A Best-Selling Hebrew Book of the Modern Era: The <I>Book of the Covenant</I> of Pinhas Hurwitz and Its Remarkable Legacy

A Best-Selling Hebrew Book of the Modern Era: The Book of the Covenant of Pinhas Hurwitz and Its Remarkable Legacy

by David B. Ruderman


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In 1797, in what is now the Czech Republic, Pinḥas Hurwitz published one of the best-selling Hebrew books of the modern era. Nominally an extended commentary on a sixteenth-century kabbalist text, The Book of the Covenant was in fact a compendium of scientific knowledge and a manual of moral behavior. Its popularity stemmed from its ability to present the scientific advances and moral cosmopolitanism of its day in the context of Jewish legal and mystical tradition. Describing the latest developments in science and philosophy in the sacred language of Hebrew, Hurwitz argued that an intellectual understanding of the cosmos was not at odds with but actually key to achieving spiritual attainment.

In A Best-Selling Hebrew Book of the Modern Era, David B. Ruderman offers a literary and intellectual history of Hurwitz’s book and its legacy. Hurwitz not only wrote the book, but was instrumental in selling it as well and his success ultimately led to the publication of more than forty editions in Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish. Ruderman provides a multidimensional picture of the book and the intellectual tradition it helped to inaugurate. Complicating accounts that consider modern Jewish thought to be the product of a radical break from a religious, mystical past, Ruderman shows how, instead, a complex continuity shaped Jewish society’s confrontation with modernity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780295994130
Publisher: University of Washington Press
Publication date: 10/21/2014
Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies Series
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David B. Ruderman is Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Chapter 1 The Hague Dialogues 3

Chapter 2 Pinhas Elijan ben Meir Hurwitz: Toward a Biography of a Popular Author and Aggressive Book Dealer 18

Chapter 3 Why Should a Kabbalist Care about the Natural World? The Meaning of Scientific Knowledge for Pinhas Hurwitz 40

Chapter 4 Judaism and Metaphysics: Hurwitz's Epistemological and Historical Critique of Philosophy 57

Chapter 5 The Moral Cosmopolitanism of Pinhas Hurwitz: Some Initial Conjectures 75

Chapter 6 The Readers of Sefer ha-Brit 90

Epilogue 115

Appendix 1 Editions of Sefer ha-Brit 123

Appendix 2 Hurwitz's Instructions on Printing His Book, from His Second Introduction 130

Appendix 3 The Contents of Sefer ha-Brit 135

Notes 137

Index 167

What People are Saying About This

David Myers

A gripping read. . . . The book succeeds in making clear how important this largely forgotten late eighteenth-century book has been in modern Jewish cultural history.

Jonatan Meir

Of great interest—makes an important contribution to the understanding of Judaism in the modern period.

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