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Isaac Baer Levinsohn (RIBAL) letters


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Archives at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies [Contact Us]420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-3703

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Archives at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Isaac Baer Levinsohn (RIBAL), a Russian-Hebrew scholar and writer, was born on October 13, 1788, in Kremenetz. From an early age, Levinsohn excelled academically, learning "Talmudic lore, ... the Old Testament, ... the Russian language, ... and rabbinical literature," (Rosenthal). Over the years, he supported himself and his wife by teaching, translating for the Russian forces during the French invasion, and working as bookkeeper, as well as continuing his studies until he passed his teacher's examination and was hired to teach Hebrew, first at the gymnasium of Tarnopol and later at the Hebrew College of Brody.

His studies and career provided the opportunity to meet other scholars and academics, including Dr. Isaac Erter, Nachman Krochmal, Joseph Perl, and S.J. Rapoport who influenced his thinking. He began writing on the topics of Haskalah (enlightenment), "the many problems of contemporary Jewish life in Russia," (Rosenthal), and Hebrew etymology. He authored a satire on the Hasidim, Divre tsadikim and Te'udah be-Yisrael, published in 1828, which urged Jews to study Scriptures, learn secular languages, and work in agriculture and industry. His book, Bet Yehudah, was completed in 1829 and published in 1838 and served as "a plan of action to the progressive element in the Russian Jewry," (Rosenthal). Among his other writings are Efes damin (1837), Ahiyah Shiloni ha-Hozeh (1841), Ta'ar ha-Sofer (1863), and Zerubbabel (1863 and 1867). Thomson Gale states, "Levinsohn's literary work was mainly polemical and propagandistic ... [and] it dealt with the social, internal, and external position of the Jews in Eastern Europe."

According to Rosenthal, "Levinsohn labored assiduously for the well-being of his coreligionists in Russia, [for] the amelioration of the condition of the Jews, ... the establishment of Jewish agricultural colonies in Bessarabia in 1838 t0 1839, and later the organization of Jewish educational institutions." While many were supporters of Levinsohn, he faced "the fury of his fanatical opponents" (Gale) too. Today, he is known as one of the founders of the Haskalah movement in the Russian Empire.

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Levinsohn's health was poor, and he died on February 12, 1860, in Krementz. There are numerous spellings of Levinsohn's name, including Yitshak Ber Levinsohn, Yitzchak Ber Levinsohn, Yitzhak Ber Levinsohn, Isaac Ber Levinson, Isaac Ber Levinsohn, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, and RIBAL (an acronym for Rabbi Isaac Baer Levinsohn).

Works reference:

Gale, Thomason. Isaac Baer Levinsohn. Encyclopaedia Judaica. (accessed 2017 September 12)

Rosenthal, Herman. Isaac Baer Levinsohn. Jewish Encyclopedia (accessed 2017 September 12)

This collection consists of thirty-seven "letters" written by Isaac Baer Levinsohn, one of the founders of the Russian Haskalah (enlightenment). While it appears that most of the documents were intended for a recipient, it also appears that many were not traditionally letters and were instead scholarly or literary writings, possibly to be mailed. Letters were addressed to Yudel HaLevi Epstein, Yosef Hayyim, Rabbi Hirsch (possibly Samson Raphael Hirsch), Aaron Reich, and Yaakov Reifman, as well as "my dear," "my friends," and "wise men of our people." There is one letter that appears to be written to Nachman Krochimal. In some cases, the recipient is referred to by acronyms or only part of the name is clear; those letters can be found in the folder of "unidentified recipients."

While the content of most of the letters is unknown at the time of processing, some topics addressed include notes about his published works, especially Bet Yehudah and Te'udah be-Yisrael; Rabbi S.J. Rapoport; and the short Talmud Yerushalmi and Bavli Book.

Researchers interested in this collection should be aware that Levinsohn's handwriting is difficult to decipher. The letters are often formed in a way that the ink creates additional swirls, making them look like other letters. Levinsohn wrote in the margins, upside down, and in a combination of script and print. Furthermore, many of the documents are partially or entirely crossed out.

Sold by Kestenbaum & Company, 2016.

University of Pennsylvania: Archives at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
Finding Aid Author
Shevi Epstein
Finding Aid Date
2017 September 12
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Epstein, Yudel HaLevi (Rabbi), one letter, 1845 July 6.
Box 1 Folder 1
Hayyim, Yosef [Rabbi], one letter, 1852 April 20.
Box 1 Folder 2
Hirsch, [Samson Raphael?], Rabbi, two letters, 1844, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
[Krochimal, Nachman?], [Rabbi], one letter, undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Reich, Aaron HaCohen (Rabbi), one 14-page letter, 1856 April 11-1857 October.
Box 1 Folder 5
Reifman, Yaakov, three letters, 1843-1848.
Box 1 Folder 6
"My Dear," two letters, 1851, undated.
Box 1 Folder 7
"My Friend," six letters, 1840-1851, undated.
Box 1 Folder 8
"Wise Men of our People," one letter, 1839.
Box 1 Folder 9
Unidentified recipients (some partial names), nineteen letters, 1827-1859, undated.
Box 1 Folder 10

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