Ezekiel Kaufmann

The Jewish philosopher and scholar Ezekiel Kaufmann (1889-1963) founded a new school of biblical criticism.

Ezekiel Kaufmann was born in Dunayvtsy, Podolia. Following the advice of his teacher, the Hebrew poet Jacob Fichman, in 1906 he left for Odessa to study at the Great Yeshiva headed by the famed Rabbi Hayyim Tschernowitz. From there he traveled to St. Petersburg to take up Oriental studies. In 1913 he went to Switzerland and, concentrating in philosophy and Semitic philology, received his doctorate from the University of Berne. Following World War I, he moved to Germany. He worked on the German-Hebrew Jewish encyclopedia Eshkol. In Berlin he edited a periodical of Hebrew culture and education, Atidenu, assisted in the writing of Tschernowitz's Abridgement of the Talmud, and worked on the Lexicon of Biblical and Talmudic Language.

In 1929 Kaufmann emigrated to Palestine, where he was a teacher at the Reali School in Haifa until 1949. From that year, until his retirement in 1957, he was professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He began his literary career with a story published in the newspaper Haolam. His first outstanding critical article was devoted to a debate with Ahad Haam. He sought to argue against the latter's notion of the "national-survival instinct" as a substitute for religion in Judaism. Kaufmann's basic position was that the religious factor in Judaism was its mainspring, and nothing could replace it. This thesis was developed in Golah ve nekar (1929-1930), a historical and sociological study of the Jewish people from ancient through modern times. In this work he sought to disprove the accepted solutions for the problem of Jewish survival in the Diaspora and saw the land of Israel as manifesting only one of several territorial alternatives. He pondered the fate of the Jewish people in Constraints of the Times (1936), a collection of studies and articles, and in Between Roads (1944), a study in aspects of national philosophy.

In the early 1930s Kaufmann began to publish chapters of his monumental book The History of Israelite Religion. In this work he sought to negate the very foundations of modern biblical criticism, most notably the theories of Wellhausen. While generally accepting the division into source documents, he rejected the evolutionary schema imposed upon those documents. In its stead he stressed the role of monotheism, its primacy, its revelational character, and its seminal role in the forging of the religion of Israel. In addition to this work, he published comprehensive introductions to, and commentaries upon, the biblical books of Joshua and Judges as well as a monograph, "The Biblical Account of the Conquest of Palestine."

Further Reading on Ezekiel Kaufmann

There is very little writing in English on Kaufmann. A brief biography of him appears in the Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, edited by Raphael Patai and published by McGraw-Hill (1971).