Table of Contents

Online Journal

Fathers of Jewish Genealogy

by David Einseidler

Names like Azulai, Dembitzer, Kaufmann, Wettstein, Wachstein, Horowitz, Friedberg, and Gelber are not household words. Yet, these men and many others made great contributions to Jewish genealogy. Some were historians, some librarians, and some rabbis; some wrote in Hebrew, some in German, some in Polish.

Chaim Joseph David Azulai (1724-1806)


He was known by the acronym of his name, CHIDA. Born in Jerusalem, he showed great scholastic ability, became a rabbi at a young age, and taught at a Jerusalem Yeshiva. He traveled in several European countries and served as rabbi of the Jewish community of Egypt. He later settled in Livorno, Italy, and supported himself from the sale of his own and antique books.

Azulai was the author of 126 original works (82 of them unpublished). His works included commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, sermons, ethical treatises, responsa, law, and Kabbalah. Of interest to us is his Shem Ha-Gedolim (Fame of the Great Rabbis), originally a four-volume Hebrew bio-bibliography. It listed authors and works in alphabetical order dating from the period of the Geonim (9th century C.E.) up to his own time. It had biographical information on more than 1,300 authors and bibliographic data on more than 1,200 writings. In 1852, Isaac Benjacob rearranged this work into two parts, an alphabetic listing of all authors and a separate sorted listing of all the works. This arrangement enables the reader to find information offered by Azulai for a specific author or work under a single entry. This book is helpful to the genealogist when trying to find the author of a given book, or vice versa. Since rabbinic genealogy is based primarily on books, this work is of great value to the researcher.

More about Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai.

Rabbi Chaim Nathan Dembitzer (1820-1892)

Born in Krakow, he was a Talmudist and historian. He did historical research and critical work in the field of Talmudic and rabbinic literature, and wrote about its leading personalities. Of interest to us is Klilat Yoffi (The Perfection of Beauty) (Krakow, Vol. I, 1888, Vol. II, 1893), biographies of rabbis of Lvov (Lviv), Krakow, and others in Poland and Lithuania. His pupil, Wettstein, wrote Dembitzer's biography, Toledot Maharchan (Krakow, 1893). ("Maharchan" is an acronym of Moreinu Ha-Rav Chaim Nathan - Our Teacher Rabbi Chaim Nathan). The biographies of rabbis in Klilat Yoffi are considered primary sources, and therein lies their value.

David Kaufmann (1852-1899)

Born in Moravia, from age 15 he attended the rabbinical seminary in Breslau (now Wroclaw), and also studied at the university there. He taught Jewish history, religious philosophy, and homiletics at the rabbinical seminary in Budapest. He was a scholar of unusually wide and thorough knowledge, and produced some 30 books and over 500 essays and book reviews. His historical and genealogical monographs include Die Letzte Vertreibung der Juden aus Wien und Niederoesterrich (The Last Expulsion of the Jews from Vienna and Lower Austria) (Vienna, 1889), and works on the history of Jews in Austrian and Hungarian capitals.

In association with M. Braun, Kaufmann for a number of years published the Monatschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (Monthly Journal of the History and Science of Judaism). This was a learned Jewish monthly publication in Germany from 1851 to 1939. It became the world's leading journal. Its articles covered a whole range of scholarship, from religion to history to genealogy. It is still a source of genealogical data, especially about German-Jewish individuals and families.

Kaufmann's rich library is now owned by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. His manuscript collection included one of the most important texts of the Mishnah and several hundred fragments from the Cairo Genizah. There is more information about him in Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David Kaufmann (Memorial Book of David Kaufmann) by Braun and Rosenthal, eds., Breslau, 1900.

Feivel Hirsch Wettstein (1858-1924)

Born in Krakow, he was a pupil of Rabbi Chaim Nathan Dembitzer, and got from him his interest in antiquities and Jewish historical and genealogical records. He had a bookstore in Krakow, and did his research and studies during the lull between customers. He studied the history of the Jews in Poland, especially in Krakow, using material from responsa, from archives, and from minute books of communities and societies. His monographs served as valuable sources for historians of Polish Jews like Balaban (see Roots-Key, Fall, 1994), Schorr, and others. His studies are distinguished by careful scholarship and avoidance of unfounded conjectures.

For some forty years Wettstein was considered a top researcher of Judaica, and he contributed to a number of publications like Otzar ha-Sofrut (Treasure of Literature), ha-Eshkol, ha-Maggid, ha-Mitzpeh, ha-Kol, and others. His studies of interest to genealogists are all in Hebrew:

  • Kadmaniyot mi-Pinkasaot Yeshanim (Antiquities from Old Records) (Krakow, 1892)
  • Dvarim Atikim mi-Pinkasei ha Kahal be-Krakow (Old Matters in the Records of the Krakow Community) (Krakow, 1901)
  • Mi-Pinkasei ha-Kahal be-Krakow (From the Records of the Krakow Community) (Breslau, 1901)
  • Le-Toledot Gedolei Israel (Stories about Great Jews) (Warsaw, 1904)
  • Le-Toledot Israel ve-Chachmeyah be-Polin (Stories about the Jews and Jewish Scholars in Poland) (Krakow, 1903 and 1913)
  • Toledot Anshei Shem be-Krakow (Stories about Famous Krakow People) (Krakow, 1909)
  • Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Polin uve-Yichud be-Krakow mi-Shnat 1906 ad Shnat 1587 (History of the Jews in Poland and Particularly in Krakow from 1096 to 1587) (Krakow, 1918)

Dr. Bernhard Wachstein (1868-1935)

Dr. Wachstein was a historian, bibliographer, and genealogist. Born in Galicia, he was educated at the Vienna rabbinical seminary and at the University of Vienna. He became the librarian of the Vienna Jewish Community, and made the library the richest in Europe. His two-volume masterwork, Die Inschriften des Alten Judenfriedhofs in Wien (The Inscriptions of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Vienna) (Vienna, 1912-1917), is a scholarly study of the gravestones of the Viennese Jewish community dating from 1540 to 1783. In 1922, he published Die Grabschriften des Alten Judenfriedhofs in Eisenstadt (The Gravestone Inscriptions of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Eisenstadt). He wrote a number of monographs on Moravian communities. Among his genealogies of Jewish personalities was that of Karl Marx, which revealed his rabbinic descent and caused much excitement.

The authentic gravestone inscriptions and the frequent genealogical notes make his works very useful in confirming identities or death dates -- particularly in cases of conflicting data.

Tzvi Hirsch Horowitz (1872-1945)

Horowitz was a rabbi, scholar, and outstanding genealogist. He was a lineal descendant of the founder of the dynasty, Isaiah Ish Horowitz ("The Man from Horovice") (d. 1517), an exile from Spain, descendant of great luminaries Zerachiah Halevi Gerondi (12th century) and Shem Tov Halevi of Provence (11th century). He was born in Krakow, where his father was a rabbi.

During World War I, he was a rabbi of the refugees from Galicia in Brno, Czechia. After the war he went to Holland, where he obtained an archive of the Horowitz family. In 1920 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Dresden, Germany. Due to Nazi persecution, he moved in 1939, with his great library, to Antwerp. After the Nazi invasion of Belgium he moved to Nice, France, where he remained until his death. In the Holocaust, he lost two sons and a daughter, with her whole family. Only two sons and a daughter survived. They now live in the U.S.

Horowitz contributed many articles and entries to the (German) Encyclopaedia Judaica, to Monatschrift fuer die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (Monthly Journal of the History and Science of Judaism), to Eshkol, Sinai, and other publications.

His most valuable work was originally titled Le-Korot ha-Kehillot be-Polanyah (History of the Communities in Poland), later expanded and renamed Le-Toledot ha-Kehillot be-Polin (Jerusalem, 1978). It contains studies of one hundred eleven Polish, Galician, and Ukrainian towns, lists of their rabbis, and some history and genealogy. The town chapters vary in length from half a page to 82 pages (Apt / Opatow). (A list of Galician towns was published in Gesher Galicia, Spring, 1994.)

Another publication, Kitvei ha-Geonim (Letters of Rabbis) (Piotrkow, 1928), contains many letters of Jewish scholars and notes -- in Rashi script -- giving details of their genealogies. These two works are a treasury of information about rabbis of Eastern Europe in the last centuries, their biographies, and their families.

Toledot Mishpachat Horowitz -- Dorot ha-Rishonim (History of the Horowitz Family -- the Early Generations) was published together with Sefer Tov Ayn (Krakow, 1935) by his brother, Rabbi Eleazar Moses Horowitz. It is the clearest authoritative source for the history and genealogy of the Ish Horowitz rabbinic dynasty. The author starts with the original Isaiah Halevi of Horovice and Prague, and cites the family tradition of descent from Rabbi Isaac Halevi of Barcelona, Spain, going back to Rabbi Shem Tov Halevi. The book covers the period of the 16th, 17th, and much of the 18th centuries.

Bernard (Chaim Doberish) Friedberg (1876-1961)

Friedberg was a scholar and bibliographer. Born in Krakow, he moved in 1900 to Frankfort, then to Antwerp. When the Nazis occupied Belgium, he lost his valuable library and papers. In 1946 he moved to Tel Aviv.

Beginning in 1896, he published a number of biographies and family histories in Hebrew. Among them were:

  • Marganit Shapira (The Shapiro Daisy)
  • Toledot Mishpacha Schor (History of the Schor Family)
  • Toledot Mishpacha Horowitz (History of the Horowitz Family)
  • B'nai Landau le-Mishpachotam (The Landau Families)

He also published a study of the old Jewish cemetery of Krakow, Luchot Zikaron (Memorial Stones). He published several histories of Hebrew printing in Krakow, Lublin, and other cities in Poland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and central and western Europe. His greatest achievement was his bibliographic lexicon, Bet Eked Sefarim (The Library), listing Hebrew books published before 1950.

Nathan Michael Gelber (1891-1966)

Nathan Gelber was born in Lvov to father Nachman, an ardent Zionist and active in the Haskalah (Enlightenment). On his mother's side, he was a descendant of Rabbi Chaim Kohen Rapaport, A.B.D. Lvov in the 18th century, and of the rabbinic family Levin. He studied philosophy and history at the universities of Vienna and Berlin, and got a degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He was active in the Zionist organization, took part in Zionist congresses, and edited In Warsaw, a Jewish daily. He wrote a number of books and articles on subjects of Judaica in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and German periodicals.

He participated in compiling the German Juedisches Lexicon, the Encyclopaedia Judaica (the German one), a Zionist lexicon in Yiddish and Polish, and the Hebrew Encyclopedia Shel Galuyot (Encyclopedia of the Diaspora). A number of yizkor books include his articles on the history of the Jews in communities of Galicia, Poland, Austria, and Bukovina. A jubilee book Sefer Yovel Le-Nathan Michael Gelber, by Israel Klausner, Raphael Mahler, and Dov Sadan, eds., dedicated to him in 1963, lists nearly 500 of his articles, besides his entries in several encyclopedias. Also of interest to us is a volume on Brody in the series Arim Ve-Immahot Be-Yisrael (Jewish "Mother-Cities"). In addition, there is an article in Jahrbuch der Juedish-Literarischen Gesellschaft (The Annual Review of the Jewish Literary Society) (Frankfurt am Main, No. XIII-1920), entitled Aus dem Pinax der alten Judenfriedhofes in Brody (1699-1831) (From the Register of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Brody). In it he listed 181 (plus 5 earlier) entries, and included an index of names. The series Encyclopedia Shel Galuyot, Vol. 4, includes his Toledot Yehudei Lvov (History of the Jewish of Lvov).

David Einsiedler has devoted his retirement years to rabbinic genealogical research and is a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles. He is a native of pre-war Poland and lives in Reseda, California. This article was originally published as a series in several editions of Roots-Key: Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (JGSLA), 1994-1995, and is reprinted with kind permission.

Editor's note: Several resources mentioned are included in the Rav-SIG Bibliography. More about important rabbinical genealogists: