Wessely, Hartwig

Wessely, Hartwig (or, according to his Jewish name, Hertz Wesel), a noted Jewish writer, was born in 1725 at Hamburg. Like his friend Moses Mendelssohn, he was originally a Rabbinic Jew, and observed the traditional law to the last. His thirst for knowledge led him to acquire the German, French, Danish, and Dutch languages, and to study mathematics, natural philosophy, geography, and history. An extraordinary power of writing Hebrew, both prose and poetry, secured him the esteem of his nation, and gave him an opportunity of communicating his acquirements in a national, and therefore an unsuspected, form. The edict of the emperor Joseph II to establish elementary schools among the Jews first exhibited Wessely as a Reformer. He wrote a letter to the congregation at Trieste upon the subject, in which he related the importance of elementary instruction, recommended the study of Hebrew grammar, and advised the postponing of the Talmudic studies to a riper age. This brought down upon him all the weight of Rabbinic indignation, especially that of the Polish rabbins, who attacked and anathematized him with vehemence, while those of Trieste, Venice, Ferrara, and Reggio supported him. Wessely, who died at Hamburg in 1805, may be considered the founder of Modern Hebrew literature, in the same way as Mendelssohn was of German literature among the Jews of his age and country. For though in destitute circumstances, he found time and strength to write a series of works which form a new era in Hebrew composition, and have united his name with that of Mendelssohn in the honorable appellation of the "two restorers of science among the Jews." Jost's description of the effects of their labors is very striking. He says, "They found the Jews without any language; they gave them two at once — the German and the Hebrew." He wrote, רוה הן, The Spirit of Grace (Berlin, 1780, a.v.), a commentary to the Book of Wisdom, translated into Hebrew by himself: באור לספר ויקרא a commentary on Leviticus, which forms part of the commentary of Mendelssohn's Pentateuch: יין לבנון, The Wine of Lebanon 1 ibid. 1775), a commentary on the treatise Aboth:הלבנון, Lebanon, a gigantic work on the synonyms of the Hebrew language. The first volume (הראשון הבית) consists of 10 sections (חדרים), subdivided into 120 chapters (חלונות), and contains a most elaborate philological and psychological disquisition on the signification and development of the root'חָכִם; as well as a treatise on a portion of the Mosaic law. It is preceded by an extentive introduction entitled The

Entrance into the Garden (מבוא הגן), in which the plan of the work is set forth, and specimens of Hebrew synonyms are given. This first volume he edited when a book-keeper at Amsterdam in 1765. The second volume (הבית השני) consists of 13 sections, subdivided into 180 chapters, and gives in a most learned manner a philosophico-traditional explanation of all the passages of the O.T. in which either the word חָכִם or its derivatives occur. It is likewise preceded by an elaborate introduction, wherein those words are explained which constitute mixed forms. A second edition of it was published at Vienna in 1829, and a third at Warsaw in 1838: דברי שלום ואמת, Letters to the Jews of Austrir concerning the reforms of the emperor Joseph II (Berlin, 1782): — מאמר חקור דין , Defense of the Rabbinit Tradition (Konigsb. 1837, new ed.): ס8 המדות, Jewish Ethics (Berlin, 1784; latest ed. Konigsb. 1851): שררי תפארת, Songs of Glory, an epic on the life of Moses. Though the language of this poem is purely Biblical, and the style enriched with the finest embellishments of the inspired poetic writings, yet the cast of thought is not national, but European and secular. "The Songs of Glory," says Dr. Marjoliouth, "embodies the history of the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt until the giving of the law at Sinai. It is, indeed, a most unique production. An English Christian, who justly esteems Milton as the most successful epic poet, may, perhaps, not like to hear Wessely compared to their venerable bard. I have read them both, and have no hesitation in saying that they are equal to each other, with the only difference that Wessely is not so profuse in mythological terms as Milton. Wessely, like Milton, did not think rhyme a necessary adjunct or true ornament of a poem or good verse, and, therefore, rejected it, which makes the poetry of the Shirey Tiphereth exceedingly sublime. Wessely also left in MS. a commentary on Genesis, which was edited by Isaac Reggio, with the title Commentarium in Genesin ex ejus Autographo Excudi Curavit (Goritie, i854). See Fürst, Bibliotheca. Judaica, 3, 507 sq.; De Rossi, Dizionario Storico (Germ. transl.), p. 331 sq.; Etheridge, Introduction to Hebrew Literature, p. 393 sq.; Kitto, Cyclopaedia, s.v.; Da Costa, Israel and the Gentiles, p. 554 sq.; McCaul, Sketches of Judaism and the Jews, p. 51 sq.; Schmucker, Hist. of the Jews, p. 244 sq.; Marjoliouth, The Fundamental Principles of Modern Judaism, p. 247 sq.; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 11:91 sq.; Jost, Gesch. d. Judenthums und seiner Sekten, 3, 307 sq.; Meisel, Leben u. Wirken Wessely's (Breslau, 1841); Geiger, in the Zeitschrift der D. M. G. 17:321

sq.; Delitzsch, Gesch. der jucischen Poesie, p. 85, 95, 106, 114, 174 sq.; Stern, Gesch. d. Judenthums von Mendelssohn, etc., p. 104 sq.; Dessauer, Gesch. d. Israeliten, p. 504 sq.; Gildemann, in Frankel-Gratz Monatsschrift, 1870, p. 478 sq.; Cassel, Lehrbuch der Geschichte und Literatur (Leips. 1879), p. 499 sq.; Morals, Eminent Israelites of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia, 1880); p. 344 sq. (B. P.)

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