By: Isidore Singer
German author; born July, 1801, at Dresden; died there July 1, 1861. His father, Hirsch Beer, and his mother, Clara, belonged to the Bondi family, which migrated about the middle of the eighteenth century into Saxony, and which was intimately connected with the Jewish congregation of Dresden from its beginning. Bernhard was an only son. While a youth he was much influenced by his relative, Dr. M. Bondi, author of the lexicographical work "Or Esther." As the narrow spirit then reigning in Saxony made attendance at public schools disagreeable to Jews, Beer was never a pupil at one of them; but, by the aid of private teachers and by self-study, he acquainted himself early and thoroughly with the ancient and modern classics. Herder, Mendelssohn, and Hartwig Wessely were his favorites. In 1824 he formed a society of young men for the discussion of the Bible and other Hebrew literature, and, above all, the works of the exegetes and philosophers of the Middle Ages.
Beer was the first to introduce sermons into the German language. With the permission of the chief rabbi of Dresden, A. Löwy (died April 28, 1835), Beer, although a layman, preached at the high festivals.
Beer was not only a volunteer preacher; he was also a volunteer educator of his poor coreligionists, who were unable to pay the fees of private teachers (access to public schools being very difficult and not without humiliation to Jewish children). In 1829, on the one-hundredth anniversary of Mendelssohn's birth, Beer, with the cooperation of E. Collin, a Dresden physician, founded the Mendelssohn-Verein for the advancement of trade, art, and science among Jews; and several members of the congregation at once declared themselves willing that their boys should learn a trade. This was accomplished only with great difficulty. Up to this time there had been no Jewish teachers of handicrafts; and Christians had been forbidden to take Jewish apprentices.
Beer fought also as a journalist for the emancipation of his coreligionists in Saxony. An essay of his, published in "Die Biene," 1820, No. xxxvi., attracted public attention. In 1833 he drafted the petition which the Jewish congregation of Dresden addressed to the Saxon Parliament, protesting against a law which excluded the Jews from the rights of full citizenship. The result was favorable to the Jews.
After this, Beer went back to his favorite studies—history, philosophy, and Bible exegesis. His knowledge of the Jewish religion, and especially of the religious philosophy of the Middle Ages, was remarkable; and he collected a very valuable library. In 1834 Beer received the degree of Ph. D. from the University of Leipsic; and in the same year he married Bertha Bondi, who, by her great intelligence and pleasing manners, made his house one of the spiritual centers of Dresden; among others, Karl Gutzkow, Berthold Auerbach, and Julius Hammer frequently resorting thither. In 1842, after a serious illness, he made a tour through Italy and Switzerland. He also visited most of the important libraries of western Europe; enriching his library, when possible, with manuscripts and incunabula.
Beer was by nature a theologian. He endeavored to systematize Jewish theology, and presented his ideas on the subject in various magazines and special publications, such as Fürst's "Orient"; Frankel's "Zeitschrif für die Religiösen Interessen des Judenthums"; Frankel's "Monatsschrift"; "Jahrbuch der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft"; Wertheimer's "Wiener Jahrbücher"; "Kerem Ḥemed"; "Jeschurun," etc. His principal works are: (1) "Die Freie Christliche Kirche und das, Judenthum," 1848 (open letter to Ronge); (2) A translation of Solomon Munk's "La Philosophie chez les Juifs" into German, under the title "Philosophie und Philosophische Schriftsteller der Juden," 1852; (3) "Jüdische Literaturbriefe," originally published in Frankel's "Monatsschrift," 1853, 1854; later, in book-form, Leipsic, 1857; (4) "Abel," in "Literaturblatt des Orients," iv.; (5) "Aaron," in Wertheimer's "Wiener Jahrbücher," 1855; (7) "Leben Mosis" (a fragment in manuscript found at his death).
In memory of Beer, the congregation in Dresden founded a scholarship in art and science; and two others were instituted by the committee of the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary, which received the greater part of Beer's library, the remainder being bequeathed to the University of Leipsic.
- Z. Frankel, B. Beer, in Monatsschrift, xi. 41-56, 81-101, 121-143, 174-191, 245-266, 287-312, 325-344, 365-391, 405-430;
- K. Gutzkow, Unterhaltungen am Häuslichen Herd, 1861;
- Deutsches Museum, Aug., 1861.