Rabbi Löw’s “Kiss” from Prison

101 years after it was written, "The Kiss" by preeminent Hungarian Rabbi Immánuel Löw has finally been translated into English

Rabbi Immánuel Löw as a young man (Hidvégi Collection, Budapest, Hungary)

Exactly 101 years ago, on Friday evening, April 23, 1920, the community members of the Neolog Jewish congregation in Szeged, Hungary waited for Chief Rabbi Immánuel Löw in vain in front of the city’s New Synagogue.

On that very day, he was imprisoned for fourteen months based on false accusations.

Construction of Szeged’s New Synagogue was initiated by Rabbi Löw, who also designed its stained glass windows and interior (Photo: Dóra Pataricza)


Rabbi’s Löw’s statement of defense, from the National Library of Israel collection. Wrongly convicted of defamation, he was released after a year in jail, following international intervention

While still in prison, he began writing his masterpiece, Die Flora der Juden (The Flora of the Jews), in which he describes the flora that appear in the Torah, the Talmud, and medieval Jewish literature. Another result of his imprisonment was that he expanded an earlier essay of his, written on the topic of the kiss. He wrote the first version of Der Kuß (The Kiss) — a significant work in folkloristics — in Hungarian in 1882 for the wedding of his friend, and published it in only thirty copies.

It describes the topic of kisses and the act of kissing in Jewish and non-Jewish literature.

A copy of the 1882 printing of “The Kiss”, with the inscription: “To Mrs. Ignác Goldziher with greetings from the author”. From the National Library of Israel collection

When Immánuel Löw was detained, his son, Lipót Löw (named after Immánuel’s father, who is regarded as perhaps the most important figure in Neolog Judaism) was allowed to send some of his father’s scholarly work to the prison.

Lipót recalled this moment in his unpublished memoir:

“When I was finally able to deliver materials for his scientific research to the prison cell for the Ministry of Justice, I first had to choose between the materials of two of his studies: Der Kuß (The Kiss) and Tränen (The Tears). I chose the first one. An outsider could not know what said content in the cell’s solitude could trigger in the prisoner.”

It was only due to his son’s decision that Löw was thus able to extend the essay he had written almost forty years previously to fifty-one pages and translate it into German. The editors at the Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (Monthly Magazine for Science and History of Judaism) even had to add the following sentence to the first part of the publication in 1921: “For special reasons, the author was unable to read the second proof of this article himself.”

Table of contents for The Kiss, as it was published in Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums. Part I and Part II of the article are available online via the Löw Heritage Foundation

In The Kiss, Löw gives a comprehensive and multi-faceted overview of the cultural history of the kiss, written in an easy to understand and even enjoyable style. Löw describes the act of kiss as a motif and the phenomenon of kissing from linguistic, anthropologic, religious, historical, legal, folkloristic, eschatological and even poetical points of views. He used various sources from a variety of cultural contexts.

The knowledge that permeates his work is fascinating — especially knowing that the circumstances in which he worked on the extended version of The Kiss were anything but ideal.

Despite their historical, cultural and literary value, Löw’s works are almost non-existent in English. To fill this gap, and to preserve the work of this invaluable figure of Hungarian Jewish thought, in the autumn of 2019 we decided to translate The Kiss from German to English.

Throughout the translation process, we strove to create a text that would be easy for a 21st century reader to follow. The bulk of the translation was done during the first wave of COVID-19 and, without the option of physically accessing any of the relevant major libraries, we were forced to do all the necessary background research using only online, digitized collections and email correspondences. The first volume of 1824’s  Geist der pharisäischen Lehre (The Spirit of Pharisaic Teaching), for example, could only be accessed through the National Library of Israel’s Digital Collection.

Cover page of the National Library of Israel’s digitized edition of Geist der pharisäischen Lehre, which had been looted by the Nazis and held in Reich Institute for the History of New Germany’s library

Löw cited his references only in abbreviated form. The original edition lacks a bibliography and also a list of abbreviations — likely due to the circumstances in which he worked on the piece. Löw composed this work for the readership of Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums where he often published articles on various topics. We therefore have to assume that at the time The Kiss was published, his audience was familiar with both the references and their system of citation. With backgrounds in Jewish studies, classical philology, history and the study of religions, and as a result of an extended research process, in most instances we were able to reconstruct which editions Löw would have used when writing this extended version of The Kiss.

Whenever Löw gave volume/page numbers, we looked for the exact edition in which the page number matches with the one mentioned by Löw. Librarians and fellow researchers will certainly be able to identify with our happiness and pride in successfully deciphering a number of these abbreviations, such as Ritter X 258, Goldziher Islam 253 (with the note that Ignaz Goldziher had several works containing the word Islam in the title) and Homil. 30. We plan on sharing the solutions to some of these riddles on our instagram account @szegedjewisharchives.

Though some of the volumes from Löw’s library survived and can now be found in the National Library of Israel collection, the library catalogue was lost following the tragic events of 1944–1945, making it impossible to confidently identify all of the works, sources or editions he referred to in the original text.

Rabbi Immanuel Löw and his wife Belle Breuning
Rabbi Immanuel Löw and his wife Breuning Bella, ca. 1944. From the National Library of Israel collection

Some thirty years after Löw’s 1944 death, a number of his writings, including The Kiss were republished by Alexander Scheiber in Studien zur jüdischen Folklore (Studies in Jewish Folklore). Löw officiated as chief rabbi of the Szeged Jewish community for 65 years and many documents relating to his time there and the community more broadly have recently been digitized and indexed, and are available online via the Szeged Jewish Archives.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

The Immánuel Löw Archive is safeguarded among the National Library of Israel collections in Jerusalem.

József “Csibi” Braun: The Tragic Story of a Jewish Soccer Star

József Braun was Footballer of the Year and top scorer in his native Hungary, but those that saw him star for the national team couldn't have guessed that his life would come to a tragic end in the Holocaust


Even those that knew him beforehand would have struggled to recognize the frail figure dressed in the uniform of a forced laborer – thin rags that did little to defend against the harsh weather conditions of the Russian front during the Second World War. But if they looked closely, or happened to hear his name, they likely would have known exactly who he was. Some might have even read the book he inspired: Csibi, written by one Bela Senesh (Szenes).

Senesh was none other than the father of Hannah Senesh, the iconic Hebrew paratrooper and poet who was captured and killed during a daring WWII mission behind enemy lines. Well before that, however, Bela Senesh was a fairly well-known playwright and journalist in Hungary, though Csibi became his most famous work. The book was extremely popular in Hungary during the 1920s, and in the 1950s it was translated into Hebrew by Avigdor HaMeiri.

Csibi by Bela Senesh (Szenes), published in Hebrew by Hakibutz Hameuchad Publishers

The plot tells of a fatherless boy, who grows up in a poor working-class neighborhood before being sent to a school where the children hail from more privileged backgrounds. At first, the other children tease him because of his poor upbringing. “Those poor people, they’re unclean by nature”, his classmates remark, while deciding to shun and ignore the boy, fearful that such a person “might suddenly draw a pocketknife and stab us in the back”. They also label him with the derogatory nickname “Csibi” – a word meaning “street urchin” in Hungarian.

Yet over the course of the book, the boy, Istvan Horovecz, displays his virtues and personal integrity, and eventually manages to win over his classmates with his talent on the football pitch. Bravely enduring his classmates’ various pranks and taunts, [SPOILER ALERT] Csibi finally helps his school win a prestigious tournament, and the epilogue tells of how he eventually becomes an international soccer star and later even a doctor. The book became an instant classic for young readers in Hungary.

Though the Jewish connection is not specifically mentioned in the book, the clues are sprinkled throughout. For example, on Csibi’s first day at school, his teacher pronounces his last name as Horovicz instead of Horovecz. The name “Horovecz” with an “e” was adopted by many Jewish families who sought to make their origins less obvious by choosing a more “Hungarian”-sounding name. Csibi’s assimilation into Hungarian society reflected Bela Senesh’s own beliefs regarding the importance of Jewish assimilation.


Bela Senesh, the Hannah Senesh Archive at the National Library of Israel

So who was the original “Csibi”? The inspiration for Bela Senesh’s book was József Braun, whose story is similar to that of quite a few European athletes of the period: They were Hungarians, Germans, Austrians and so on, but for many of their neighbors and acquaintances, they were Jews, first and foremost. In Hungary in particular, many Jews in the late 19th century and early 20th century began turning to a relatively new sport – football. Sports were a path that offered integration into society, a vision that appealed to the young József Braun.

Born to a middle class family in Budapest in 1901, Braun began playing soccer despite his father’s disapproval, and his talent shone even at a young age. At age 13 he was playing with older children and still managing to stand out. In 1916 Braun was invited to join MTK Budapest, one of the biggest clubs in the country, after the coach happened to see him playing in a local park. By coincidence, MTK was actually known as something of a “Jewish” team – aside from the club’s Jewish president, a number of prominent Jewish players also starred for the club, including Béla Guttmann, Gyula Mándi and Henrik Nadler.

József “Csibi” Braun

Braun, who was nicknamed “Csibi”, played on the right wing, and was an extremely impressive player. Israeli sports journalist Ronen Dorfan has described Braun as someone who was capable of carrying out all of his tasks on the pitch with perfect precision. He was incredibly quick, with excellent ball control skills as well as an eye for goal. Braun won nine Hungarian league titles with MTK as well as two Hungarian Cups. Aside from his achievements at club level, he also starred for the Hungarian national team, scoring eleven goals in twenty-seven international appearances. Dorfan explains that in the context of international soccer in the 1920s, this was a relatively high number of appearances. Braun began playing for Hungary at the age of 18, was Footballer of the Year in Hungary in 1919 and also participated in the 1924 Olympic Games.

József “Csibi” Braun (third from the right), with the Hungarian national team in 1924

Unfortunately, Csibi’s football career came to an end in early and abrupt fashion. At age 20, Braun had already suffered a difficult injury from which he was able to recover, but in 1926, when he was only 25, Braun was forced to hang up his boots after yet another major injury. While he did attempt a comeback in the late 1920s with two American teams (including the Jewish club Brooklyn Hakoah), Braun soon put a final stop to his brief and illustrious career, at an age when most soccer players are in their prime.

During the 1930s, Csibi tried his hand at coaching, spending a few years managing Slovakian club Slovan Bratislava. In 1938, however, with antisemitism on the rise, Braun was forced to return to his native Hungary.

Soon came World War II, with Hungary entering the war in 1941 as a member of the Axis. Braun, who was around 40 at the time, was forced to join one of the Hungarian army’s labor battalions, like many of his fellow Jews. These were, in effect, forced labor organizations, with the prisoners, mainly Jews, required to dig trenches and build fortifications on the war front, while completely exposed to Soviet gunfire.

Braun was sent to the eastern front, and was not among those fortunate enough to survive. Csibi, the international soccer star, died of hunger and exhaustion after two years of forced manual labor in subhuman conditions.

Today József Braun’s name is nearly forgotten in Hungary. Something does remain though – the children’s book which bears his name, as well as the author’s hope of assimilation into Hungarian society through football and sport. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of what became of that hope, as well as the tragic fate of Bela Senesh’s daughter.

In late 2020, Hannah Senesh’s complete archive was deposited at the National Library of Israel. A part of it is devoted to the life’s work of her father Bela. We warmly encourage our readers to explore this wonderful archive both online and at the National Library of Israel building itself.

Natan Sharansky’s First Seder

The Haggadah's words were felt as KGB agents surrounded them. Later he would "celebrate" Passover in the Gulag

Natan and Avital Sharansky upon their arrival in Israel, 12 February 1986 (Photo: Israel Simionsky). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

I was born into a completely assimilated Jewish family.

Nothing Jewish, except the anti-Semitism. No traditions, no holidays, no language.

At 24, I joined the Zionist movement. We struggled to free the Jews of the Soviet Union. As part of my Zionist activities, I began to learn Hebrew in secret, in an underground ulpan.

Natan Sharansky, 1972

I celebrated the first Passover Seder of my life with my fiancé at the time, Avital (then Natasha), in Moscow. Three Hebrew teachers brought all of their students together for one big Seder in a Moscow apartment.

As we didn’t know Hebrew well enough to read from the Haggadah, the teachers gave each of us a short part to memorize. We didn’t understand many of the words, expressions or sentences, yet one line in particular we didn’t just understand… we felt:

…ela sh’bkhol dor v’dor omdim aleinu l’khaloteinu” – “in each generation, they stand against us to destroy us…”

It was enough to simply look out the window and see the KGB agents surrounding the apartment to know that we ourselves were continuing the Exodus from Egypt.

And when we said, “L’shana ha’baa b’Yerushalayim!” – “Next year in Jerusalem!”, we believed and knew that just like the Israelites in Egypt, we too would live lives of freedom.

Before that freedom came, Avital and I would be separated from one another for twelve years.

For nine of them, I was in the Gulag.

Avital Sharansky, 1977

When I celebrated the Seder in solitary confinement, I needed to decide what would be matzah, what would be maror and what would be wine, when all I had in solitary were three slices of bread, three cups of warm water and a bit of salt.

I decided that the maror was salt, the wine was warm water, and the matzah was dry bread.

Recalling the lines I had learned for my first Seder, I felt that our struggle continued. It strengthened my spirit.

B’Shana zo anu avadim l’shana ha’baa bnei horin, ha’shana anu kan uv’shana ha’baa b’Yerushalayim” – “This year we are slaves, next year free men; this year we are here, and next year in Jerusalem.”

A crowd celebrates Natan Sharansky’s arrival at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 12 February 1986 (Photo: Efi Sharir). From the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Natan Sharansky Archive is safeguarded among the collections of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

The “Passover Memories” project on The Librarians has been created as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

His Sugar Cube Vaccine Beat Polio. Then He Took a Shot at Middle East Peace

Albert Sabin may be less famous than Jonas Salk, but he probably shouldn't be

"A scientist who is also a human being cannot rest while knowledge which might be used to reduce suffering rests on the shelf." (Photo: Albert B. Sabin, 1962. From the Boston Public Library collection)

Jonas Salk is rightfully credited with developing the first safe and effective polio vaccine, yet his inoculation was not the one that ultimately brought about the near total eradication of the terrible infectious disease known as “poliomyelitis” or “infantile paralysis”.

Signed photo of Jonas Salk, which the famous researcher donated to the National Library in 1958. From the National Library of Israel archives


Superseding Jonas

Salk’s vaccine, administered by injection, was first approved and widely distributed in the United States in 1955.

Around the same time, another Jewish medical researcher named Albert Sabin was busy developing a different type of polio vaccine – one which could be administered orally and provide significant benefits over Salk’s, including cheaper production costs and longer-lasting immunity from polio without the need for “boosters”.

An oral vaccine, as opposed to an injected one, also meant that it would be much easier and more practical to use for massive inoculation drives, especially in poorer countries and regions where sterile syringes were not readily available.

Sabin’s vaccine used a weakened “live” polio virus, as opposed to the “dead” virus used by Salk. This made it theoretically more risky, yet with the benefits far outweighing the risks, the Sabin vaccine largely replaced the Salk vaccine worldwide from the early 1960s.

A child receives an injection of the polio vaccine, ca. 1960. From the Eddie Hirschbein Collection, Nadav Mann / Bitmuna; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Salk’s vaccine has remained in use and was certainly a critical breakthrough in terms of dramatically reducing the debilitating infectious disease’s prevalence, yet for most of the second half of the 20th century, the oral vaccine developed by Sabin is what facilitated the nearly complete global eradication of polio.

Neither of the men ever attempted to patent their discoveries, seeing it as their privilege and purpose in life to help save millions of people from polio and other ailments.

On the day his vaccine was declared safe and effective for use, Salk was asked who owned the patent. He famously retorted, “Well, the people, I would say… There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Sabin once quipped, “A scientist who is also a human being cannot rest while knowledge which might be used to reduce suffering rests on the shelf.”


From immigrant to global hero

Born in Bialystock in 1906, Albert Sabin moved with his family to the United States in 1921, fleeing the poverty and violent anti-Semitism of their native Poland. Shortly after receiving his medical degree ten years later, Sabin became specifically interested in studying polio.

Portrait of Albert B. Sabin. Published in The Sentinel, 31 March 1966. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

His research into polio and other ailments continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As a high-ranking officer in the US Army Medical Corps during World War II, Sabin traveled the globe studying viral diseases, even developing vaccines for some, including dengue fever and encephalitis.

After the war, he settled back into civilian life and his research on polio. Determined to better understand the polio virus, Sabin and his colleagues performed autopsies on everyone who died of poliomyelitis within a 400 mile (650 km) radius of his home in Cincinnati. Sabin and his team discovered that the poliovirus was found in the intestinal tract – meaning that an oral vaccine could theoretically be developed for it.

Ultimately one was.


Cold War trials

As the Salk vaccine had already been widely administered in the United States by the time Sabin’s was ready for trial, he had to test it somewhere else.

Like Salk, Sabin first tested his vaccine on himself, though he would need a much larger scale to prove the vaccine’s efficacy.

For that, he reached out to a most unlikely partner: the Soviet Union, then in the midst of a bitter Cold War with the United States. Nonetheless, the dream of eradicating polio trumped geopolitical tensions.

Massive trials on children in the Soviet Union (as well as other locations around the world including Cincinnati) proved the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. The fact that it could be administered via sugar cube made it even more appealing.

Sabin and his successful vaccine were feted across the globe, as it became clear that the seemingly unlikely American-Soviet collaboration had helped bring the eradication of polio nearer than ever. He received a prestigious medal from the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

Ultimately, the vaccines developed by Salk and Sabin led to the almost inconceivable decrease in global wild poliovirus cases from millions annually in the 1940s and 1950s to well under a thousand by the dawn of the new millennium.


Conflict and collaboration

The Soviet Union trials were a vividly clear reflection of Sabin’s long-held belief in promoting international collaboration and reducing human conflict.

At a public event in Chicago in 1966, he encouraged President Johnson to listen to the Midrashic teaching that “mighty are those who can convert an enemy into a friend,” warning that “competitive military confrontation” would only lead nations “to annihilate themselves”, and that “if we do not learn cooperation on an international scale in the next 25 years we will not survive.”

Following the Six Day War in 1967, Sabin chaired an organization called American Professors for Peace in the Middle East (APPME), which soon boasted thousands of members from hundreds of campuses across the country. APPME promoted the idea that regional peace was possible and must be pursued, and called for direct negotiations between the concerned parties.

Israeli soldiers patrol along the Jordanian border, 1967. From the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1968, Sabin led an APPME fact-finding mission to the region, meeting with leading political and intellectual figures in Jordan and Egypt primarily “to determine whether there has been sufficient change in attitude toward the existence of a viable Jewish state in the Middle East to provide meaningful approaches to a durable peace that would benefit the Arab people as much or more than it would the Jews in Israel.”

For its commendable task, the delegation concluded their trip disillusioned, coming to the “terrifyingly sad conclusion” that there had been no sufficient change and consequently there were no new “meaningful approaches” to the durable peace they sought. There had been no “agonizing re-appraisal” of the situation following Israel’s “astonishing victory” in 1967, which, they concluded, had “achieved… a reprieve from the immediate and greatest threat to its survival, but no prospects for peace…”

They even gave their final report a depressing title: “The Arabs Need and Want Peace, But – Impressions and Conclusions of the Mission of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East to Jordan and the United Arab Republic, June 24 to July 5, 1968”.

Of course being an expert in infectious disease does not necessarily make one qualified to solve the Middle East conflict, but the mission’s conclusions do seem especially prescient in hindsight, as the War of Attrition raged and the Yom Kippur War would rock the region once again just a few years later.

Two years after the APPME report, Sabin publicly warned a different American delegation that Egyptian and Jordanian acceptance of the US-proposed Rogers Peace Plan was a disingenuous “tactical move in order to restore the pre-1967 borders and leave Israel vulnerable again.”


Beyond infectious disease

Besides armed conflict, Sabin recognized other pertinent issues facing mankind, including global poverty.

He often looked to Israel as a model for the world – a country he saw as being built from nothing by people willing to sacrifice of themselves for the common good.

Sabin was often honored by organizations for his contribution towards the eradication of polio. He frequently spoke at fundraisers for Israeli and Jewish causes.

Sabin receiving an award from Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, presented by a 10 year-old girl “representing a generation freed from the fear of polio.” Published in the B’nai B’rith Messenger⁩⁩, 15 December 1972. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

In 1962, the “Dr. Albert B. Sabin Children’s Woodland” was named in his honor in the United States Freedom Forest outside of Jerusalem.

He became president of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel’s preeminent scientific research center, in 1970.

Albert B. Sabin, president of the Weizmann Institute, welcoming former US Vice President Hubert Humphrey to Israel, 1970 (Photo: IPPA Staff). From the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzer Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Sabin’s tenure at Weizmann concluded about a year prematurely, though, when he stepped down at the end of 1972 following open heart surgery. After moving back to the United States, he continued to lecture, pursue his own research and areas of personal interest.

Though his most well-known accomplishment was helping to all but eradicate polio, Sabin’s words and actions showed a commitment to bettering humanity that far transcended the field of infectious disease.

Later in life he became particularly interested in solar energy, and shortly before he passed away in 1993, the trailblazing scientist advised that, “The earliest possible development of a suitable technology for replacing… fossil fuels by inexhaustible, clean solar energy is of the greatest importance for the whole world.”


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.