The Rabbi Who Performed Scientific Research From a Hungarian Prison

In 1920 Rabbi Immánuel Lőw, the chief rabbi of the Hungarian city of Szeged was arrested by Hungarian authorities who interrogated and imprisoned him for a year.

Shaul Greenstein | 18.07.18 |
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Rabbi Immanuel Löw and his wife Belle Breuning
הרב עמנואל לעף ורעייתו בלה ברוינינג ב-1944

In 1920, Rabbi Immánuel Lőw, one of the most important contributors to the lexicons of Wilhelm Gesenius for the Bible and of Carl Brockelmann for the Aramaic Language, was accused of making political statements against the authorities and against the new governor of Hungary, Admiral Miklós Horthy.

During his 13 month imprisonment, Rabbi Lőw continued working on his famous work, Die Flora der Juden (“The Plants of the Jews”), which deals with the various vegetation mentioned in Jewish sources with a focus on Rabbinic literature. Written in German, the four-volume series was published between 1924-1934 and is available at the National Library of Israel. The series went through a second printing after the death of the author.

Rabbi Immanuel Löw - Statement of defense
Available at the National Library of Israel: The statement of defense from the trial of Rabbi Immánuel Lőw. Rabbi Lőw, who was charged with defamation of the Hungarian governor, was imprisoned and released a year later as a result of an international intervention.

Rabbi Immánuel Lőw was born in 1854 in the Hungarian city of Szeged. As an orientalist, he was interested in the names of plants in Semitic languages since his youth.

Rabbi Immanuel Löw
Rabbi Immánuel Lőw in his youth

In addition to his studies at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin (Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums), he studied Semitic linguistics at the University of Leipzig, Germany. It was there in 1879 that he submitted his doctoral thesis on plant names in Aramaic (Aramäische Pflanzennamen). His scientific publications and notes on the animal and mineral issues in Biblical and Talmudic sources attest to his intention to publish two additional books, thus creating a series: “The Fauna, the Flora and the Minerals in the Jewish sources.”

Aaron Aaronsohn to Rabbi immanuel Löw
Aaron Aaronsohn’s 1908 letter to Rabbi Immánuel Lőw. Aharonson, the discoverer of emmer (“the mother of wheat”) describes his journey to Constantinople to report on his research. He requests information from Lőw about specific plants from these areas, from the NLI collections.
Lewis Ginsberg to Rabbi Immanuel Löw
A letter from Ginsberg Lewis of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to Rabbi Immánuel Lőw, from the NLI collections

After his death on July 19th, 1944, the estate of Rabbi Immánuel Lőw was preserved in the Jewish community of Szeged. On the day of the declaration of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, the community decided to donate the collection to the new State of Israel. The Hungarian government had other ideas and forbade the transfer of the collections to anywhere outside the borders of  Hungary. After a long negotiation, the State of Israel successfully purchased the collection instead of simply receiving it for preservation.

Rabbi Leopold Lipot Löw
Rabbi Leopold (Lipót) Lőw

The collection was permanently deposited in the National Library archive in 1958. It includes correspondence, manuscripts, various documents, lists, speeches and essays by Immanuel Lőw and several pieces of correspondence and speeches given by Immánuel’s father, Leopold (Lipót) Lőw.

Isaac Samuel Reggio to Rabbi Leopold Lipot Löw
Letters from Isaac Samuel Reggio to Rabbi Leopold Lőw in Hebrew and German, from the NLI collections.
Rabbi Abraham Geiger to Rabbi Leopold Lipot Löw
Three letters by Rabbi Abraham Geiger to Rabbi Leopold Lőw, father of Rabbi Immánuel Lőw. Frankfurt 1865-1867, from the NLI collections

Rabbi Leopold Lőw was born in Czerna Hora, Moravia, a region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was imprisoned following the plots of his enemies who denounced him at the end of the revolution in 1848 but was pardoned by the Austrian general Julius Jakob von Haynau. Leopold Lőw was the rabbi of Szeged from 1850 until his son Immánuel took over the position in 1878. He also corresponded with many important personalities of his time.

Isaiah Luzzatto to Rabbi Immanuel Löw
Letter from Isaiah Luzzatto (son of Samuel David Luzzatto – Shedal) in French to Rabbi Immánuel Lőw – Padova, 1880, from the NLI collections.

Rabbi Immánuel Lőw’s father, Rabbi Leopold Lőw was the first rabbi who gave speeches to his congregation in Hungarian and the first who introduced the Hungarian Language into the Jewish prayer. He was an important rabbi whose rulings influenced the policies of the Austrian and Hungarian governments. His son Immánuel inherited his affinity for public speaking. This talent accompanied Rabbi Immánuel Lőw during his tenure as head of the Jewish community of Szeged, from 1878 until his death.

Abraham Shalom Yehuda and David Yellin to Rabbi Immanuel Löw
Letter from the Hebrew Language Committee to Rabbi Immánuel Lőw on his election as an active member of the committee. Signed on the letter: Abraham Shalom Yehuda and David Yellin, from the NLI collections.

Immánuel Lőw was a representative of the Neolog communities in the Supreme Council of the Hungarian Parliament of 1927. He was a Zionist and served as head of the umbrella organization of the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod. He corresponded mainly in German, Hungarian and English with distinguished academic institutions, publishers, personalities and scholars of his time, among them Aharon Aharonson, Theodor Nöldeke, Nathan Shalem, Ephraim Hareuveni and others.

Theodor Nöldeke to Rabbi Immanuel Löw
Correspondence between Rabbi Immánuel Lőw and famous German Semitic languages researcher Theodor Nöldeke, from the NLI collections.

Rabbi Immánuel Lőw wrote more than 10 books on politics and religious topics. According to some sources, when the transports of Hungarian Jews to extermination camps began, he was allowed to leave Hungary as part of the Kasztner deal. He was removed from the deportation train, but he was gravely ill and he later died in the Jewish hospital in Budapester on July 19th, 1944.

Joint passport of Rabbi Immanuel Löw and his wife Bella Breuning
The joint passport of Rabbi Immánuel Lőw and his wife, Brenning Bella. Apparently, this passport was supposed to serve them when boarding the train to Switzerland as part of the Kasztner-deal in 1944, from the NLI colletions.

(For the records of Immánuel Lőw Archive click here).




Shaul Greenstein

Shaul Greenstein, archivist at the National Library. Married and father of three children, deals with the registration of archival material and catalog. Speaks, reads and writes six languages. A graduate of the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Hobbies: dogs, cycling and more.

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