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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Naphtali Herz Weisel
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Hebrew Name(s): נפתלי הירץ וויזעל
Other Names: Hartwig Wessely
Period: Acharonim — 19th Century
Location: b. Hamburg
Dates: 1725–1805

Biography:
Naphtali Herz Weisel (aka. Wessely) was a halakhic poet, a linguist and an exegete. He opposed the translation of scripture into Yiddish and the writing of pedagogical works in Yiddish, a stance taken by other writers of the Haskala (Enlightenment) e.g. Moses Mendelssohn and his disciples.
 
Naphtali Herz Weisel became a pioneer in the revival of Biblical Hebrew during the Enlightenment. For him Hebrew, although no longer spoken, remained a superior language. He refused to acknowledge synonyms in the Hebrew language, even in poetry. The starting point of his philological research was not the word itself but the concept that the written word gives rise to. Thus each word had a separate meaning and one could disregard the connotation attributed to a word through the historical development of the language.
 
Naphtali Herz Weisel was the first to author a commentary that explained the connection between Torah shebeKtav (The Written Torah) and Torah sheba'alPeh (The Oral Torah). He did this in the Biur on Vayikra (Leviticus).
 
Naphtali Herz Weisel learned about the nature of Confucian ethics, perhaps because of the great esteem for Chinese culture that prevailed in Western Europe from the 17th century. He wrote that it was possible that Confucius was none other than a Jewish sage from the Assyrian exile (Source, Ha'Aretz, Dec, 13, 2002).

Works:
Contributor to Biur; Divrei Shalom ve'Emet (Words of Peace and Truth); Ru'aḥ Ḥen;  Yein Levanon; Shirei Tiferet (Poems of Glory); Mehallel Re'a; Imrei Shefer; Sefer ha-Middot (The Book of Virtues)

Comments:
A Commentary on Leviticus in the Biur (Moses Mendelssohn).
Divrei Shalom ve'Emet  is a work which supported the Edict of Tolerance of Joseph II of Austria.
Ru'aḥ Ḥen is an exegesis of the Wisdom of Solomon Gan Na'ul (or Levanon.)
Yein Levanon, a philological work, is a commentary on the mishnaic tractate Avot.
Shirei Tiferet is a major literary work of the Enlightenment; an epic on the life of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt which served as a model for later Hebrew poetry. The syllabic meter and strophic structure Weisel pioneered became standard for Hebrew poets for 60 years.
Mehallel Re'a is a poetic introduction to the translation of Exodus.
Imrei Shefer is a commentary on Genesis.
Sefer ha-Middot (The Book of Virtues) is an ethical work.

 

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