Polish scholar; born at Lublin, Poland, about 1740; died at Paris in 1812. Endowed with great ability and thirsting for learning, he left his native country when a youth, lived for a time in Berlin (where he associated with Moses Mendelssohn), Nancy, Metz, and Strasburg, and finally settled in Paris. He did not know French, and his only means of obtaining a livelihood was by peddling old clothes. In time, however, his condition improved, and when (1789) the post of secretary and interpreter of Oriental languages in the Bibliothèque Royale fell vacant he applied for it. With his application he forwarded his "Apologie des Juifs," which had been crowned in the previous year by the Academy of Metz. This work so pleased the minister that, notwithstanding the distinction of some of the numerous candidates, Hourwitz received the appointment. In the same year the "Apologie des Juifs" was published and attracted much attention. Mirabeau quoted it inhis writings, and Clermont-Tonnerre, the advocate of Jewish emancipation, said of it: "Le Juif Polonais seul avait parlé en philosophe." Hourwitz enthusiastically embraced the cause of the Revolution, and became one of the most zealous contributors to the revolutionary papers. With force and wit he attacked all forms of oppression, but was especially active in advocating the emancipation of the French Jews.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century Hourwitz, no longer secretary and interpreter at the Bibliothèque, earned his livelihood by teaching foreign languages, and at the close of his life he was in very straitened circumstances. This, with his carelessness in regard to his personal appearance, kept Hourwitz from taking a seat in the Sanhedrin. He was, however, frequently consulted by the commission which prepared the decisions of that assembly. Besides the work mentioned above, Hourwitz wrote: "Projet d'une Nouvelle Carte de Paris," published by the "Journal de Paris" (1799); "Polygraphie sur l'Art de Correspondre à l'Aide d'un Dictionnaire dans Toutes les Langues, Même dans Celles Dont on ne Possède pas Seulement les Lettres Alphabétiques" (Paris, 1801); "Origine des Langues" (ib. 1808); "Lacographie ou Entretiens Laconiques Aussi Vite que l'On Peut Parler" (ib. 1811).
- Larousse, Dict. s.v. Zalkind;
- Arch. Isr. 1895-96;
- Léon Kahn, Les Juifs de Paris Pendant la Révolution, pp. 130 et seq.;
- Grätz, Gesch. xi. 179;
- Jedidja, v. 19, 160.