Humanist Scholarship and the Study of Yiddish

  • Jerold C. Frakes


Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1533) was—with the help of Jewish tutors in both Vienna and Rome—one of the first modern scholars to learn Hebrew well enough to be known as a ‘master of the three languages’.7 In the course of his career he wrote or edited fourteen titles in the field of Hebraica. His De rudimentis hebraicis libri III (‘The Rudiments of Hebrew,’ Pforzheim 1506), organized on the model of Priscian’s Latin grammar, was not the earliest Hebrew grammar published by Christian scholarship, but it included both a grammar and a dictionary (based on David Kimhi’s Mikhlol ‘Pefection/Sp;endour’).8 Before it was replaced by better works (such as Pagninus’ translation of Kimhi, Lyons 1526), its use was widespread: it was, for instance, owned and used by Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, and Martin Bucer. Reuchlin also published an early example of a kind of text that was to become an essential aid to fledgling Christian Hebraists: a text selection from the Hebrew Bible accompanied by commentary: In septem psalmos poenitentiales interpretatio (‘Commentary on Seven Penetential Psalms,’ Tübingen 1512). His knowledge otherwise sustained his reputation, as did the principled stand that he took against the Cologne Dominicans who, in support of Johann Joseph Pfefferkorn, a Jewish convert who polemicized in favor of the confiscation and destruction of all Hebrew texts.9 Reuchlin spoke in a hearing before Emperor Maximilian and inadvertently proved clearly the social limitations of Humanist ideology: he argued that Hebrew texts should not be banned since they were useful for Christian theology and general education.


Jewish Community Hebrew Word Latin Translation German Dialect Roman Alphabet 


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© Jerold C. Frakes 2007

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