suggested Reading

Israel M. Biderman, Mayer Bałaban: Historian of Polish Jewry (New York, 1976), pp. 275–284; Artur Eisenbach, “Jewish Historiography in Interwar Poland,” in The Jews of Poland between the Two World Wars, ed. Yisrael Gutman et al., pp. 453–493 (Hanover, N.H., 1989); Raphael Mahler, A History of Modern Jewry, 1780–1815 (New York, 1971); Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Eugene Orenstein, Aaron Klein, and Jenny Machlowitz Klein (Philadelphia, 1985), pp. ix–xi; Sefer Refa’el Maler: Kovets meḥkarim be-toldot Yisra’el, ed. Shmuel Yeivin (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1974).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 1232, David Seltzer, Papers, 1930-ca. 1980; RG 205, Kalman Marmor, Papers, 1880s-1950s; RG 357, Mark Schweid, Papers, ca. 1920s-1969; RG 40, Karaites, Collection, ; RG 453, Mendl Elkin, Papers, 1913-1961; RG 479, Benjamin Jacob Bialostotzky, Papers, ca. 1929-1963; RG 569, Shlomo Bickel, Papers, 1920s-1969.