Yehezkel Kaufmann

Yehezkel Kaufmann (Hebrew: יחזקאל קויפמן; also: Yeḥezqêl Qâufman; Yeḥezḳel Ḳoyfman; Jehezqël Kaufmann) (1889 – 9 October 1963) was an Israeli philosopher and Biblical scholar associated with the Hebrew University. His main contribution to the study of biblical religion was his thesis that Israel's monotheism was not a gradual development from paganism but entirely new.[1]

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Title page from Yehezkel Kaufmann's History of the Religion of Israel.


Yehezkel Kaufmann was born in Ukraine. His Talmudic knowledge was acquired at the yeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Cernowitz (Rav Tzair) in Odessa and in Petrograd, and his philosophical and Biblical training were at the University of Berne. He completed his doctorate on "the principle of sufficient reason" in 1918, and had it published in 1920 in Berlin. He began teaching in Palestine in 1928 and became Professor of Bible at Hebrew University in 1949.

Primary works

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Title page from Yehezkel Kaufmann's Exile and Estrangement.

Kaufmann was the author of dozens of publications, almost exclusively in Hebrew. In 1920, he published Against the claims of the phenomenological approach of Husserl, but this was to be his last publication on abstract philosophy.

Exile and estrangement

His first major work was Exile and Estrangement: A Socio-Historical Study on the Issue of the Fate of the Nation of Israel from Ancient Times until the Present (1930), in which he suggests that what preserved Israel's uniqueness through the ages was solely its religion. Among the basic themes of this work is that it is the tension between "universalism" and "nationalism" that comprises the foundational problem of Judaism. This tension reaches back to the earliest eras of Judaism in which a universalistic conception of God was juxtaposed with the local socio-political issues of a small tribal people, even after that people had been exiled from its homeland. YHVH is the ruler of the entire universe, but he reveals Himself and His commandments only to Israel. It is this same tension which Kaufmann traces to the more modern phenomenon of exile and ghettoization. Among Kaufmann's contentious positions were his belief that Zionism could not provide the ultimate solution to the Jewish problem.

The Religion of Israel

Kaufmann's best-known work is the massive תולדות האמונה הישראלית, (Toledot HaEmunah HaYisraelit) The Religion of Israel, from Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (1960), encompassing the history of religion and Biblical literature. The work is important both because of its profound scope, and because it offered a critical approach to Biblical study which was nevertheless in opposition to the theories of Julius Wellhausen, which dominated Biblical study at that time (Hyatt 1961). Among Kaufmann's opinions expressed in this work are that neither a symbiotic nor syncretistic relationship obtained between the ancient Canaanites and Israelites. External influences on the Israelite religion occurred solely prior to the time of Moses. However, Monotheism – which on Kaufmann's view began at the time of Moses – was not the result of influences from any surrounding cultures, but was solely an Israelite phenomenon. After the adoption of Monotheism, Israelite belief is found to be free from mythological foundations, to the extent that the Scriptures do not even understand paganism (which, on Kauffman's view, is any religion other than Judaism, Christianity, or Islam (Hyatt 1961)). Kaufmann summed up his position in these words: "Israelite religion was an original creation of the people of Israel. It was absolutely different from anything the pagan world knew; its monotheistic world view has no antecedents in paganism."

The occasional worship of Baal was never an organic movement of the people, but instead was only promoted by the royal court, mainly under Ahab and Jezebel. What idol-worship the Scriptures speak of was only "vestigial fetishistic idolatry," and not a genuine attachment of the people to such forms of worship, or the influence of foreign culture.

The apostle-prophet

Kaufmann sees the classical "apostle-prophet" or "messenger-prophet" of the Prophetic literature (Nevi'im) as a uniquely Israelite phenomenon, the culmination of a long process of religious development not in any way influenced by surrounding cultures. This position is in most ways quite traditional; for example, it accords well with Rambam's statement that "Yet that an individual should make a claim to prophecy on the ground that God had spoken to him and had sent him on a mission was a thing never heard of prior to Moses our Master" (GP I:63, S. Pines, 1963). The major innovation of the prophets was thus not the creation of the religion of Israel de novo (since this had already existed, and had facilitated their own emergence), but rather the unique focus on the ethical aspect of religion, the shift in primacy from cult to morality and the insistence that the fulfillment of God's will lay in the moral domain.

Biblical authorship

Kaufmann regards the non-prophetic parts of scripture as reflecting an earlier stage of the Israelite religion. While he accepts the existence of the three primary sources JE, P, and D, he claims – in opposition to Wellhausen and others – that the P-source significantly predates the Babylonian exile and Deuteronomy. Supporting this view, according to Kaufmann, is that the P-source does not recognize centralization of the cult, and deals only with issues related to the local sacrificial rituals. He suggests that the historiographical parts of Scripture did not receive the heavy editing that is posited by biblical criticism of the time.


Kaufmann's Toldot Ha'Emunah Ha'Yisraelit is a massive, 4-volume work, written, of course, in Hebrew. A well-written and highly accessible alternative is the one-volume English language translation and abridgement by Prof. Moshe Greenberg, entitled The Religion of Israel, by Yehezkel Kaufmann, published by the University of Chicago, 1960.

Biblical commentaries

Kaufmann wrote commentaries on the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges.

Awards and recognition

In 1933, Kaufmann was awarded the first Bialik Prize for Jewish thought. He was awarded the prize again in 1956.[2]

In 1958, he was awarded the Israel Prize, in Jewish studies.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Yehezkel Kaufmann, Jewish Virtual Library
  2. ^ "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933–2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv Municipality website" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Israel Prize recipients in 1958 (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on January 17, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: unfit url (link)

Further reading

  • Hyatt, J. Philip (1961). "Yehezkel Kaufmann's view of the religion of Israel". Journal of Bible and Religion. 29: 52–57.
  • Kaufmann, Yehezkel (1960). The Religion of Israel, from Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pines, Shlomo (1963). Moses Maimonides: The Guide of the Perplexed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Zeligman, Y. A. (1960). "Professor Yehezkel Kaufmann". Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume. Jerusalem: Magnes Press (Hebrew language). pp. IX–XII. External link in |publisher= (help)
  • Krapf, Thomas (1990). Yehezkel Kaufmann. Ein Lebens- und Erkenntnisweg zur Theologie der hebräischen Bibel. Berlin: Institut Kirche und Judentum {de}. External link in |publisher= (help)
  • {de} Kaufmann, Yehezkel (Jecheskel): Die nationale Bewegung in dieser Stunde. Ed. Comité für ein Ungeteiltes Erez Israel, Jerusalem 1938, 28 pp
1963 in Israel

Events in the year 1963 in Israel.

Babylonian captivity

The Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish history during which a number of people from the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia. After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute in Nebuchadnezzar's fourth year, which led to another siege in Nebuchadnezzar's seventh year, culminating with the death of Jehoiakim and the exile of King Jeconiah, his court and many others; Jeconiah's successor Zedekiah and others were exiled in Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year; a later deportation occurred in Nebuchadnezzar's twenty-third year. The dates, numbers of deportations, and numbers of deportees given in the biblical accounts vary. These deportations are dated to 597 BCE for the first, with others dated at 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE respectively.After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah. According to the biblical book of Ezra, construction of the second temple in Jerusalem began around 537 BCE. All these events are considered significant in Jewish history and culture, and had a far-reaching impact on the development of Judaism.

Archaeological studies have revealed that not all of the population of Judah was deported, and that, although Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, other parts of Judah continued to be inhabited during the period of the exile. The return of the exiles was a gradual process rather than a single event, and many of the deportees or their descendants did not return, becoming the ancestors of the Iraqi Jews.

Bialik Prize

The Bialik Prize is an annual literary award given by the municipality of Tel Aviv, Israel, for significant accomplishments in Hebrew literature. The prize is named in memory of Hayyim Nahman Bialik. There are two separate prizes, one specifically for "Literature", which is in the field of fiction, and the other for "Jewish thought" (חכמת ישראל). The prize was established in January 1933, Bialik's 60th birthday.


The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, "the books") is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures. Varying parts of the Bible are considered to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and Rastafarians.

What is regarded as canonical text differs depending on traditions and groups; a number of Bible canons have evolved, with overlapping and diverging contents. The Hebrew Bible overlaps with the Greek Septuagint and the Christian Old Testament. The Christian New Testament is a collection of writings by early Christians, believed to be mostly Jewish disciples of Christ, written in first-century Koine Greek. Among Christian denominations there is some disagreement about what should be included in the canon, primarily about the Apocrypha, a list of works that are regarded with varying levels of respect.

Attitudes towards the Bible also differ among Christian groups. Roman Catholics, high church Anglicans, Methodists and Eastern Orthodox Christians stress the harmony and importance of both the Bible and sacred tradition, while many Protestant churches, including Evangelical Anglicans, focus on the idea of sola scriptura, or scripture alone. This concept arose during the Reformation, and many denominations today support the use of the Bible as the only infallible source of Christian teaching. Others though, advance the concept of prima scriptura in contrast.The Bible has been a massive influence on literature and history, especially in the Western World, where the Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed using movable type. According to the March 2007 edition of Time, the Bible "has done more to shape literature, history, entertainment, and culture than any book ever written. Its influence on world history is unparalleled, and shows no signs of abating." With estimated total sales of over 5 billion copies, it is widely considered to be the most influential and best-selling book of all time. As of the 2000s, it sells approximately 100 million copies annually.

Biblical criticism

Biblical criticism is an umbrella term for those methods of studying the Bible that embrace two distinctive perspectives: the concern to avoid dogma and bias by applying a non-sectarian, reason-based judgment, and the reconstruction of history according to contemporary understanding. Biblical criticism uses the grammar, structure, development, and relationship of language to identify such characteristics as the Bible's literary structure, its genre, its context, meaning, authorship, and origins.

Biblical criticism includes a wide range of approaches and questions within four major contemporary methodologies: textual, source, form, and literary criticism. Textual criticism examines the text and its manuscripts to identify what the original text would have said. Source criticism searches the texts for evidence of original sources. Form criticism identifies short units of text and seeks to identify their original setting. Each of these is primarily historical and pre-compositional in its concerns. Literary criticism, on the other hand, focuses on the literary structure, authorial purpose, and reader's response to the text through methods such as rhetorical criticism, canonical criticism, and narrative criticism.

Biblical criticism began as an aspect of the rise of modern culture in the West. Some scholars claim that its roots reach back to the Reformation, but most agree it grew out of the German Enlightenment. German pietism played a role in its development, as did British deism, with its greatest influences being rationalism and Protestant scholarship. The Enlightenment age and its skepticism of biblical and ecclesiastical authority ignited questions concerning the historical basis for the man Jesus separately from traditional theological views concerning him. This "quest" for the Jesus of history began in biblical criticism's earliest stages, reappeared in the nineteenth century, and again in the twentieth, remaining a major occupation of biblical criticism, on and off, for over 200 years.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, biblical criticism was influenced by a wide range of additional academic disciplines and theoretical perspectives, changing it from a primarily historical approach to a multidisciplinary field. In a field long dominated by white male Protestants, non-white scholars, women, and those from the Jewish and Catholic traditions became prominent voices. Globalization brought a broader spectrum of worldviews into the field, and other academic disciplines as diverse as Near Eastern studies, psychology, anthropology and sociology formed new methods of biblical criticism such as socio-scientific criticism and psychological biblical criticism. Meanwhile, post-modernism and post-critical interpretation began questioning biblical criticism's role and function.

Israel Knohl

Israel Knohl (Hebrew: ישראל קנוהל‎; born 13 March 1952) is an Israeli Bible scholar and historian. He is the Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor of Biblical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His books deal with the integration of scientific and archaeological discoveries with the biblical account, early Israelite beliefs, a survey of Israelite cult, and how and where the Israelites originated.

List of Israel Prize recipients

This is a complete list of recipients of the Israel Prize from the inception of the Prize in 1953 through to 2018.

Nahum M. Sarna

Nahum Mattathias Sarna (Hebrew: נחום סרנא; March 27, 1923 – June 23, 2005) was a modern biblical scholar who is best known for the study of Genesis and Exodus represented in his Understanding Genesis (1966) and in his contributions to the first two volumes of the JPS Torah Commentary (1989/91). He was also part of the translation team for the Kethuvim section of the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Bible, known as New Jewish Publication Society of America Version.

Negation of the Diaspora

The negation of the Diaspora (Hebrew: שלילת הגלות‎, shlilat ha'galut, or Hebrew: שלילת הגולה‎, shlilat ha'golah) is a central assumption in many currents of Zionism. The concept encourages the dedication to Zionism and it is used to justify the denial of the feasibility of Jewish emancipation in the Diaspora. Life in the Diaspora would either lead to discrimination and persecution or to national decadence and assimilation. A more moderate formulation says that the Jews as a people have no future without a "spiritual center" in the Land of Israel.

Richard Elliott Friedman

Richard Elliott Friedman (born May 5, 1946) is a biblical scholar and the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia.

Rochester, New York. He attended the University of Miami (BA, 1968), the Jewish Theological Seminary (MHL, 1971), and Harvard University (ThM in Hebrew Bible, 1974; ThD in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1978). He was the Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization: Hebrew Bible; Near Eastern Languages and Literature at the University of California, San Diego, from 1994 until 2006, whereupon he joined the faculty of the University of Georgia's Religion Department, where he is currently the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies. Friedman teaches courses in Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish Studies.He is a winner of numerous awards and honors, including American Council of Learned Societies Fellow. He was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford; and a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He participated in the City of David Project archaeological excavations of biblical Jerusalem. He is probably most famous for his work Who Wrote the Bible?, a highly conservative and personal description of the documentary hypothesis.

Ritual Decalogue

The Ritual Decalogue is a list of laws at Exodus 34:11–26. These laws are similar to the Covenant Code and are followed by the phrase "ten commandments" (Hebrew: עשרת הדברים‎ aseret ha-dvarîm, in Exodus 34:28). Although the phrase "Ten Commandments" has traditionally been interpreted as referring to a very different set of laws, in Exodus 20:2–17, many scholars believe it instead refers to the Ritual Decalogue found two verses earlier.Critical biblical scholars understand the two sets of laws to have different authorship.

Early scholars, adopting a proposal of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, contrasted the "Ritual" Decalogue with the "Ethical" Decalogue of Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21, which are the texts more generally known as the Ten Commandments. Believing that the Bible reflected a shift over time from an emphasis on the ritual to the ethical, they argued that the Ritual Decalogue was composed earlier than the Ethical Decalogue.

Later scholars have held that they were actually parallel developments, with the Ethical Decalogue a late addition to Exodus copied from Deuteronomy, or that the Ritual Decalogue was the later of the two, a conservative reaction to the secular Ethical Decalogue.

A few Bible scholars call the verses in Exodus 34 the "small Covenant code", as it appears to be a compact version of the Covenant Code in Exodus 20:19–23:33; they argue the small Covenant code was composed around the same time as the Decalogue of Exodus 20, but either served different functions within Israelite religion, or reflects the influence of other Ancient Near Eastern religious texts.The word decalogue comes from the Greek name for the Ten Commandments, δέκα λόγοι (déka lógoi; "ten terms"), a translation of the Hebrew עשרת הדברים (aseret ha-dvarîm "the ten items/terms").

Sara Japhet

Sara Japhet (sometimes Sarah Yefet, שרה יפת ; born November 18, 1934) is an Israeli biblical scholar. She is Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor Emeritus of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is considered a leading authority on the books of Chronicles by Oxford University Press.

Sderot Yerushalayim

Sderot Yerushalayim (Hebrew: שדרות ירושלים‎), or Jerusalem Boulevard, is a long historical avenue that crosses the city of Jaffa parallel to the shoreline a few hundred meters to the west, from the border of Tel Aviv to Bat Yam in the south (Sderot HaAtsma'ut) to the Yehezkel Kaufmann Street in the north, where it continues as a boulevard to the beach.

The avenue was built in 1915 during World War I by forced Jewish and Arab labor, under Ottoman rule. The original purpose was to connect Jaffa's orchards with the city center. As of 2016, there were about 860 ficus trees along the length of Sderot Yerushalayim. For the Tel Aviv Light Rail's construction, at least 29 of them will be removed and a further four will be relocated.

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (Hebrew: עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת, Aseret ha'Dibrot), also known as the Decalogue, are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in the Abrahamic religions. The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Hebrew Bible: in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The commandments include instructions to worship only God, to honour one's parents, and to keep the sabbath day holy, as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting. Different religious groups follow different traditions for interpreting and numbering them.

Modern scholarship has found likely influences in Hittite and Mesopotamian laws and treaties, but is divided over exactly when the Ten Commandments were written and who wrote them.

University of Bern

The University of Bern (German: Universität Bern, French: Université de Berne, Latin: Universitas Bernensis) is a university in the Swiss capital of Bern and was founded in 1834. It is regulated and financed by the Canton of Bern. It is a comprehensive university offering a broad choice of courses and programs in eight faculties and some 150 institutes. With around 18,019 students, the University of Bern is the third biggest University in Switzerland.


Va'eira, Va'era, or Vaera (וָאֵרָא — Hebrew for "and I appeared," the first word that God speaks in the parashah, in Exodus 6:3) is the fourteenth weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the second in the Book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 6:2–9:35. The parashah tells of the first seven Plagues of Egypt.

It is made up of 6,701 Hebrew letters, 1,748 Hebrew words, 121 verses, and about 222 lines in a Torah Scroll (סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, Sefer Torah). Jews read it the fourteenth Sabbath (שַׁבָּת, Shabbat) after Simchat Torah, generally in January, or rarely, in late December.


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