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MASKIL (plural, Maskilim):

  • 1. A title of honor used principally in Italy. The word "maskil," with the meaning of "scholar" or "enlightened man," was used by Isaac Israeli, who died in 1326 ("my colleagues, the maskilim"; "Yesod 'Olam," ii. 11, Berlin, 1846). But in some places "maskil" meant one who held a secondary rabbinical position corresponding to that of dayyan, and Jehiel Heilprin ("'Erke ha-Kinnuyim," p. 45b, Dyhernfurth, 1806) so defines it. In the Orient the overseers of the poor, or "gabbai ẓedaḳot," are called "maskilim" (Hazan, "Kerub Mimshaḥ," p. 26b, Alexandria, 1895). In Italy, and especially in Tuscany, the title "maschil" is conferred on rabbinical students (see Panzieri in "Jewish Comment," vol. xiv., No. 18; "Il Corriere Israelitico," 1889, pp. 166-167), though in some parts of Italy the title given in such cases is "ḥaber." It may be said to correspond to the title "Morenu" among the German Jews; it is considered inferior to the rabbinical title "ḥakam" ("Il Vessillo Israelitico," 1900, p. 244). Azulai reports in his diary that in 1776 he experienced considerable difficulty in adjusting a trouble which had arisen in Ancona over the fact that the title "maskil" had been bestowed on the local ḥazzan ("Ma'agal Ṭob," p. 6b, Leghorn, 1879).
  • 2. Among the Jews of the Slavonic countries "maskil" usually denotes a self-taught Hebrew scholar with an imperfect knowledge of a living language (usually German), who represents the love of learning and the striving for culture awakened by Mendelssohn and his disciples; i.e., an adherent or follower of theHaskalah movement. He is "by force of circumstances detained on the path over which the Jews of western Europe swiftly passed from rabbinical lore to European culture" and to emancipation, and "his strivings and short-comings exemplify the unfulfilled hopes and the disappointments of Russian civilization."The Maskilim are mostly teachers and writers; they taught a part of the young generation of Russian Jewry to read Hebrew and have created the great Neo-Hebrew literature which is the monument of Haskalah. Although Haskalah has now been flourishing in Russia for three generations, the class of Maskilim does not reproduce itself. The Maskilim of each generation are recruited from the ranks of the Orthodox Talmudists, while the children of Maskilim very seldom follow in the footsteps of their fathers. This is probably due to the fact that the Maskil who breaks away from strictly conservative Judaism in Russia, but does not succeed in becoming thoroughly assimilated, finds that his material conditions have not been improved by the change, and, while continuing to cleave to Haskalah for its own sake, he does not permit his children to share his fate.The quarrels between the Maskilim and the Orthodox, especially in the smaller communities, are becoming less frequent. In the last few years the Zionist movement has contributed to bring the Maskilim, who joined it almost to a man, nearer to the other classes of Jews who became interested in that movement.The numerous Maskilim who emigrated to the United States, especially after the great influx of Russian immigrants, generally continued to follow their old vocation of teaching and writing Hebrew, while some contributed to the Yiddish periodicals. Many of those who went thither in their youth entered the learned professions. See Literature, Modern Hebrew.
Bibliography:
  • Atlas, Mah le-Fanim u-Mah le-Ahor, pp. 56 et seq., Warsaw, 1898;
  • Brainin, in Ha-Shiloaḥ, vii. 43;
  • Friedberg, Zikronot, ii. 27 et seq., Warsaw, 1899;
  • Gersoni, in Independent, New York, Jan. 12, 1893;
  • Taviov, in Ha-Meliẓ, xxix., No. 77;
  • Wiernik, in New Era Illustrated Magazine, Feb., 1904, pp. 34-43.
J. P. Wi. D.
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