Eliezer Zweifel

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Russian author (1815–88), representative of the moderate tendency in the Haskalah. Zweifel was born in Mogilev into a family of Habad Hasidim, acquiring in his youth a very sound knowledge not only of the Bible and Talmud but also of the Kabbalah; he educated himself too in Russian, German, and general secular learning. He wrote extensively in a good Hebrew style but all his work is vitiated by his extreme verbosity and lack of systematic arrangement of the topics with which he deals. His copious quotes from other authors display his tremendous erudition in all branches of Jewish thought, but they often hinder rather than advance his arguments. In this respect, however, Zweifel's works can still serve as anthologies of Jewish teachings on many important subjects. In 1853 Zweifel was appointed lecturer in the Talmud at the government-sponsored Rabbinical Seminary in Zhitomir, remaining there and influencing the students towards a greater appreciation of the tradition until the seminary was closed in 1873. Both by training and temperament Zweifel, as he rightly claimed, tended to see good in everything. Though a staunch defender of Judaism and the Jewish tradition he acknowledged the value of the Haskalah's critique of strict Orthodoxy and, though viewing some aspects of Hasidism as irrational and superstitious, he warmly espoused the cause of the movement against its enemies. His opponents accused him of lacking the ability to make up his mind. His very name, Zweifel, meaning ‘doubt’, they said, suited him entirely.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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