A Best-Selling Hebrew Book of the Modern Era

The Book of the Covenant of Pinhas Hurwitz and Its Remarkable Legacy

David B. Ruderman

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  • $50.00s hardcover (9780295994130) Add to Cart
  • Published: 2014
  • Subject Listing: Jewish Studies; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 192 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies
  • Contents

In 1797, in what is now the Czech Republic, Pin as Hurwitz published one of the best-selling Hebrew books of the modern era. Nominally an extended commentary on a sixteenth-century kabbalist text, The Book of the Covenant was in fact a compendium of scientific knowledge and a manual of moral behavior. Its popularity stemmed from its ability to present the scientific advances and moral cosmopolitanism of its day in the context of Jewish legal and mystical tradition. Describing the latest developments in science and philosophy in the sacred language of Hebrew, Hurwitz argued that an intellectual understanding of the cosmos was not at odds with but actually key to achieving spiritual attainment.

In A Best-Selling Hebrew Book of the Modern Era, David B. Ruderman offers a literary and intellectual history of Hurwitz's book and its legacy. Hurwitz not only wrote the book, but was instrumental in selling it as well and his success ultimately led to the publication of more than forty editions in Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish. Ruderman provides a multidimensional picture of the book and the intellectual tradition it helped to inaugurate. Complicating accounts that consider modern Jewish thought to be the product of a radical break from a religious, mystical past, Ruderman shows how, instead, a complex continuity shaped Jewish society's confrontation with modernity.
David B. Ruderman is Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Pennsylvania.

"A gripping read. . . . The book succeeds in making clear how important this largely forgotten late eighteenth-century book has been in modern Jewish cultural history."
-David Myers, University of California, Los Angeles

"Of great interest-makes an important contribution to the understanding of Judaism in the modern period."
-Jonatan Meir, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel


"[E]ngaging. . . . [C]ompelling. . . . What emerges from Ruderman's fresh and compelling analysis is the history of a book that was so popular perhaps because it had something for everyone."
-Shual Magid, American Historical Review

"A welcome addition to the growing fields of modern rabbinic history and Jewish print culture. . . . Ruderman's work brings us one step closer to a revision of modern Jewish intellectual history, providing us with a window onto the myriad ways in which Jewish thought was transformed in modern Western life."
-Eliyahu Stern, AJS Review

"Brings a new perspective to considering the dimensions of Jewish modernity from the history of the book. . . . Ruderman . . . offer[s] insights into the Jewish book trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. . . . [His] exploration of book marketing as a markedly modern exercise should invite future scholars to conduct comparative research on the role of literary best-sellers in the shaping of modern Judaism."
-Joshua Teplitsky, Journal of Jewish Studies