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Niemirower, Iacob Isac

(1872–1939), rabbi and philosopher of Judaism. Born in Lemberg (Lwów), Iacob Isac (Ya‘akov Yitsḥak) Niemirower received a traditional Jewish education. His parents moved to Iaşi, Romania, when he was a child. Initially influenced by Hasidism, Niemirower later followed the rationalist current characteristic of the Haskalah. In 1890, he went to Berlin to study philosophy, receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Bern in Switzerland in 1895. In Berlin he also studied at the Neo-Orthodox rabbinical seminary and was ordained by Rabbi Ernest Biberfeld. Niemirower also decided to become a Reform rabbi, and was ordained in 1896 by Rabbi Michael Hamburger of Strolitz. Niemirower was additionally influenced by the philosophy of Moritz Lazarus.

On his return to Iaşi in 1896, Niemirower became the preacher at the Bet Ya‘akov (Neuschotz) Reform temple. Although attacked by Orthodox rabbis, Niemirower was nevertheless successful. He delivered sermons and lectures, taught lessons in Torah, participated in public and social activities, published articles in the Jewish and non-Jewish press, prepared academic studies, and was active in the field of education and in the Zionist movement. In 1908, he became the chief rabbi of Iaşi.

Beyond his rabbinic duties, Niemirower cofounded the popular athenaeum Toynbee Hall and delivered lectures on iudaismul cultural (cultural Judaism), a term he introduced in the Romanian language, combining various religious philosophical and historical aspects of Judaism with secular culture. In 1911, he was chosen to be the rabbi of the Sephardic community of Bucharest. When the new Ashkenazi community of that city was founded, Niemirower became its chief rabbi and then, as of 22 May 1921, was chief rabbi of the Union of Jewish Communities of the Old Kingdom of Romania. He also served as preacher and rabbi in the Choral Temple until his death.

After Romania officially recognized its Jewish population, Niemirower became chief rabbi of the Mosaic religion and its representative in the Romanian senate in 1926. In 1936, after the foundation of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Greater Romania, Niemirower became that organization’s leading rabbi. He institutionalized Judaism in Romania into a modern, centralized hierarchical form. In 1936, an unsuccessful attempt on his life was organized by antisemitic members of the Iron Guard. He was not injured and continued his religious and political activity. Romanian and Jewish political personalities protested against the attempt, presenting it as a sign of danger against democracy and integration of Jews in Romania, and asked that those who planned the attack be punished. The attempt was also reported in the Romanian and Jewish press.

Niemirower concerned himself with Jewish education, and prepared a curriculum for the study of the religion in Jewish and public schools. He delivered public lectures in Bucharest and was president of B’nai B’rith in Romania. A follower of the cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha-Am, he proposed a special form of cultural Zionism known as Jabneism and the foundation of a Jabnean Academy in Jerusalem. Niemirower maintained moderate Reform Judaism and held to the idea that Jewish religion and Jewish nationality were conjoined twins. In his opinion, Judaism was a religion based on philosophical analysis and logic, with a social character. In his parliamentary activity he fought against antisemitism.

Niemirower published many articles in Jewish periodicals in the Romanian language (among them Curierul Israelit and Ştiri din lumea evreiască); philosophical and historical studies of Judaism; studies of Romanian Jewish history; a text on Hasidism; lectures; and sermons. He published in German as well as in Romanian. In 1919–1932, some of his writings were republished in four volumes in Romanian with the title Scrieri complete (Complete Works).

Suggested Reading

Lucian-Zeev Herşcovici, “Studiu introductiv,” in Iudaismul, by Iacob Ițhac Niemirower, pp. 9–28 (Bucharest, 2005); I. Schmorak, ed., Ha-Rav Dr. Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Nemirover: Ḥayav, po‘alo, haguto (Tel Aviv, 1970); Moritz Schweig, Dr. I. J. Niemirower (Bucharest, 1932); Sinai (Bucharest) 4 (1932), special issue devoted to Niemirower entitled Omagiu d-lui dr. I. Niemirower la cea de-a 60-a aniversare a naşterii sale.