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BENISCH, ABRAHAM:

Journalist and theologian; born at Drosau, a small town eight miles southwest of Klattau, Bohemia, in 1811; died at Hornsey Rise, a suburb of London, England, July 31, 1878. He studied surgery in Prague about 1836—while a commentary on Ezekiel which he had written was being published—with a view to preparing himself for a journey to Palestine. Together with his fellow-students, Albert Löwy and Moritz Steinschneider, he was inspired by the lofty mission of restoring Jewish independence in the Holy Land; and while still a student at the University of Vienna, he had attracted round him a large number of his coreligionists, to whom his scheme for the liberation of his Jewish fellow-countrymen commended itself. Largely through his efforts a secret society was formed, of which Benisch was appointed to act as emissary and visit certain foreign lands with a view to finding a suitable basis for the liberation and emigration scheme. The main reliance for support in the carrying out of the plans was placed on the English Jews. In 1841, in pursuance of his mission, Benisch came to London, where he submitted the essential part of his proposals to various persons, who opposed them unanimously. Although temporarily compelled to lay aside his plans, he never completely abandoned them. Soon after his arrival in London he devoted himself to Jewish journalism and literature, and acquired considerable influence in Jewish and Christian circles.

When among Christians Benisch strenuously combated the once rampant conversion idea. In 1854 he became editor of the "Jewish Chronicle," which position he held till 1869, resuming the editorship again from 1875 till the year of his death. His editorial influence was exerted in favor of a moderate orthodoxy. He made quite a feature of the correspondence columns of the paper. Benisch took an active part in communal affairs, and helped to found several learned societies, including The Biblical Institute and its allies, The Syro-Egyptian and The Biblical Chronological societies. These three were afterward fused into the Society of Biblical Archeology. In 1860, when the Alliance Israélite was started, Benisch's hopes and ideals were revived, and by suggesting and aiding the inauguration, in 1871, of the Anglo-Jewish Association, he helped toward the realization of many of the hopes and aspirations of his youth.

Benisch wrote numerous works in the domain of Bible studies, biography, travel, the defense of Judaism; and weekly articles contributed to the pages of the "Jewish Chronicle" during a period of nearly forty years. He left the copyright of the paper to the Anglo-Jewish Association, which, shortly after his death, sold it. His most important works were: (1) "Judaism Surveyed, Being a Sketch of the Rise and Development of Judaism from Moses to Our Days," 1874; (2) "Why I Should Remain a Jew," thirty-three letters contributed to the "Jewish Chronicle," and published posthumously. He also wrote: "Two Lectures on the Life and Writings of Maimonides," 1847; "A Translation of the Old Testament, Published with the Hebrew Text," 1851; "An Essay on Colenso's Criticism of the Pentateuch and Joshua," 1863. Benisch also published an "Elementary Hebrew Grammar," in 1852; and a "Manual of Scripture History," in 1853.

Bibliography:
  • Jew. Chron. May, and July 31, 1879; Nov., 1891 (jubilee number);
  • Dict. of Nat. Biog.
J. G. L.
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