Pinsker, Simcha

Pinsker, Simcha a noted recent Hebraist, was born at Tarnopol, Austrian Poland (Galicia), in 1801. He was the son of a rabbi [see SHEBACH], and was well trained in Hebrew lore. Becoming interested in the doctrines of the Chasidim (q.v.), he joined the ranks of the so-called Kotzker-Chasidim, who, in the theory of mystic views, as well as in the practice, favored worldly gayety coupled with cynical elements. At the same time he suffered himself to be drawn into the whirlpool of a noisy commercial life, which induced him to enter upon several large speculations; his genius could not long remain imprisoned in these strange spheres, and, with the loss of his entire fortune, he finally abandoned these schemes. He took up his abode in Odessa, which was then a flourishing town, and filled the situation of Rabbinical secretary, and although the pittance of a salary which was paid him was barely enough for his existence, he was always in good spirits. But it was not to be expected that a man of Pinsker's talents should long rest content in such a limited sphere. Perceiving how miserable was the condition, in regard to culture, of the South-Russian Jews, which he had no doubt was due to a faulty, antiquated education, he determined to exert himself for the establishment of Jewish elementary schools, in which the children could receive a proper religious and secular training, suitable to those times. Odessa, being the commercial center of Southern Russia, seemed to him just adapted for such an institution, and Simcha Pinsker lost no time in communicating this important matter to his friend Isaac Horowitz, a native of Brody, who at once took great interest in the proposition. The two young men made known the object they had in view to several influential parties, and soon succeeded in gaining for their plan the conjunction of eminent men, who made all necessary arrangements with the congregation and the government, and thus readily accomplished the object. Pinsker was placed at the head of the newly founded school, and in that capacity he labored until 1840, when he removed to Vienna on a pension for the remainder of his life. Pinsker is noted, however, not simply as the founder and propagator of a high educational status among his coreligionists at Odessa, but rather as one of the best Hebraists of our day. When in 1839 Abraham Firkowitch brought from the Crimea a mass of curious and unknown manuscripts, and, among others, a codex of the later prophets. which had, like several Pentateuch fragments, with Haphtaroth and Targum, a peculiar punctuation-the vowel and accent points deviating in form, placed not under, but above the consonants-and which he presented to the Odessa Society for history and antiquities, Pinsker gave himself to the deciphering of this newly discovered system of punctuation, and never rested till, in 1842-43, he became thoroughly acquainted with the materials before him. He showed the patience of a monk of the Middle Ages, continually making researches in bibliography, biography, and literary history, and did not even shrink from commencing to study the Arabic, the language in which some of the manuscripts were composed. To acquire the latter was in those days no mean task, especially in a town like Odessa, yet Pinsker overcame all difficulties, and by his indefatigable diligence he mastered that language also. But none of these researches and their result were communicated to the world. Pinsker was too modest a man to presume that he had anything at command worth knowing by the rest of the world until Osias Schorr applied to him for a contribution to his critical Ha-Chaluz. For this purpose, Pinsker began his labors with a communication concerning the accomplishments of two Karaites, Mose Darai and Radba (David ben-Abraham), natives of Fez, who lived during the Middle Ages, and stood in great repute for their learning. The result of these labors grew to a great work of comprehensive contents, which he published under the name Likkute Kadmonioth ("Collections from Times of Yore"), and also under the title, The History of Karaism and the Karaite Literature. In it he describes the development of Karaism, and notes four consecutive periods: a pre-Ananitic, one of Anan himself, another of the reformer Nohawendi, and last the Karaites proper. The latter period brought about the breach concerning the Talmudic tradition, and missionaries were sent to Jewish congregations in order to call the people together to enlist them for the new doctrine. From this calling together. (Hebrew, karaa), the word Karaite, according to Pinsker, was derived. They were the people who laid the foundation-stone for completing the edifice of Biblical orthography, grammar, lexicography, and modern Hebrew poesy; and although Gaon Saadia may be considered in Rabbinical circles as the first who wrote a Hebrew grammar and a lexicon, and Dunash ben-Labrat is looked upon as the first who wrote poetry according to Arabic rules, yet there were already among the Karaites many grammarians, lexicographers and poets, who made use of the Arabic meter, and of this we find ample proofs in the Likkute. Important Karaite writings are quoted, among which the Lexicon by Radba and the Divan by Mose Darai are largely treated of. Pinsker maintains that the latter lived during the 9th century; and, if so, Darai must be considered the leader of a great poetic period, the value of whose poetical productions was highly appreciated, inasmuch as Gebirol Mose ibn-Ezra, Jehuda ha-Levi, and Abraham ibn-Ezra employed many successful similes, expressions, and even whole strophes, which accord in sound and manner with those of Darai. The Likkute found a reception which surpassed the highest expectations of the author. Hardly known previously in the republic of letters, Pinsker became all at once a celebrated name. The extraordinary compilation, the imposing erudition, the superabundance of rich material, the conscientiousness and geniality of combinations, were all calculated to cause admiration. Before the work was all published, those, as it were, official representatives of Jewish history, Jost and Gratz, hastened to declare their acknowledgment. The former, with full admiration, in the "Ben-Chananja" (1860), and the latter in the preface of the fifth volume of his history of the Jews. Also Dr. Schmiedl (Frankel's Monatsschrift, 1861) signified his appreciation of Pinsker. In the year 1863 Pinsker published in Vienna his Mebo nikkud, or, as entitled in German, "Introduction to the Babylonic-Hebraic punctuation system, executed according to the manuscripts for history and antiquities in the Odessa Museum." This work is a masterpiece of critical penetration into the historic developments of the vowel and accentuation points. Every line of the Likkute and Mebo sufficiently proves Pinsker's inquiring mind as a grammarian, and it was one of his favorite ideas to publish a system of Hebrew grammar, which he was on the point of carrying out when his health began to fail him; and the more he tried to bid defiance to nature, the more inexorably the overtaxed mind took revenge on him. He died Oct. 29, 1864. He left in MS. more than eighty works, the most of them having reference to Rabbinical or Karaite authors, such as Jephet ben-Ali, Aron the First, Abraham ibn-Ezra, Maimonides-the books Abodah and Corbanoth-Kalonymos ben-Kalonyms, Mordecai Contini, Delmedigo, and many others. They treat of punctuation, accentuation, the Masorah, theoretic and practical grammar, lexicography, concordances, comparisons in philology, exegesis, bibliography, Biblical geography, and numerous other subjects. His loss is greatly mourned among Hebraists, for had he lived he would probably have given a completeness to his works which no one else is able to supply. (J. H. W.)

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