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Tugendhold, Jakob

(1794–1871), maskil and author; Jewish liaison to Polish government. Jakob Tugendhold was born in Działoszyce, the son of a Prussian maskil. He received a traditional heder education and from 1811 or 1812 pursued secular studies in Breslau. From 1814 to 1819, Tugendhold worked as a private tutor in Kraków, Lwów, and Warsaw, and in 1819 was commissioned to create Poland’s first state-run Jewish elementary schools.

Tugendhold’s school project marked the beginning of his close association with government institutions. In subsequent years, he served as secretary of the board of Jewish elementary schools and government-appointed secretary and later chair of the Jewish community board in Warsaw. He was also the government-appointed censor of Hebrew publications, director of the cholera hospital, a member of the Civic Committee for municipal authorities in Warsaw, and, from 1852, director of Warsaw’s rabbinical seminary. Beginning in 1819, he was also an adviser on Jewish matters to government ministries. His activities for the benefit of Jewish schools, for which income was raised from a tax on kosher products, resulted in a conflict with tax collectors, especially with the wealthy and influential integrationist Jakub Epstein, while Tugendhold’s attempt to close the heders in Warsaw gained him the hatred of traditionalists.

In 1831, Tugendhold actively supported the Polish insurrection and became a member of the revolutionary National Guard. He publicized his views within the Jewish community and in the Polish press, and was the only Jewish member of the radical Patriotic Society. The failure of the insurrection caused him to change his views radically; he became a dedicated supporter of absolutism and Russian rule in the Polish Kingdom, stances that led him to clash with the Polonized Jewish intelligentsia. As director of the rabbinical seminary, he tried to instigate reforms, but his proposals were never completed, as the school was closed in 1861. He spent the rest of his life in obscurity and poverty.

Tugendhold’s writings and public activities focused on fighting antisemitism, on defending the unity and identity of the Jewish people, and on working against indifference to religion. His struggle against antisemitism involved him in the most important public disputes of the period, and his publications Jerobaał (1818) and Obrona Izraelitów (The Defense of the Israelites; 1831) provoked heated discussions in the Polish public. The apologetic work Kosht: Imre emet ve-shalom (Skazówski prawdy i zgody pod względem różnicy wyznan; 1844), a religious treatise that had rabbinical approvals, aimed to prove that the word ‘akum (idolater) did not apply to Christians. The most characteristic feature of Tugendhold’s plea for internal Jewish unity was his defense of Hasidism—a highly unusual attitude among partisans of the Haskalah. His fight against religious indifference predominated in his later activities, marking him as a conservative and causing conflicts with post-Haskalah circles in the Kingdom of Poland. Tugendhold translated or paraphrased many Haskalah works into Polish (including texts of Moses Mendelssohn, Herz Homberg, and Shalom ha-Kohen), and published prayer books and textbooks in that language. He also composed several original Hebrew poems.

Tugendhold’s brother, Wolf (1796–1864), was the censor of Hebrew books in Vilna from 1827, and also exerted considerable influence on the formulation of government policies toward the Jewish population there.

Suggested Reading

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. 210–214; Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, 3 vols. (New York, 1947–1953); Marcin Wodziński, “Jakub Tugendhold and the First Maskilic Defence of Hasidism,” Gal-Ed 18 (2002): 13–41.



Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski