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Löwisohn, Salomon

(1789–1821), Hebrew poet, linguist, and historian. Salomon Löwisohn was born in Mór, Hungary, a small community led by his relatives, the prominent Rosenthal and Saphir families, who played key roles in the Hungarian Haskalah. As a child, he received a traditional education. When he was 12, he studied German and arithmetic at a Capuchin monastery. By the time he celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1802, Löwisohn was well versed in the Bible and began writing poems in Hebrew.

The wealthy maskil Solomon Rosenthal opened his extensive library of Hebrew, German, French, and Latin books to Löwisohn. Consequently, Löwisohn became highly knowledgeable about general literature and even learned French and Italian. To support himself, he tutored privately and in 1809 went to study along with his relative, Moritz Gottlieb Saphir—later a famous humorist—at the Prague yeshiva. There, he became closely associated with the circle of Baruch and Juda Jeitteles, the central figures of the Prague Haskalah. Under their tutelage, he studied Hebrew and Aramaic grammar. In 1811, he published Siḥah be-‘olam ha-neshamot (A Conversation in the World of Souls), in which a discussion about Hebrew and its grammar takes place in the afterlife between two grammarians and commentators, the great medieval scholar David Kimḥi, and the modern maskil Yo’el Brill, whom Löwisohn admired. In 1812, he published his second book, Bet ha-osef, which presented, for the first time in Hebrew, an introduction to the grammar and vocabulary of the Mishnah.

Between 1813 and 1815, Löwisohn studied Semitic languages at the University of Prague, and then moved to Vienna, where he worked as proofreader, editor, and adviser at Anton Schmid’s famous printshop and publishing house. In 1815, he published his book Dikduk leshon ha-Mishnah (Grammar of the Language of the Mishnah). In 1815, Löwisohn also published (along with a translation into German) an interpretation of Tsiyonim, poems beginning with the word Tsiyon (Zion) and included in the laments of the Ninth of Av. This was followed by other liturgical studies.

Löwisohn’s most important work is Melitsat Yeshurun (1816), the first sustained analysis, in Hebrew, of the poetics of the Bible. The introduction to Melitsat Yeshurun is Löwisohn’s poem “Ha-Melitsah medaberet.” The work addresses the various manifestations of beauty, the sublime, and imagination in biblical text and allegory, as well as phraseology patterns, and includes technical terms from the realm of poetics. Löwisohn also published Meḥkere erets (1819), the first geographical lexicon of the books of the Bible in Hebrew. In addition, he published a series of German-language essays on Jewish history, Vorlesungen über die neuere Geschichte der Juden (Lectures on Modern Jewish History; 1820). These essays, which had appeared previously in the periodical Sulamith, established Löwisohn as one of the pioneers of Jewish historical writing.

Löwisohn’s health rapidly deteriorated. A failed romance and the dismissal from his job with Anton Schmid worsened his condition. He became mentally ill, and Solomon Rosenthal took him back to his hometown, Mór, where he died at the age of 32.

Suggested Reading

Sándor Büchler, “Egy magyar zsidó költő, Évkönyv: Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Tarsulat (1895): 387–403; Tova Cohen, Melitsat Yeshurun li-Shelomoh Levizon: Ha-Yetsirah ve-yotsrah (Ramat-Gan, Isr., 1988); Reuven Fahn, Pirke haskalah (Stanisławów, Pol., 1937); Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern (Tübingen, 1969), pp. 267–272; Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 1, pp. 232–243 (Jerusalem, 1937); Reuven Michael, ed., Shelomoh Levizon: Meshorer balshan ḥoker; Mivḥar mi-ketavav (Jerusalem, 1984); Ignatz Reich, Beth-El: Ehrentempel verdienter ungarisches Israeliten, vol. 2, 72–77 (Pest, 1868).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann