BLOCH, SAMSON (SIMSON) B. ISAAC HA-LEVI:
Galician author; born in Kulikow, near Lemberg, 1782; died there Oct. 7, 1845. He received the usual Talmudical education, but was also sufficiently instructed in the Bible and Hebrew grammar, things uncommon in the Galician curriculum of those times. In the house of his uncle, Baruch Ẓebi Neu, Bloch made the acquaintance of his uncle's illustrious pupil, Nachman Krochmal, who was three years his junior, and their friendship, which ripened as the years went on, lasted till Krochmal's death in 1840. Bloch married while very young, and engaged in business without any training or knowledge of the world. Success under such circumstances was almost impossible; and he was thrown or drifted from one occupation into another, remaining poor all his life. But his thirst for knowledge and his firm resolve to make a name for himself in literature helped him to bear with fortitude all the vicissitudes of fortune. He studied in his leisure time and familiarized himself with German and other languages, also with many Jewish and non-Jewish commentaries on the Bible.
Bloch early became an enthusiastic devotee of the "Haskalah." His first literary attempt was the publication of the epistle which Solomon b. Adret wrote against the study of philosophy, especially by young men, and the famous response by the poet Jedaiah Penini or Bedersi, which is known as "Hitnaẓlut ha-Bedarshi" (Bedersi's Defense of Philosophical Studies), Lemberg, 1809. The letters are preceded by a long introduction in which Bloch throws much light on the controversy which shook Judaism to its foundations early in the fourteenth century.
In 1812 Bloch was called to Vienna to fill the place of corrector in the Hebrew printing-establishment of Anton Schmid, made vacant by the death of the grammarian Ben Ze'eb. There he translated into Hebrew Manasseh b. Israel's "Vindiciæ Judæorum" from the German translation of it by Dr. Marcus Herz, and published it with an introduction and a biographical sketch of the author (Vienna, 1813). He was compelled by family affairs to return to Kulikow, and, after several years of continual struggle with poverty, he listened to the advice of his friends Krochmal and Rapoport, and took up the writing of Hebrew books as a profession. In 1822 appeared the first volume of his important work, "Shebile 'Olam" (Paths of the World), a description of the geography and the nations of Asia (Zolkiev). It still has a literary if not a scientific value on account of its incomparable style and of the attacks on the folly and superstition of the Eastern nations contained therein, which were really intended for fools and deluded people nearer home. The second volume (Africa) is even better than the first, and is interspersed with biographies of Alfasi, Maimonides, and other famous Jews who were born or lived in Africa (Zolkiev, 1827).
Bloch made a journey through Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria, in order to obtain subscriptions for his work. He was honored and assisted by the enlightened wherever he came; but the treatment accorded to Hebrew authors by the general public, especially by the ignorant among the wealthy classes, so disgusted him that he never finished the volume on Europe, although the divisions containing descriptions of Spain, Portugal, and part of France were already written. His last years were spent in poverty and disappointment, the dreariness and lonesomeness of his native city being rather accentuated than relieved by his occasional visits to the neighboring cities of Lemberg and Zolkiev. He died in Kulikow, leaving his nine-year-old daughter to the guardianship of his intimate friend R. Hirsch Chajes of Zolkiev.
Besides the above-mentioned works, Bloch also translated into Hebrew Zunz's biography of Rashi, to which he wrote an introduction and many notes (Lemberg, 1840). This work bears unmistakable traces of decadence, both in style and virility. He also wrote many letters on literature which appeared in various Hebrew periodicals and collections. The most important of them is probably the one about philosophy and on Kant, in "Kerem Ḥemed," v. 1, letter 34. The unfinished part of his geography of Europe was published under the title "Zehab Sheba" (The Gold of Sheba) (SBH. = Samson Bloch ha-Levi, Lemberg, 1855).
- J. Meller, in Kokebe Yiẓḥaḳ, v. 7, 8, 9;
- R. Hirsch Chajes, in Allg. Zeit. des Judenthums, v. 9, No. 47;
- Taviov, Mibḥar. ha-Sifrut, p. 63, Piotrkov, 1899;
- Zunz, On the Geographical Literature of the Jews, English translation in vol. ii. of Asher's edition of The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, pp. 295, 296;
- Bader, Zer Peraḥim, pp.15-20, Warsaw, 1896.