The Story of Daniel Hagège: Judeo-Arabic Author and Documenter of Tunisian Jewry

Hagège estimated that some 150 Tunisian authors wrote in Judeo-Arabic. This article is in memory of 100 years of Judeo-Arabic literature.

"Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-berberiyya al-tunisiyya", by Daniel Hagège

The story of Judeo-Arabic literature in Tunisia is one of defeat; not only because the language in which this literature was written has disappeared due to the French and Hebrew prevailing it – but because it seems that this unique literature was never given a real chance to flourish.

Judeo-Arabic literature lasted in Tunisia for a mere 100 years. It began in 1862, when a partnership was formed among three Jewish writers: Mordekhai Tapia, Bishi Chemama, and Eliyahu Elmaleh. Their first book printed in Tunis was called Qanun al-dawla al-tunisiyya (“The Constitution of the Tunisian State”).

A year later, books containing folk literature began to be published. At first, they were copied by hand under the supervision of the author, storyteller, and tavern-owner, Hai Sarfati, and later at Uzan and Castro’s publishing house. In 1878, Abraham Tayyib founded the first newspaper in the country, called al-Amala al-tunisiyya (“Tunisia Province”).

Much of what we know about this literature we owe to the work of Daniel Hagège. Next to the French Eusèbe Vassel, Hagège (occasionally written as Ḥajjāj) is the greatest documenter of this rich literature, which consists of hundreds of original stories and translations. He was also one of the last authors to publish his works in Judeo-Arabic. In 1939, Hagège published a book titled Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-berberiyya al-tunisiyya (“The Publication of Tunisian Judeo-Arabic Books”, translated into Hebrew by Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014). Some of Hagège’s many books have vanished completely, with the only remaining traces being a few details mentioned in this text. Hagège listed the published works of the Judeo-Arabic authors alongside biographic information about their lives and literary and professional work. Intishar al-ktayib was published at Makhluf Najjar’s printing house.

Thanks to this detailed bio-bibliographic list compiled by the author, we know that Judeo-Arabic literature, which emerged in Tunisia during the mid-19th century, was influenced by different elements. Firstly, Arabic literature; Judeo-Arabic literature was written in Arabic, peppered with Hebrew, French and Italian. Many other books and stories were translated literary classics from around the world, primarily France. These included works such as The Mysteries of Paris, Robinson Crusoe, and adaptations of One Thousand and One Nights, which drew from Antoine Gallan’s French translation.

Ḥikayat Robinson Krusoi, by Daniel Defoe

Before we read the work’s translation by scholars Joseph and Zivia Tobi, we assumed Hagège wrote his bio-bibliography because he wished to save this literature from vanishing into obscurity. In the book’s introduction, right after the acclaims – “Thanks must be given to the supreme God, the mighty and the terrible, creator of lands, with the perfection of wholeness, creator of man, and who places him above animals in understanding and language,” (translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014) Hagège clarified what drove him to write the book. It appears the author was quite confident that the language and its literature would last, and so he wrote: “After this, what will be set forth now is that the ‘Tunisian Arabic-Berber’ language, which our forefathers and even we ourselves have never ceased to speak to the present day, is a language like all the languages scattered all over the world. From the day of its creation until today it has been reinforced by a large number of learned writers, who were able to use this language, and they penned a great many literary compositions and love stories and weekly journals and even daily newspapers. We hope therefore that our historical essay will produce many benefits and will bestow esteem and honor upon our Jewish-Arabic language and renown to all the Tunisian Jewish master writers.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014)

Hagège estimated that some 150 Tunisian authors, all of them men, wrote in Judeo-Arabic. His compilation lists bio-bibliographic details of 17 of them, including the author himself. Hagège summarizes his work in a few self-praising sentences, followed by a list of the 30 books he published.

“The journalist Daniel Hagège, who has written for the journal al-Najma al-waḥīda since its revival, was born in our city of Tunis on July 15, 1892. After completing his schooling, a graduate of three grades in basic studies, he began working at the printing house with the revered writer the late Ya‘aqov Ha-Cohen on the weekly al-Shams and the daily al-Ṣabaḥ. This was in 1904. On October 21, 1910, this writer was appointed chief editor of the weekly Ḥayat al-janna, which lasted for several months. On August 1, 1913, he founded a magazine called al-Nuzha al-tunisiyya (“Tunisian Pastime”), which continued to appear until the end of 1915. It was revived in 1933 when seven issues were published. Thereafter it closed by order of the government. In 1914 he published an important book titled Anwar tunis (“Flowers of Tunis”), which contained the account Sabab takwin ḥarb uruppa (“Causes of the Development of the European War”) and the story al-‘Ishq wa-al-ḥubb ma fihim ṭibb (“There Is No Remedy in Lust and Love”) and several stirring Arabic articles and amusing tales.”

Bio-bibliographic details about Daniel Hagège, written by Hagège in Intishar al-ktayib

Like many Jewish authors and journalists in Tunisia, Hagège made a living outside of literary writing and had a completely separate profession. The most interesting part of Hagège’s biography is his “secondary” income, which was, in fact, his main income: “And from April 1924,” writes Hagège, “He began to work for one year as a mixer of medicines at the pharmacy of the Greek opposite Sinigalia on the square. From 1926 to 1930 he worked at the Suq al-Grana with the late Rabbi Eli‘ezer Farḥi, the pharmacist famous for his wisdom in plants and essences. Afterward he himself opened a shop at 4 Sidi al-Sridek Street in Tunis. This shop became well-known to everyone, as they came to learn of its great usefulness.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014)

Daniel Hagège belonged to the last generation of Jewish Tunisian authors. He ceased writing in Judeo-Arabic in the 1940s. In his bio-bibliography, he stressed that readers did not appreciate the hard work and high expenses of publishing Judeo-Arabic newspapers and books. They preferred to loan a copy rather than buying one. “Alshari wahid w’alkari asharh,” Hagège noted, meaning: “One buys, ten read.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014).

In 1959, Hagège immigrated to Paris. He died in 1976, and, in accordance with his last will and testament, the last Jewish author of Tunisia was buried in Jerusalem.

An assortment of the 30 books Hagège wrote, the National Library of Israel collections


The book Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-barbariyya al-tunisiyya was translated into Hebrew and published in 2000 by Zivia and Joseph Tobi as part of their study of Judeo-Arabic Tunisian literature.

The Jewish Doctor Who Said “No” to the Corset

Dr. Rahel Hirsch broke with mainstream convention and paved the way for the women who followed after. This is the story of the doctor who insisted that women's health was about more than female genitalia.

רחל הירש

Rahel Hirsch

The life story of Dr. Rahel Hirsch could easily be the plot of a Hollywood tearjerker. This groundbreaking pioneer was born to a Jewish family in the Kingdom of Prussia in the late 19th century. Her origin and perhaps having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time forced Hirsch to face many hardships during her life. First, she had to fight her way into the medical world. Later on, she continued to struggle with attempts to delegitimize her as a woman in the field.

Rahel Hirsch was the daughter of a school administrator and was originally sent to study education. However, her mind was always drawn to science. More than anything, she wished to become a physician. Unfortunately, the German Reich at the time forbade women to attend university studies. But why?

Back then, many men believed women should not be allowed to engage in academic professions, certainly not medicine, since they were simply perceived as unfit to do so – both mentally and physically. Those who advanced this “scientific” theory, pointed for example, to the fact that the female brain was smaller on average than that of the male (while mistakenly disregarding the size of the brain in relation to the rest of the body).

Under these restrictions, and in order to realize her dream, Rahel Hirsch left her home and everything she knew and traveled to Switzerland, where she was permitted to study medicine. In 1903 Hirsch received her long-desired medical license and from that moment on broke professional and gender-related boundaries. In 1907 she was accepted to work as an intern at the medical clinic at the Charité – a university hospital in Berlin. She was only the second woman to be hired by the institution in its entire history.

Rahel Hirsch

She later became the first person to find indications of starch particles in blood and urine and thus was able to refute the widely accepted notion that only liquids could penetrate the kidneys. The discovery that certain medical conditions could cause microscopic cells to penetrate the kidneys and exit via urine was invaluable to the medical world. She recorded her findings in a study on metabolic processes and diseases but instead of being acclaimed for them, she was mocked by her colleagues – because she was a woman.

It was a closed, patriarchal society, and so despite her accomplishments, when Hirsch presented her study at a meeting of the Charité’s directors, she was ignored by the doctors, who believed women to be of inferior intelligence. Nevertheless, she managed to move ahead and in 1908 was appointed head of the Charité’s medical clinic. Sadly, despite her new senior position, she was not paid for her services.

Hirsch soon left the Charité and opened her own private clinic in Berlin, where she installed modern X-ray equipment; this attracted wealthy clients and allowed her to live comfortably. In 1913 she became the first woman to receive the title “professor” in Prussia. However, she hadn’t seen the last of her challenges yet.

Rahel Hirsch was a Jewish woman. As a result, she was barred from teaching medicine in Germany during this period. In order to expose her colleagues to her ideas regarding women’s health – ideas that were not yet accepted in academic circles – she wrote a treatise titled Physical Culture of Women.

Physical Culture of Women (“Körperkultur der Frau”) by Rahel Hirsch, 1913, the National Library of Israel collections

The essay focused on refuting prejudiced conceptions about women’s exercise and how they should dress. She recommended clothing that fit the female physique naturally, without corsets; clothing that enabled a normal blood flow. Hirsch tried to draw attention to women’s health by raising awareness of hygiene, nutrition and exercise, though it seems the primary focus of the essay was to prove that women were no less intelligent than men. In an article published in the Munich Medical Weekly, she wrote her colleagues that the theory that males were more intelligent than females was unsubstantiated and that any difference between the mental capabilities of men and women was not biologically determined but rather a matter of faulty education. She also suggested they look at women not only from a gynecologic point of view, as women’s medicine was not all about female genitalia.

Left page: The picture on the left shows a woman with poor posture. In the picture on the right, her posture is corrected by distributing the weight on the skeleton correctly and standing in a proper position. Right page: Hirsch even gave guidelines on how to do chores around the house in a healthy and proper manner. Left: Hirsch demonstrates incorrect posture while performing chores. Right: A demonstration of correct posture.


Left page: In Hirsch’s day, it was assumed that exercise was not fit for the female body. Hirsch protested this and illustrated what the female body looked like before the physical exercise she recommended for women, and what it looked like three months into training. Right page: The left image illustrates an incorrect sitting position. The right picture shows a correct, flattering and practical sitting position.

When the Nazi prosecution of Jews grew more intense, Hirsch lost many of her clients, who were now afraid of associating with Jews. Also, her authorities as a physician were gradually taken away from her. This process reached a peak in 1938 when she was 68 years old: Hirsch’s medical license was taken from her. When she heard she was going to be arrested, Hirsch fled to live with one of her sisters in London, though in England she could not practice medicine. Instead, she worked as a librarian, while also translating and working as a laboratory assistant. During the war, she lived in Yorkshire before returning to London once the hostilities were over.

The events that occurred in her homeland and the atrocities committed against the Jews, along with the restriction on practicing the one thing she truly loved and for which she had worked her entire life – drove her to madness. Hirsch was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital, where she died on October 6th, 1953. She was buried anonymously in one of the city’s Jewish cemeteries.

A few years after her passing, in 1957, a research assistant from Charité named Gerard Volkheimer, who would later become a professor, came across Hirsch’s study and published it under the title the “Hirsch Effekt”. Approximately four years after she died, Rahel Hirsch’s work and contribution to science were finally recognized.



Clothing to Corona, the Life and Legacy of Sir Montague Burton of Leeds

Born Moshe Dovid Osinsky, he was a giant of industry, welfare and charity knighted by the king

Montague Burton's Sun Room. Courtesy: West Yorkshire Archive Service

The photo comes from the West Yorkshire Archives and shows the Sun Room in the 1930s – at Montague Burton’s factory in Hudson Road, Leeds.

Who was Sir Montague Burton, what was his story and – perhaps most importantly – what can we learn from his legacy today?

Leeds, city of men’s clothing

First a bit of history – West Yorkshire used to be the textile manufacturing heartland of the UK. Leeds was men’s clothing; Bradford was wool; Halifax was carpets; Huddersfield was high quality cloth and engineering, especially for textile machinery; and Batley and Dewsbury were for shoddy – the recycling of rags.

The Jews came mainly to Leeds and it was a good partnership – Jews brought with them tailoring skills and Leeds was the expanding centre of the UK men’s clothing industry.

Production had moved from one individual making an item of clothing to a factory system with a distribution of labour – workers doing an individual task in the factory.

Montague Burton’s clothing factory, the largest in the world. Courtesy: West Yorkshire Archive Service

From Moshe to Montague

Sir Montague Burton, born Moshe Dovid Osinsky in the Kovno Province of Lithuania in 1885, came to the UK in 1900 aged 15 along with thousands of other Jews. He opened his first shop in Chesterfield in 1904 and when he was naturalised in 1910 he became known as “Morris Burton” living in Sheffield, but the shops were called “Montague Burton”.

Burton built up a chain of men’s clothing shops and by 1919 he had 40. In 1921, he acquired the land at Hudson Road, Leeds where he built his factory, which at its height employed over 10,500 people, the largest clothing factory in the world.

The photo from the 1930s of the Sun Room was when production was at its height. Burton, as a factory owner, was conscious of the need to look after his staff and the Sun Room was an example of a facility provided for the staff. There was a doctor, a dentist and medical facilities on site – it was a complete factory-town where staff were looked after.

Burton built a huge empire, was knighted in 1931 and died in 1952 aged 67.

Newspaper headline announcing Burton’s knighthood, published in The Sentinel on June 12, 1931

He was buried in Leeds but wanted to be buried in Harrogate – fifteen miles from Leeds where there was a Jewish community but at the time no Jewish cemetery. By 1964 there was a Jewish cemetery in Harrogate and Sir Montague and his wife, Lady Sophia, were reinterred in the new Jewish cemetery in Harrogate as the first burials.

Burton’s tombstone in Harrogate Cemetery. Photo: Nigel Grizzard

A legacy of industry and philanthropy

So what was Sir Montague Burton’s legacy?

Burton wasn’t the only clothing manufacturer in Leeds – there were many others, large and small, and the large players such as Burton were key players in the UK clothing industry.

From an employment perspective he built a huge manufacturing and retail empire. He gave the opportunity of working in a large factory to many first-generation Leeds Jews who became part of a Jewish industrial proletariat in Leeds.

He was a very generous funder of many institutions – he endowed a chair at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he funded charities and Jewish projects in Yorkshire.

His legacy lives on through the Jewish Museum in London, in Raymond Burton House, and his descendants were key arts funders in Yorkshire.

Letter from Montague Burton, signed in Hebrew, to the renowned poet Shaul Tchernichovsky regarding Burton’s support for a Hebrew University scholarship. Shaul Tchernichovsky Archive, National Library of Israel, image from the Genazim Institute: TSHERN-31378/2. Click image to enlarge

Clothing to corona

I arrived in Leeds in 1976 when the tailoring industry was still functioning, the next decade saw the decline as manufacturing was shipped overseas.

When I took young Jews round the former tailoring areas it wasn’t even a memory – it was too far removed from their current families.

Burton’s Factory today. Photo: Nigel Grizzard

Recently, I went down to the Hudson Road Complex where 10,500 people were employed. It is in Harehills, Leeds and the huge factory still stands. Only when you visit it do you realise how enormous it was. Today it is a clothing depot for Arcadia – a UK clothing chain store, a centre for ESOL (English as a Second Language) and additional small work places.

Most interestingly, during the PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic in April and May this year – the subject of the Leeds clothing industry was resurrected.

I go to an online morning service at the United Hebrew Congregation in Leeds and one of the clothing manufacturers now in his 90s lamented with a former colleague how they could have turned their factories into production centres for PPE rather than send RAF (Royal Air Force) planes to Turkey and China, as the British government opted to do given contemporary circumstances.

The photo of the women working in the factory harks back to a previous era when Leeds and the North of England was a manufacturing base.

The last few months have taught us many lessons and perhaps the most important one is that it would serve the United Kingdom well to restore its manufacturing base rather than be hostage to overseas suppliers.

Montague Burton would have agreed with that sentiment.


The story of the Montague Burton Sun Room is one of many featured on the recently launched “Hidden Treasures: Celebrating Jewish Archives in Britain” website. It has been published here 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. 

Pearl and the Golem-Maker: A Love Story

How the decades-long romance between the Maharal of Prague and his wife began

The teachings of Rabbi Judah Loew – better known as “The Maharal of Prague”, or simply “The Maharal” – are still widely learned centuries after his death.

An exceptional intellectual figure, the Maharal was also the legendary creator of the Golem of Prague – a creature formed from mud, brought to life thanks to secret mystical knowledge possessed by the wise sage, and let loose to defend the city’s Jews from all-too-common anti-Semitic attacks.

The Old-New Synagogue in Prague, where the Maharal served as rabbi. Some claim that the Golem still lies asleep in its attic. From The Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Though Rabbi Judah looms large in Jewish culture and lore, the woman behind the man has largely been lost to history.

Her name was Pearl.

Pearl and Rabbi Judah had seven kids together: six girls and one boy. They were married for some 65 years, passing away within just a few months of one other – first Rabbi Judah and then Pearl.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

According to an account retold in “Sefer Niflaot Hamaral“, an early 20th century collection of tales about the famous rabbi, this is how Pearl and Judah’s love story began:

Reb Schmelke Reich was a wealthy and respected figure who arranged for a marriage between his daughter Pearl and Judah Loew, a promising 15 year old Torah scholar.

Young Judah headed off to yeshiva to learn and in the meantime, Reb Schmelke’s fortunes reversed and he became very poor, unable to pay a dowry for his daughter to wed.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

Three years after the marriage was arranged, Reb Schmelke wrote to his son-in-law to be, letting him know that seeing as he could not afford a respectable dowry, the young man was freed of his commitment and didn’t have to marry Pearl after all.

The young man wouldn’t hear of it, writing back that he would wait for assistance from on high.

Reb Schmelke’s fortunes didn’t turn around, yet Judah continued to wait… and wait…. and wait…

The righteous young Pearl decided to help her parents out by opening a small bakery and selling bread to support her family. She worked in the bakery for ten years, while her betrothed continued learning Torah, waiting for the day he could marry his beloved.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

Then war broke out.

A horseman galloped up to Pearl’s shop, spearing a large loaf of bread that was sitting out.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel

She courageously ran after the horseman, pleading with him not to steal the bread, explaining that her livelihood and those of her aging, impoverished parents depended on income from her shop.

The horseman argued that he had no money, not even enough to pay for a loaf of bread. Instead, he offered an extra saddle blanket he had with him, violently throwing it at her and riding away.

When the frightened Pearl went to inspect the blanket, she found it to be surprisingly heavy. So heavy, in fact, that when she picked it up, it ripped and gold coins came tumbling out.

She promptly gave the riches to her father who used them for the dowry, and after more than a decade of waiting, Pearl and Judah were married.

From the Prague Haggadah, National Library of Israel


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.


If you liked this article, try these:

Prayers, Amulets and Spells to Ward off Plague

The Vilna Gaon Makes a Surprise Appearance

The Epidemic That Brought Jews Back to Jerusalem