||This is the second of two volumes of a work by Naphtali Herz Wessely (1725-1805) which has been translated into German from its Hebrew original by Emanuel Wessely. The Hebrew original is titled Shire Tiferet and aims to tell the praises of G-d and the wonders He performed on behalf of the Israelites from the beginning of the Exodus to the revelation at Sinai. Emanuel Wessely, the son of the author, gave the name Moseide to the translation.
Wessely was a Haskalah poet, linguist, and exegete. Born in Hamburg, Wessely spent his childhood in Copenhagen where his father was a purveyor to the king of Denmark. He received his religious education at the yeshivah of Jonathan Eybeschuetz, who influenced him greatly, and read literature and scientific works in a number of European languages, Associated with the Feitel Bank, Wessely's business affairs took him to Amsterdam and Berlin. In Berlin he met Moses Mendelssohn and contributed a commentary on Leviticus (Berlin, 1782) to the Biur.
Wessely began his literary career with the translation of the apocryphal work Wisdom of Solomon (from Luther's German translation), to which he appended a brief commentary, later elaborated into a full-length exegesis, Ru'ah Hen (Berlin, 1780; Warsaw, 1885). He pioneered in the revival of biblical Hebrew and his translation, written in the vivid and lofty style of the Scriptures, prompted later Haskalah writers to translate apocryphal works into biblical Hebrew. The linguistic problems he encountered led to a number of philological works such as Gan Na'ul (or Levanon; 2 vols., Amsterdam, 1765–66; Lemberg, 1806), a work on Hebrew synonyms and roots, and Yein Levanon, a commentary on the mishnaic tractate Avot (Berlin, 1775; Warsaw, 1884), which also concentrates on linguistic aspects. While Wessely's focus is often linguistic, his exegesis shows also wide knowledge and learning, and his commentaries were well received by orthodox scholarship. He is, however, mainly known as at poet-Shirei Tiferet (1789–1802) is the major literary work of the German Haskalah- and as a pioneer in education and an advocater of the Enlightenment through his Divrei Shalom ve-Emet (1782), a call in support of the Edict of Tolerance (Toleranzpatent, 1782) of Joseph II of Austria.
Among his other poetic works is Mehallel Re'a an introduction to the translation of Exodus. In his commentary to Exodus, Wessely criticizes the inadequate, faulty educational methods in the contemporary Jewish schools. He also wrote a number of occasional poems.
Wessely was a trailblazer in style. The syllabic meter and the strophic structure he introduced became standard models for Hebrew poets for over 60 years. He also revived the biblical Hebrew style in literature and lent to the language flexibility and vividness.
Imrei Shefer, a commentary on Genesis, is the fruit of lectures given by Wessely to young audiences in Berlin. Portions of the work were published by Mekize Nirdamim (Lyck, 1868–71). Mendelssohn also asked him to write a commentary to Leviticus (Berlin, 1782) for the Biur. Writing in a light and flowing style, Wessely explains every Hebrew word and refers to earlier commentators. He attempted to reconcile the plain meaning of the Scriptures with the commentaries in the Talmud and the Midrashim by means of a detailed analysis of every word, a method which often led to lengthy and sophistic distortions of the simple meaning of the text. Mendelssohn edited the work; he shortened it, interpreted difficult passages that Wessely had failed to explain, and added comments to passages in which the opinions of the two scholars differed. The Gaon of Vilna, Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, praised the work, but the maskilim considered it too scholarly.
Wessely's epistle Divrei Shalom ye-Emet (Berlin, 1782), is a call to the Jewish community of Austria to comply willingly with the order of the Edict of Tolerance of the Austrian emperor Joseph II to open schools for Jewish children in which German would be taught. The work is the first methodical composition in Hebrew on Jewish education written in the spirit of the Haskalah. Wessely distinguishes between two types of studies: what he called Torat ha-Adam ("human knowledge"), and instruction in the Law of God. The acquisition of human knowledge demands instruction in subjects which are necessary to man's relationship with man, namely, a training in general subjects and ethics, i.e., secular studies common to the human race. The divine teachings are the heritage of the people of Israel alone and are identical with the Torah of Moses. Jewish education should be founded on both studies with a schooling in human knowledge preceding divine subjects since these should serve as a basis for the study of Torah. Without general education it is impossible to understand divine teachings. Wessely came to the conclusion that he who studies the Torah without acquiring common human knowledge, will, when he grows up, become a burden upon society.
His opinions were strongly opposed by the Orthodox, especially by Ezekiel b. Judah Landau of Prague, David Tevele b. Nathan of Lissa, and the Gaon Elijah of Vilna. A bitter controversy ensued. Wessely responded to the rabbis in his epistles Rav Tov le-Veit Yisrael (Berlin, 1782); Rehovot (Berlin, 1785); and Mishpat (Berlin, 1784), all of which were later collected under the title Divrei Shalom ve-Emet; sections were translated into French, German, Dutch, and Italian.
Wessely also wrote: a number of other works, the most important of which is Sefer ha-Middot or Musar Haskel (Berlin, 1784), a collection of essays on the essence of the soul and its faculties. The work reflects contemporary philosophical and ethical German thought. Sefer ha-Middot became popular among learned Jews in Eastern Europe. Some of Wessely's works are still in manuscript.