SLONIMSKI, ḤAYYIM SELIG:
Russian author, scientist, and inventor; born in Byelostok March 31, 1810; died in Warsaw May 15, 1904. Slonimski was the first to teach the Jews in eastern Europe popular science through the medium of the Hebrew language, into which he introduced a vocabulary of technical terms created partly by himself.
His strict conservatism in religious matters gained for his teachings the implicit confidence of his readers, and enabled him to overcome the prevailing apprehension that religious principles were in danger of being sacrificed in the interests of science.Popular Scientist.
Slonimski distinguished himself also as an inventor. In 1842 he perfected a calculating-machine, which he exhibited before the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and for which he received the Demidoff prize of 2,500 rubles. In 1853 he invented a chemical process for plating iron vessels with lead, and in 1856 an electrochemical device for sending quadruple telegrams. The system of multiple telegraphy perfected by Thomson (now Lord Kelvin) in 1858 was based on Slonimski's discovery.
Slonimski wrote several articles in Russian and German for the scientific magazines, but his main purpose was to reach a class of Jews who knew no other language than Hebrew. Accordingly, he established in 1862 at Warsaw the Hebrew weekly "Ha-Ẓefirah," which was the first Hebrew organ devoted mainly to scientific subjects. After an existence of six months the publication of this paper was discontinued owing to Slonimski's appointment as principal of the rabbinical seminary in Jitomir and as government censor of Hebrew books, positions which he held till the seminary was closed by the Russian government twelve years later. Slonimski resumed the publication of "Ha-Ẓefirah" at Berlin in 1874, the place of publication being changed in Sept., 1875, to Warsaw.
In deciding certain scientific questions connected with Jewish matters, Slonimski at times found himself at variance with other Jewish scholars. Thus, despite his conservatism, he admitted that an error of four days' excess had crept into the Jewish calendar cycle as compared with the true solar cycle; in this view he was opposed especially by Perles, the controversy being carried on for thirty years. Slonimski likewise discussed the question of the so-called "Jewish date-line" for deciding on which days the Sabbath and holy days should be observed by Jews in the Far East and in Australasia. He argued that for them the line must be fixed not from Greenwich, but from Jerusalem, the center of the earth according to the Talmud. This calculation would make the dividing line pass between China and Japan, the former with the Philippines beingincluded in the Far East, and the latter in the West. See Meridian Date.
Slonimski's publications include the following works: "Mosede Ḥokmah," on the fundamental principles of higher algebra (Wilna, Grodno, 1834); "Sefer Kukba di-Shebit," essays on the Halley comet (which appeared in 1835-36) and on astronomy in general (Wilna, 1835); "Toledot ha-Shamayim," on astronomy and optics (Warsaw, 1838); "Yesode ha-'Ibbur," on the Jewish calendar system and its history, with tables (ib. 1852); "Meẓi'ut ha-Nefesh we-Ḳiyyumah," a defense, based on science, of the immortality of the soul (ib. 1852); "Ot Zikkaron," a biographical sketch of Alexander von Humboldt (Berlin, 1858). All these works appeared in second, third, or fourth editions and were extensively read. Slonimski likewise published many articles in the Hebrew magazines; some of the most important ones from "Ha-Ẓefirah" and "Ha-Karmel" were edited by J. L. Sossnitz and published under the title "Ma'amare Ḥokmah" (Warsaw, 1891).
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 360-364;
- Kohut, Berühmte Israelitische Männer und Frauen, p. 250;
- Zeitlin, Bibl. Post-Mendels, pp. 365-367;
- Eisenstein, in New Era Illustrated Magazine, July, 1904;
- Ha-Dor, 1904, pp. 57-60 (Nos. 1-2).