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Kayserling, Meir

(1829–1905), rabbi and historian. Meir Kayserling was born in Hannover, Germany, where he attended high school at Meyer Michel David’s Freischule between 1838 and 1844. He then studied at a yeshiva in Halberstadt and at the Talmudic academy of Samson Raphael Hirsch in Nikolsburg. In 1849, he went to study with Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport in Prague and later with Seligmann Baer Bamberger in Würzburg.

In 1852, Kayserling enrolled at the University of Berlin, studying theology, philosophy, and history; he received his doctorate in 1855. During his Berlin years, his views on history were strongly influenced by Leopold Ranke and Leopold Zunz. He published his first monograph on Moses Mendelssohn in 1856, and between 1861 and 1870 served as the rabbi of Endingen and Lengnau in Aargau Canton, Switzerland.

Kayserling’s writings played an important role in the emancipation of Swiss Jewry in the early 1860s. In 1870, he was elected rabbi of the Pest Jewish community in Hungary, and he served as the German preacher and religion teacher for Neolog Jews there for 35 years. Between 1871 and 1872, he edited the weekly Ungarisch-jüdische Wochenschrift, with Sámuel Kohn. Kayserling’s lectures and public readings were highly regarded by the non-Jewish public as well.

Kayserling’s scholarly interests were diverse, but his most important and pioneering works centered on the German Jewish enlightenment, particularly on Mendelssohn and his circle. In addition to publishing Moses Mendelssohn, Sein Leben und seine Werken (Moses Mendelssohn’s Life and Works; 1862), Kayserling wrote other pieces on this topic. He also explored the history of Sephardic Jews, concentrating primarily on their time in Spain and Portugal; his research in this field led him to his interest in Dutch and American Jewry.

Kayserling’s first monograph on Sephardim (Sephardim. Romanische Poesien der Juden in Spanien. Ein Beitrag zur Literatur und Geschichte der spanisch-portugiesischen Juden; 1859) exposed the literary treasures of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry. He next completed a two-volume survey of the history of Jews of the Balearic Islands, Navarre, and Portugal, basing his conclusions on original sources (1861–1867). His research on Spanish Jewry led him to study the history of Marranos, a subject that then led him to write a biography of the seventeenth-century rabbi Manasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam (1861). Kayserling also wrote Christoph Columbus und der Antheil der Juden an den spanischen und portugiesischen Entdeckungen (Christopher Columbus and the Participation of Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries; 1894), relying on sources found in Italian and Spanish archives. Kayserling’s investigation clearly proved that Columbus had received financial support from Jewish (converso) contemporaries. Kayserling’s studies on Sephardic Jewry are well regarded even today, particularly his bibliography of Marrano literature, titled Bibliotheca-Espanola-Portugueza-Judaica (1890).

Kayserling also wrote a pioneering monograph on the cultural and historical role of Jewish women (Der jüdischen Frauen in der Geschichte, Literatur und Kunst; 1879). In some of his writings he also challenged the arguments of antisemites; in that vein, he wrote an apologetic pamphlet about ritual slaughtering (published in Switzerland; 1867) and an answer to the charge of usury (written in Pest; 1882). His last major text was a biography of his father-in-law, Ludwig Philippson (1898).

Suggested Reading

Ede Neumann, Kayserling: Életrajzi vázlat (Budapest, 1906); Miksa Weisz, “Dr. Kayserling Mayer pesti főrabbi irodalmi munkássága,” Magyar-zsidó szemle (1929): 224–259; Miksa Weisz, “Kayserling M. emlékezete,” Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat Évkönyve (1929): 169–194; Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed., Biblioteca española-portugeueza-judaica and Other Studies in Ibero-Jewish Bibliography by [Meyer Kayserling] and by J. S. da Silva Rosa (New York, 1971).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó