David Kaufmann

David Kaufmann (1852–1899), portrait by Izidor Thein.

David Kaufmann (7 June 1852 – 6 July 1899) (Hebrew: דוד קויפמן) was a Jewish-Austrian scholar born at Kojetín, Moravia (now in the Czech Republic). From 1861 to 1867 he attended the gymnasium at Kroměříž, Moravia, where he studied the Bible and Talmud with Jacob Brüll, rabbi of Kojetín, and with the latter's son Nehemiah.

His Life

In 1867 he went to the Jewish Theological Seminary at Breslau, where he studied for ten years, attending at the same time the university of that city. In the summer of 1874 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig, and on 29 January 1877 he was ordained rabbi. In the latter year he declined the offer of a professorship at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, preferring to accept instead the chairs of history, philosophy of religion, and homiletics at the newly founded Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest,[1] which he continued to hold till his death. He also at the same time taught Greek and German in the preparatory school of the same institution, carrying on this work in the Hungarian language, which he had rapidly mastered.

As librarian of the seminary he acquired the large library of Lelio della Torre of Padua, the library of the seminary becoming by this addition one of the most valuable Hebrew libraries of Europe. As a teacher Kaufmann was highly successful; and his relation to his students was that of friendly adviser. He maintained a lively correspondence not only with the most eminent Jewish scholars, but also with the leaders in other branches of science. Kaufmann was a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Madrid and a member of the executive committee of the Budapest branch of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. He died at Karlovy Vary, Bohemia, on 6 July 1899.

His Works

Title page of Geschichte der Attributenlehre... by David Kaufmann (1877/1967).

Kaufmann displayed a many-sided literary activity. The bibliography of his works which M. Brann compiled for the Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David Kaufmann (ed. M. Brann and F. Rosenthal, Breslau, 1900) includes 546 items, covering nearly every branch of Jewish science. His voluminous contributions to the periodical literature of the last two decades of the 19th century show him as a finished writer both of German and of Hebrew. His first and most important works, dealing with the philosophy of religion, include:

Contributions to Jewish History

His most important historical monographs are:

On Jewish Art

Kaufmann was the first to take up the history of art in the synagogue, challenging the prevalent view that Judaism had always been aniconic. He marshalled a large and comprehensive corpus of data in order to prove it untenable. He was the first to use the term “Jewish art” in an article published in 1878, and is regarded as the founder of the scholarly discipline of Jewish art history. His disciple Dr. Samuel Krauss said in 1901:

As late as ten years ago it would have been absurd to speak about a Jewish art. It is Kaufmann's own merit to have uncovered this art. Not only did he have to prove that such an art existed, he also had to prove that it could exist, as he showed that the idea that the prohibition of images would obstruct the development of such an art was mistaken, and even established it as an irrefutable fact that the art in wide areas was not prohibited insofar as no worship was associated with it.[2]

The following works of his in this field may be mentioned:

Kaufmann also polemized much in behalf of Judaism. Noteworthy among his writings along this line are:

He was also an active member of the Meḳiẓe Nirdamim, a society for the publication of old Hebrew manuscripts. Kaufmann was the possessor of a large library, which contained many valuable manuscripts, incunabula, and first editions, and of which the Marco Mortara library, acquired by Kaufmann, formed the nucleus.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

An entire Kaufmann literature has arisen, of which the following works may be mentioned:


  1. Kinga Frojimovics, Géza Komoróczy, Viktoria Pusztai & Andrea Strbik (1999). Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History. 208: Central European University Press. p. 597. ISBN 963-9116-37-8.
  2. Dávid Kaufmann and his collections Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Original source: Dr. Samuel Krauss: David Kaufmann. Eine Biographie, p. 45. Berlin 1901 (1902). "Noch vor zehn Jahren wäre es absurd gewesen, von einer jüdischen Kunst zu sprechen. Diese Kunst entdeckt zu haben, ist Kaufmann's eigenstes Verdienst. Nicht nur mußte er beweisen, daß eine solche Kunst existire, er mußte auch beweisen, daß sie existiren könne, indem er die Meinung, als stehe das Bilderverbot der Kunstentfaltung im Judenthum im Wege, als irrig erwies, er es vielmehr als unwiderlegbare Thatsache hinstellte, daß die Kunst auf flachem Raume nie verboten war, insofern kein Götzendienst sich daran knüpfte."

External links

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