Ze’ev Jawitz (1847-1924)

Jawitz Portrait Wikimedia

Portrait of Ze’ev Jawitz. Source: Wikimedia.

Ze’ev Jawitz was an Orthodox-nationalist historian who published a 14-volume series of books, Toldot Yisrael, that surveys the history of the people of Israel from the time of the patriarchs until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The first eight volumes were published in his lifetime. His friend, Benjamin Menashe Levin, published the remaining volumes in 1940.

Jawitz was born in Kolno, northeastern Poland, received a religious education (Bible, Talmud, Hebrew), as well as becoming proficient in French, Polish, and German. He was much influenced by his brother-in-law, the well-known religious Zionist and Hebraist Yechiel Michael Pines. In 1887 Jawitz settled in the Land of Israel where he contributed to the development of the modern Hebrew language. In 1897 he moved to Vilna, where he was one of the founders of the Mizrachi movement and editor of the movement’s journal, HaMizrach. He later lived in Germany (Homburg), in Belgium (Antwerp), and in England, where he died.

Jawitz’s approach to history is based on three pillars: nationalism, Orthodoxy, and historical enquiry. His historiographical oeuvre was part of the Orthodox reaction to the Wissenschaft school of historiography. Josephus presented a two-fold challenge. He was the most important historical source for the history of the Second Temple period, but his defection to the Romans transgressed both Jawitz’s Orthodox values and his nationalist ideals. Thus, he accused Josephus of being a traitor who had placed his knowledge of the Hebrew language and the customs of the Jews in the service of the success of the Roman armies, at the expense of the welfare of his people. But Jawitz also laid out a methodology for uncovering the historical truth in Josephus’s works, and he often shows considerable respect for the historian’s professionalism.

Hirschberg, A.S., ‘Toldot Rabbi Zeev Yaavetz z”l‘, Toldot Israel, vol. 14, ed. B.M. Levin. Tel Aviv, 1940: 123-63 [Hebrew].

Berlowitz, Y., ‘“HaSeder HaShelishi – Tor Yisrael BeArtzo”: The Writings of Zeev Yaavetz in light of his Historical Outlook’, Cathedra 20 (1981): 165-82 [Hebrew].
Brenner, M., Prophets of the Past, trans. Steven Rendall. Princeton, 2010: 158-60.
Malakhi, E.R., Minneged Tir’eh, eds. E. Reiner and H. ben Shammai. Jerusalem, 2001: 326-65 [Hebrew].
Michael, R., Jewish Historical Writing. Jerusalem, 1993: 424-65.
Porat, D.A., ‘The Nation Revised: Teaching the Jewish Past in the Zionist Present (1890-1913)’, Jewish Social Studies 13 (2006): 59-86.
Yedidya, A., Bikkoret Mevukkeret. Jerusalem, 2013: 197-237 [Hebrew].
Yedidya, A., Legadel Tarbut Ivriyah: Chayav Umishnato Shel Ze’ev Jawitz. Jerusalem, 2016 [Hebrew].

JRA entry contributed by Eliezer Sariel