Jacob Naftali Hertz Simchoni (1884-1926)


Portrait of Jacob Simchoni. Source: Wikimedia.

Jacob Naftali Hertz Simchoni (Simchowitz) was an Eastern European Jewish scholar, translator, and educator. He was born in 1884 into a Maskilic family in Slutsk (in present-day Belarus), where he spent his childhood. As a teenager he studied Latin and Greek in Minsk, and finished his secondary education in St. Petersburg. He subsequently attended university in Germany, receiving his doctorate in Jewish Studies in Berlin in 1914. In 1917 he took up a teaching position in the Hebrew secondary school in Lodz, Poland, where he remained until 1924. In 1925 he was invited to join the editorial board of the German- and Hebrew-language Encyclopaedia Judaica and relocated to Berlin in order to do so. At this time he was offered a position teaching Jewish history at the newly established Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but died suddenly in Berlin in 1926 before he was able to take it up.

In addition to his Josephus translations, Simchoni engaged in a wide variety of scholarly activities and authored a number of important works, including a two-volume textbook of Jewish history; articles on key medieval, early modern, and modern Hebrew authors, including Yehudah HaLevi, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Samuel David Luzzatto, and Hayim Nahman Bialik; and the introduction to Shaul Tchernichovsky’s Hebrew translation of Gilgamesh. He was an active proponent of Hebrew language and culture in Europe throughout his life.

Simchoni was the first to translate Josephus’s works into Hebrew from the original Greek (in contrast to the translations undertaken by Kalman Schulman in the 1860s via a German-language intermediary). Simchoni’s translation of the Jewish War was first published in Warsaw in 1923 and subsequently reissued a number of times. His translation of Against Apion was published in 1928. Simchoni intended these translations to serve as scholarly reference works, and this aim is reflected in his relatively literal translation style as well as in his substantial introductions (particularly in the case of the Jewish War), careful referencing, and detailed explanatory footnotes including glosses and commentary on the original Greek.

Simchoni, Jacob Naftali Hertz. תולדות מלחמת היהודים עם הרומאים [History of the Jews’ War with the Romans]. Warsaw, 1923.
Simchoni, Jacob Naftali Hertz. קדמוּת היהודים: נגד אפיון [Against Apion]. Tel Aviv, 1928.

Kahn, Lily. ‘Kalman Schulman’s Hebrew Translation of Josephus’s Jewish War.’ In Josephus in Modern Jewish Culture, edited by Andrea Schatz (forthcoming).
Mikliszanski, Jacques K. ‘Simchoni (Simchowitz), Jacob Naftali Hertz.’ In Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, vol. 18: 590-91. 2nd ed. Detroit, 2007.

JRA entry contributed by Lily Kahn