The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


German philosopher and reformer; born in Berlin Oct. 18, 1762; died there March 28, 1832. In his younger days he supported himself by polishing glasses, and in his leisure time studied mathematics, in which he attained great proficiency. His earliest published work was on a geometrical subject, "Ueber die Parallellinien" (Berlin, 1786), and attracted much attention. Bendavid studied at the universities of Göttingen and Halle and became a stanch adherent of the Kantian philosophy.

Lazarus Bendavid.Lectures on Kant.

After failing in his effort to enter the service of the Prussian government in the Department of Justice, Bendavid in 1793 went to Vienna and lectured on Kant's philosophical system in one of the halls of the university. He was, however, soon compelled to terminate his lectures there, but continued them in the mansion of Count Harrach, where he attracted large and distinguished audiences. When, in 1797, foreign residents were forced to leave Vienna, Bendavid returned to Berlin, and was for several years editor of the "Spener'sche Zeitung," which he directed with great ability and circumspection during the dangerous times of the French domination.

"The Modern Diogenes."

In 1806 Bendavid became the director of the Freischule (Jewish Free School), which had been founded in 1778 by David Friedländer and Daniel Itzig. Bendavid brought the school to such a high standard that nearly a third of its pupils were non-Jews in 1819, when the attendance of Christian children at Jewish schools was prohibited by the government. He served without compensation until the school was closed in 1825. His services as an expert accountant were much sought after by commercial and financial institutions; and he was also employed in that capacity for many years by the directors of the Royal Fund for Widows (Königliche Wittwenkasse). The extreme simplicity of his mode of living brought him the nickname of "The Modern Diogenes"; while by his thrifty habits he succeeded in being as independent in worldly affairs as he strove to be in the domain of philosophy. He is called by Heine "a sage after the pattern of antiquity." He never married.

In philosophy Bendavid remained a Kantian throughout his life. His published lectures, such as the "Vorlesungen über die Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft" (Vienna, 1796), "Vorlesungen über die Kritik der Reinen Vernunft" (ib. 1796), and several similar works, are simply expositions of the philosophy of his great master. When new metaphysical leaders like Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel commenced to dominate the world of German thought, Bendavid offered no resistance and engaged in no polemics like other Kantians, but withdrew from the field of active philosophical studies and exercised his mind on other subjects.

Bendavid's influence on the development and popularization of philosophy in his time is generallyrecognized. His "Ueber den Ursprung Unserer Erkenntnisse" (Berlin, 1802) was crowned by the Academy of Berlin. This work and his other independent philosophical researches, like "Beiträge zur Kritik des Geschmacks" (Vienna, 1797), "Versuch einer Geschmackslehre" (Berlin, 1798), and "Versuch einer Rechtslehre" (Berlin, 1802), which are now almost forgotten, were of importance at the time of their appearance. The truths which they contain, now generally accepted, had to struggle hard for recognition in those days; and Bendavid's lucid style contributed much to their popularization. He will always be remembered as one of the trio of Jewish philosophers (the other two being Marcus Herz and Solomon Maimon) who, as much as any other German thinkers, helped to spread the Kantian philosophy at the end of the eighteenth century.

In the Jewish world Bendavid's influence was also considerable, and by no means imperceptible, as is claimed by Grätz. In his "Etwas zur Charakteristick der Juden" (Vienna-Leipsic, 1793; improved ed., Berlin, 1813) he pleaded boldly for abolition of ceremonial laws, and is thus among the first, if not actually the first, advocate of practical religious reform in Judaism as the only means to stem the tide of conversions to Christianity which began to rise in those days with startling rapidity. In this work (pp. 33, 34) Bendavid pays high tribute to Moses Mendelssohn, who befriended and encouraged him in his early struggles. It is interesting to note that Bendavid was summoned before Cardinal Migazzi in Vienna to defend himself against the charge that he traduced Christianity in that work (see Sehreiber, "Reformed Judaism," pp. 28-31, Spokane, Wash., 1892).

A Radical Bible Critic.

Bendavid was one of the first radical Bible critics among the Jews of Germany. His "Ueber die Religion der Ebräer vor Moses" (Berlin, 1812) and the essay "Ueber Geschriebenes und Mündliches Gesetz," which appeared in Zunz's "Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums," 1823, claim to be parts of a comprehensive critical study of the Pentateuch which was probably never finished. In the same periodical also appeared his "Ueber den Glauben der Juden an einen Künftigen Messiah," where he uses his knowledge of the Talmud and rabbinical literature to insist on the principle, first brought forward by Joseph Albo, that the belief in the coming of a Messiah is not essential to Judaism. His "Zur Berechnung und Geschichte des Jüdischen Kalenders" (Berlin, 1817) was also a radical departure from the usual treatment of the subject by Jewish writers, and called forth a vehement rejoinder in the booklet, "Dabar Be'itto," by Meïr ben Moses Kornick (Breslau, 1817). The last work published by Bendavid, which appeared in Berlin in 1824, was a report on the condition of the Freischule.

  • Bendavid wrote an autobiographical sketch which appeared in the Bildnisse Berliner Gelehrten, Berlin, 1806. His biography, written by Moritz Veit, appeared in the Blätter für Lit. Unterh. for 1832. Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, ii. 318-320;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, xii. 139;
  • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 318;
  • L. Geiger, Gesch. der Jüd. Gemeinde in Berlin, pp. 168 et seq.;
  • Zeit. für Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland, iv. 75-86 (his letters to Bellerman).
S. P. Wi.
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