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Heinrich Graetz, ca. 1885

Heinrich Graetz (October 31, 1817 - September 7, 1891) was amongst the first historians to write a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from a Jewish perspective.

Born Tzvi Hirsh Graetz to a butcher family in Xions marker (Posenmarker) in Germanymarker (now in Polandmarker), he obtained his doctorate from the University of Jenamarker. After 1845 he was principal of the Jewish Orthodox school of the Breslaumarker community, and later taught history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslaumarker (now Wrocławmarker, Poland). His magnum opus History of the Jews was quickly translated into other languages and ignited worldwide interest in Jewish history. In 1869 the University of Breslaumarker granted him the title of Honorary professor, in 1888 he was appointed an Honorary member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.


Graetz received his first instruction at Zerkov, where his parents had relocated, and in 1831 was sent to Wollstein, where he attended the yeshivah up to 1836, acquiring secular knowledge by private study. The "Neunzehn Briefe von Ben Uziel" (see Samson Raphael Hirsch) made a powerful impression on him; and he resolved to prepare himself for academic studies in order to champion the cause of Orthodox Judaism. His first intention was to go to Praguemarker, to which place he was attracted by the fame of its old yeshibah and the facilities afforded by the university. Being rejected by the immigration officers, he returned to Zerkov and wrote to S. R. Hirsch, then rabbi of Oldenburg, intimating his desire. Hirsch offered him a home in his house. Graetz arrived there on May 8, 1837, and spent three years with his patron as a pupil, companion, and amanuensis. In 1840 he accepted a tutorship with a family at Ostrowomarker, and in Oct., 1842, he entered the University of Breslaumarker.

At that time the controversy between Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism was at its height, and Graetz, true to the principles which he had imbibed from Hirsch, began his literary career by writing contributions to the "Orient," edited by Julius Fürst, in which he severely criticized the Reform party, as well as Geiger's text-book of the Mishnah ("Orient," 1844). These contributions and his championship of the Conservative cause during the time of the rabbinical conferences made him popular with the Orthodox party. This was especially the case when he agitated for a vote of confidence to be given to Zacharias Frankel after he had left the Frankfurtmarker conference because of the stand which the majority had taken on the question of the Hebrew language. After Graetz had obtained his degree of Ph.D. from the University of Jenamarker (his dissertation being "De Auctoritate et Vi Quam Gnosis in Judaismum Habuerit," 1845; published a year later under the title "Gnosticismus und Judenthum"), he was made principal of a religious school founded by the Conservatives. In the same year he was invited to preach a trial sermon before the congregation of Gleiwitzmarker, Silesia, but failed completely.

He remained in Breslaumarker until 1848, when, upon the advice of a friend, he went to Vienna, purposing to follow a journalistic career. On the way he stopped at Nikolsburgmarker, where Samson Raphael Hirsch was residing as Moravian chief rabbi. Hirsch, who then contemplated the establishment of a rabbinical seminary, employed Graetz temporarily as teacher at Nikolsburgmarker, and afterward gave him a position as principal of the Jewish school in the neighboring city of Lundenburg (1850). In Oct., 1850, Graetz married Marie Monasch of Krotoschin. It seems that Hirsch's departure from Nikolsburg had an influence on Graetz's position; for in 1852 the latter left Lundenburgmarker and went to Berlin, where he delivered a course of lectures on Jewish history before rabbinical students. They do not seem to have been successful. Meantime his advocacy of Frankel's course had brought him into close contact with the latter, for whose magazine he frequently wrote articles; and accordingly in 1854 he was appointed a member of the teaching staff of the seminary at Breslau, over which Frankel presided. In this position he remained up to his death, teaching history and Bible exegesis, with a preparatory course on the Talmud. In 1869 the government conferred upon him the title of professor, and thenceforward he lectured at Breslau Universitymarker.

In 1872 Graetz went to Palestine in the company of his friend Gottschalck Levy of Berlinmarker, for the purpose of studying the scenes of the earliest period of Jewish history, which he treated in volumes one and two of his history, published in 1874-76; these volumes brought that great work to a close. While in Palestine he gave the first impetus to the foundation of an orphan asylum there. He also took a great interest in the progress of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and participated as a delegate in the convention assembled at Paris in 1878 in the interest of the Romanianmarker Jews. Graetz's name was prominently mentioned in the anti-Semitic controversy, especially after Treitschke had published his "Ein Wort über Unser Judenthum" (1879-1880), in which the latter, referring to the eleventh volume of the history, accused Graetz of hatred of Christianity and of bias against the German people, quoting him as a proof that the Jews could never assimilate themselves to their surroundings.
Graetz's tomb in Jewish Cemetery in Wrocław
This arraignment of Graetz had a decided effect upon the public. Even friends of the Jews, like Mommsen, and advocates of Judaism within the Jewish fold expressed their condemnation of Graetz's passionate language. It was due to this comparative unpopularity that Graetz was not invited to join the commission created by the union of German Jewish congregations (Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund) for the promotion of the study of the history of the Jews of Germany (1885). On the other hand, his fame spread to foreign countries; and the promoters of the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition invited him in 1887 to open the Exhibition with a lecture. The seventieth anniversary of his birthday was the occasion for his friends and disciples to bear testimony to the universal esteem in which he was held among them; and a volume of scientific essays was published in his honor ("Jubelschrift zum 70. Geburtstage des Prof. Dr. H. Graetz," Breslau, 1887). A year later (Oct. 27, 1888) he was appointed an honorary member of the Spanish Academy, to which, as a token of his gratitude, he dedicated the third edition of the eighth volume of his history.

As usual he spent the summer of 1891 in Carlsbad; but alarming symptoms of heart disease forced him to discontinue his use of the waters. He went to Munich to visit his son Leo, a professor at the university of that citymarker, and died there after a brief illness. He was buried in Breslau. Besides Leo, Graetz left three sons and one daughter.


History of the Jews

To posterity Graetz will be chiefly known as the Jewish historian, although he did considerable work in the field of exegesis also. His "Geschichte der Juden" superseded all former works of its kind, notably that of Jost, in its day a very remarkable production; and it has been translated into many languages. The fourth volume, beginning with the period following the destruction of Jerusalem, was published first. It appeared in 1853; but the publication was not a financial success, and the publisher refused to continue it. Fortunately the publication society Institut zur Förderung der Israelitischen Litteratur, founded by Ludwig Philippson, had just come into existence, and it undertook the publication of the subsequent volumes, beginning with the third, which covered the period from the death of Judas Maccabeus to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalemmarker. This was published in 1856 and was followed by the fifth, after which the volumes appeared in regular succession up to the eleventh, which was published in 1870 and brought the history down to 1848, with which year the author closed, not wishing to include living persons.

In spite of this reserve he gravely offended the Liberal party, which inferred, from articles that Graetz contributed to the "Monatsschrift", that he would show little sympathy for the Reform element, and therefore refused to publish the volume unless the manuscript was submitted for examination. This Graetz refused to do; and the volume therefore appeared without the support of the publication society. Volumes i. and ii. were published, as stated above, after Graetz had returned from Palestine. These volumes, of which the second practically consisted of two, appeared in 1872-75, and completed the stupendous undertaking. For more popular purposes Graetz published later an abstract of his work under the title "Volksthümliche Geschichte der Juden," in which he brought the history down to his own time.

A translation into English was begun by S. Tuska, who in 1867 published in Cincinnatimarker a translation of part of vol. ix. under the title "Influence of Judaism on the Protestant Reformation". The fourth volume was translated by James K. Gutheim under the auspices of the American Jewish Publication Society, the title being "History of the Jews from the Down-fall of the Jewish State to the Conclusion of the Talmud" (New York, 1873).

A five-volume English edition was published in London in 1891-92 as History of the Jews from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, In 5 vols. By Professor H Graetz, Edited and in part translated by Bella Löwy. According to a review in the January-April 1893 edition of Quarterly Review, it "was passing through the press in its English version , and had received the author's final touches, when Graetz died in September 1891". In 1919, the Jordan Publishing Co. of New York published a two-volume "improved" edition, with a supplement of recent events by Dr Max Raisin. Rabbi A. B. Rhine provided the English translation.


Graetz's historical studies, extending back to Biblical times, naturally led him into the field of exegesis. As early as the fifties he had written in the "Monatsschrift" essays dealing with exegetical subjects, as "Fälschungen in dem Texte der LXX." (1853) and "Die Grosse Versammlung: Keneset Hagedola " (1857); and with his translation of and commentaries on Ecclesiastes and Canticles (Breslau, 1871) he began the publication of separate exegetical works. A commentary and translation of the Psalms followed (ib. 1882-83). Toward the end of his life he planned an edition of the whole Hebrew Bible with his own textual emendations. A prospectus of this work appeared in 1891. Shortly before the author's death, a part of it, Isaiah and Jeremiah, was issued in the form in which the author had intended to publish it; the rest contained only the textual notes, not the text itself. It was edited, under the title "Emendationes in Plerosque Sacræ Scripturæ Veteris Testamenti Libros," by W. Bacher (Breslau, 1892-94).

The most characteristic features of Graetz's exegesis are his bold textual emendations, which often substitute something conjectural for the Masoretic text, although he always carefully consulted the ancient versions. He also determined with too much certainty the period of a Biblical book or a certain passage, when at best there could only be a probable hypothesis. Thus his hypothesis of the origin of Ecclesiastes at the time of Herod the Great, while brilliant in its presentation, is hardly tenable. His textual emendations display fine tact, and of late they have become more and more respected and adopted.

Other literary work

Graetz's activity was not limited to his special field. He enriched other branches of Jewish science, and wrote here and there on general literature or on questions of the day. His essay "Die Verjüngung des Jüdischen Stammes," in Wertheimer-Kompert's "Jahrbuch für Israeliten," vol. x., Vienna, 1863 (reprinted with comments by Th. Zlocisti, in "Jud. Volks-Kalender," p. 99, Brünn, 1903), caused a suit to be brought against him by the clerical anti-Semite Sebastian Brunner for libeling the Jewish religion. As Graetz was not an Austrianmarker subject the suit was nominally brought against Kompert as editor, and the latter was fined (Dec. 30, 1863). Within the Jewish fold the lawsuit also had its consequences, as the Orthodox raised against Graetz the accusation of heresy because he had denied the personal character of the prophetic Messiah. To the field of general literature belongs also his essay on "Shylock," published in the "Monatsschrift," 1880. In the early years of the anti-Semitic movement he wrote, besides the articles in which he defended himself against the accusations of Treitschke, an anonymous essay entitled "Briefwechsel einer Englischen Dame über Judenthum und Semitismus," Stuttgart, 1883. To supplement his lectures on Jewish literature he published an anthology of Neo-Hebraic poetry under the title "Leḳeṭ Shoshannim" (Breslau, 1862), in which he committed the mistake of reading the verses of a poem horizontally instead of vertically, which mistake Geiger mercilessly criticized ("Jüd. Zeit." i. 68-75). A very meritorious work was his edition of the Jerusalem Talmud in one volume(Krotoschin, 1866). A bibliography of his works has been given by Israel Abrahams in "The Jewish Quarterly Review" (iv. 194-203).


Graetz's history became very popular and influential in its time. The material for Jewish history being so varied, the sources so scattered in the literatures of all nations, and the chronological sequence so often interrupted, made the presentation of this history as a whole a very difficult undertaking; and it can not be denied that Graetz performed his task with consummate skill, that he mastered most of the details while not losing sight of the whole. Another reason for the popularity of the work is its sympathetic treatment. This history of the Jews is not written by a cool observer, but by a warm-hearted Jew. On the other hand, some of these commendable features are at the same time shortcomings. The impossibility of mastering all the details made Graetz inaccurate in many instances. A certain imaginative faculty, which so markedly assisted him in his textual emendations of the Bible, led him to make a great number of purely arbitrary statements. Typical in this respect is the introductory statement in the first volume: "On a bright morning in spring nomadic tribes penetrated into Palestine," while the Bible, which is his only source, states neither that it was in spring nor that it was on a bright morning. His passionate temper often carried him away, and because of this the eleventh volume is certainly marred. Graetz does not seem to possess the fairness necessary for a historian, who has to understand every movement as an outgrowth of given conditions, when he calls David Friedländer a "Flachkopf" (xi. 173) and "Moses Mendelssohn's ape" (ib. p. 130), or when he says of Samuel Holdheim that since the days of Paul of Tarsus Judaism never had such a bitter enemy (ib. p. 565). His preconceived opinions very often led him to conclusions which were not borne out and were even frequently disproved by the sources. His feelings often led him to make unwarranted attacks on Christianity which have given rise to very bitter complaints. He also showed extreme paranoia in his "conspiracy theories", such as a holiday gathering being the front for a plan to overturn the government, despite all evidence pointing to the meeting's innocence.All these short-comings, however, are outbalanced by the facts that the work of presenting the whole of Jewish history was undertaken, that it was executed in a readable form, and that the author enriched Jewish history by the discovery of many an important detail.


  • Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart: 11 vols. (History of the Jews; 11853–75), impr. and ext. ed., Leipzig: Leiner, 21900, reprint of the edition of last hand (1900): Berlin: arani, 1998, ISBN 3-7605-8673-2.


  1. , reprinted in


  • Bibliography: Rippner, in the third edition of the first volume of Graetz's Geschichte;
Abrahams, as above;
  • Ph. Bloch, in the Index volume of the English translation of Graetz's work, History of the Jews Philadelphia, 1898;
  • M. Wiener, Zur Würdigung des verfahrens G. . ., in Ben Chananja, 1863, Nos. 22, 23.
    • History and Jewish Historians, S. W. Baron, 1964
  • Jeffrey C. Blutinger, "Writing for the Masses: Heinrich Graetz, the Popularization of Jewish History, and the Reception of National Judaism." Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 2003.
  • Marcus Pyka, "Jüdische Identität bei Heinrich Graetz", Göttingen 2008 (a study of Graetz' biography and work, in particular of his construction of Jewish identity; in German)

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By : Isidore Singer & Gotthard Deutsch

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