Nearly every Jewish community possessed, or still possesses, various societies aiming to propagate Jewish learning. There have been societies for the study of the Tahmud ("ḥebrah shas"), of the Mishnah ("ḥebrah mishnayot"), and of other works of less importance, such as "'En Ya'aḳob," "Ḥayye Adam," etc. To the ḥebrah shas belonged those Jews who were versed in Talmud; to the ḥebrah mishnayot, those whose Talmudical training was more limited; and to the other ḥebrot, the rest of the people. The members of each society usually devoted a couple of hours daily to the study in common of their respective subjects. In some communities, however, the members of the ḥebrah shas did not study the Talmud in common, but each member had one or more Talmudical treatises allotted to him, the study of which he was required to complete during the ensuing twelvemonth; so that among the members the whole Talmud might be finished within the year. The eve of Passover was usually fixed for the celebration of the completion of this study.The Verein für Cultur.
All these societies, however, were mainly of a religious character; and their scope of activity was limited to the religious branches of Jewish literature, excluding all subjects not directly related to the ceremonial laws and public worship. Even the study of the Bible, with the exception of the Pentateuch, was neglected. But under Mendelssohn's influence a learned society properly so-called was founded in 1783 at Königsberg by Isaac Euchel and Mendel Bresslau. It was called "Ḥebrat Doreshe Leshon 'Eber," or Me'assefim, after the name of the Hebrew periodical "Ha-Meassef" published by its members. This periodical contained Hebrew poems, literary compositions, and essays both on rabbinical and on secular subjects. After a period of about twenty years the society ceased to exist. Under the guidance of E. Gans, L. Zunz, and others, a new society was founded in 1823 at Berlin having for its name "Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft des Judenthums." Its aim was to unite modern culture with ancient Judaism; and for this purpose it published a periodical in German, devoted to scientific essays on various subjects. Among the members of this society were Heinrich Heine, Moses Moser, and many others who subsequently occupied prominent positions in the German literary and scientific world. However, the Verein had a very short existence; it dissolved soon after the publication of the first number of its "Zeitschrift," which, although its German, according to Heinrich Heine, left much to be desired ("Briefe," ed. Karpeles, p. 117), contained many excellent articles, notably that of Zunz on Rashi.Meḳiẓe Nirdamim.
A much longer existence was enjoyed by a society for the promotion of Jewish literature founded in 1855 by Ludwig Philippson at Leipsic under the name Institut zur Förderung der Israelitischen Literatur. It existed for eighteen years, and during this period published, in German, about eighty works of Jewish history, science, poetry, fiction, and biography. Here may be mentioned, though not strictly a learned society, an international association, founded in Germany in 1864 under the name "Meḳiẓe Nirdamim," for the publication of old Hebrew books and manuscripts. It was established first at Lyck, under the direction of Rabbi Nathan Adler, Sir Moses Montefiore, and Joseph Zedner (London), Albert Cohn (Paris), S. D. Luzzatto (Padua), M. Sachs (Berlin), Eliezer Lipman Silbermann (Lyck), and M. Straschun (Wilna). It was later reorganized at Berlin (1885) under the supervision of Abraham Berliner (Berlin), Moses Ehrenreich (Rome), J. Derenbourg and David Ginsburg (Paris), S. J. Halberstam (Bielitz), A. Harkavy (St. Petersburg), M. Jastrow (Philadelphia), David Kaufmann (Budapest), and M. Straschun (Wilna). Up to the present year (1905) this society haspublished forty-two ancient works. In 1885 the Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund founded the Historische Commission for the collection of material relating to the history of the Jews in Germany. This commission, which is still in existence, has published several important works and it likewise established the "Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland," which was edited by Ludwig Geiger (5 vols., Berlin, 1886-92). In 1897 Max Grunwald founded at Hamburg the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, the aim of which is to propagate, by periodical publications (entitled "Mittheilungen"), the study of ecclesiastical art and folk-lore. Fifteen issues of these "Mittheilungen" have appeared up to the present.
There are very few Jewish learned societies in Austria. Besides the various academic associations, which are rather of a national than of a learned character, only two are of importance; namely, the Israelitischer Literaturverein Mendelssohn, founded at Vienna in 1894, the aim of which is to promote Jewish learning by means of lectures and the publication of scientific works, and the Gesellschaft für Sammlung und Conservirung von Kunst- und Historischen Denkmälern des Judenthums, founded at Vienna in 1893. The results of the activity of the latter society are given in an annual publication entitled "Jahresbericht."Austria, Holland, and France.
Amsterdam in the eighteenth century possessed many societies for the promotion of Jewish learning. Among them were: Keter Torah; Torah Or; Yesiba de los Pintos; Meirat 'Enayim, called also Yesiba Amstelodama; and Tif'eret Baḥurim or Yesiba Quinta. A similar society to that of the Me'assefim in Germany was founded in the last years of that century under the name "To'elet." Like its German prototype, the To'elet enriched Jewish literature with many volumes of Hebrew poems and essays. In 1888 the Dutch teachers united and formed the Society Achawa, which publishes under the same title a monthly magazine devoted chiefly to pedagogy.
An important society for the promotion of Jewish learning was founded in France in 1880, the
In its short existence the Hebrew Literature Society of London rendered great service to Jewish learning. Under the editorship of A. Loewy it published a certain number of Jewish works, among which was the first volume of the English translation of the "Moreh Nebukim," made by M. Friedländer. From the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition held in London in 1887—in connection with which there were published three volumes bearing on Anglo-Jewish history—grew The Historical Society of England, founded in 1893. This society has issued four volumes of transactions and has published a work on Manasseh ben Israel by Lucien Wolf and, conjointly with the Selden Society, a volume of "Select Pleas from the Jewish Exchequer." In 1902 a new society, the Union of Jewish Literary Societies, came into existence. Its objects are: the diffusion of knowledge of Jewish literature, history, and sociology; the coordination of the work of literary societies in general; the formation of new literary societies; the encouragement of the literary activity of Jewish social clubs; the establishment of means by which the literary efforts of societies may be organized and utilized in common; the provision of literary material and guidance for members of the society desirous of preparing lectures; the encouragement of inter-society meetings and debates; the promotion of popular Jewish publications; the organization of summer meetings for Jewish studies; and the establishment of a circulating library containing works on Jewish history and literature.Russia.
An association which exercises a great civilizing influence is the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia, which was founded in 1863. Its objects are: to spread the knowledge of the Russian language among the Jews; to publish and to assist others in publishing useful works and periodicals in Russian as well as in Hebrew; and to support the young who are devoting, themselves to the study of the sciences. During the first twenty years of its existence it was regarded by the public with indifference, and the number of its members and consequently its income were very limited; but with the enactment of the restrictive laws which excluded the Jews from educational establishments, its influence began to grow; and its services are now universally recognized.America.
The first Jewish learned association in the New World was the American Jewish Publication Society, founded at Philadelphia in 1845 by Isaac Leeser. During the six years of its existence it published under the title "Jewish Miscellany" fourteen works on Jewish matters. In 1851 the building in which were stored the slates and books belonging to the society was destroyed by fire, and the society thereupon ceased to exist. It was succeeded by another association, bearing the same name, founded at New York in 1873. Its publication committee consisted of Gustav Gottheil, Moses Mielziner, F. de Sola Mendes, Marcus Jastrow, and Moritz Ellinger. As its first publication the society issued in 1873 the fourth volume of Grätz's "Geschichte der Juden," translated into English by James K. Gutheim of New Orleans. In1875 two volumes were issued: (1) "Jewish Family Papers; Letters of a Missionary," by "Gustav Meinhardt" (William Herzberg), translated into English by F. de Sola Mendes; and (2) "Hebrew Characteristics, "miscellaneous papers from the German, translated by Albert H. Louis. In 1873, owing to the commercial depression which followed the financial panic of that year, the society was dissolved. A new association for the publication and dissemination of literary, scientific, and religious works was founded under the name "Jewish Publication Society of America," at a convention held in Philadelphia in 1888. Its members now (1905) number about 5,000, and as a rule it issues four or five publications yearly. Of these the most noteworthy have been: "History of the Jews" (the English edition of Grätz's "Geschichte der Juden"); "Studies in Judaism," by Solomon Schechter; "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," by Israel Abrahams; and the "Ethics of Judaism," by Lazarus.
In 1892 was founded the American Jewish Historical Society, the objects of which are the collection and preservation of material bearing upon the history of the Jews in America. The society meets annually for the transaction of business and for the reading of papers which form the subjects of the publications of the association. In 1895 was founded in New York the Ohole Shem Association to promote and foster the study of Hebrew and other Semitic languages and to encourage the study of Jewish history and literature. Since its organization the association has inaugurated a series of lectures in Hebrew, German, and English. In 1895 and 1896 it published a Hebrew monthly entitled "Ner ha-Ma'arabi"; in 1901, "Ha-Modia' le-Ḥodashim"; and for 1904 it issued an annual entitled "Yalḳuṭ Ma'arabi."