By G. Kresl, Translated by Betsy Halpern-Amaru
Professor Mueller's father
Gitel Reisa, Agnon's grandmother
For years after the death of Mueller, legends and stories about the illui from Buczacz (born June 7, 1856) circulated in my surroundings, which was also the locale of Mueller in the days of his youth. Lacking central figures after World War I, Jewish Kolomyya loved to cling to well known, world famous personalities of the Jewish past of which Kolomyya, in the course of its history, had been an honorable part of. Consequently, during my childhood I heard endless stories about the Rav of Kolomyya, Rabbi Hillel Lash (Lichtenstein), a Hungarian whose influence on the Jewish world extended from Kolomyya to Jerusalem and Petah Tikvah. (His son-in-law, Rabbi Akiba Yosef Schlessinger was one of the first settlers of Petah Tikvah). Similarly, it included Mueller, the illui from Buczacz who had been acquired as a son-in-law by a wealthy man in Kolomyya and from there, made his way to Tcherniketz and subsequently to Vienna where he became one of the greatest scholars of oriental studies.
Mueller left behind a survivor in Kolomyya, indeed one who remained there up to the last years of the Jewish community. She was his first wife whom he had been forced to divorce for reasons of his heresy and, who, in the course of time became a grocer in the city. Since Solomon Bikel provides an excellent description of this tragic drama in his biography of Mueller, which touches on Kolomyya, (Title in Yiddish, chapter 2), there is no need to say more about it. Nonetheless, I cannot forget what the Zionist teacher and rabbi in the same area, Zelig Gross, z''l, once told me: Consider! Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein and Mueller both happened to be together in Kolomyya there are no greater extremes than these two, one, among the religious fanatics of the nineteenth century, and the other, a young illui who became a heretic. Each of them had a part in the establishment of the new yishuv in Eretz Yisrael: one in Petah Tikvah, the other, through his students and the students of his students who went to Eretz Yisrael and participated in the formation of the spiritual nature of the Yishuv.
I was young and did not grasp the full meaning of the words. Only after many
years did the depth of his words become clear to me. By then I could no longer
engage in conversation with this distinguished man, for the Shoah had put an
end also to his life.
As rich as Mueller's biography is in drama, in details it is poor. It is barely possible to sketch the events of the early years of his life clearly. A brilliant well read, young man, whom the wealthy considered an ideal match for their daughters. He was purchased by one of them, understandably, on the condition that he would continue with his traditional Torah studies. However, it quickly became clear that the very essence of the purchase entailed a bad bargain. As one might assume, an illui such as he could not restrict himself for long within the walls of the traditional House of Study (Beit Midrash). This was the era of the flowering of the Enlightenment, when the greatest of Hebrew authors and poets were at the height of their fame: Smolenskin, Y. L. Gordon, and Lilienblum. It goes without saying that the closest to Kolomayya was Smolenskin and therefore the Shachar in Vienna. There were no few travelers going from one place to the other, who, in the course of traveling, would bring with them copies of the Shachar which, like no comparable journal, enflamed the hearts and souls of such young men.
Mueller was not able to hide his attachment to Haskalah for an extensive time and the end was not long in coming. He divorced his wife and rich in-laws, and turned, understandably, to the big world whose center was in the heart of Galicia, that is, the capital city, Vienna. Although the move was only from Kolomyya to Vienna, it involved a huge leap for a young man as deprived as Mueller. He made his to the nearest station en route to Vienna, i.e., Chernovtsy. This capital of Bukovina had drawn many of the Galician maskilim in the previous century and had become an intellectual center in a number of academic areas. Living there in those years was the Hebrew poet and maskil from Zolochev, Israel Halevi Teller, as well as Mueller's uncle who had a son with longings similar to those of Mueller. The three the two cousins and the Hebrew maskil did not yet know the destiny that lay ahead of them. At least two of them would wander to Eretz Yisrael and fill important positions there: Teller as a teacher and educator in Rehovot who would raise a young generation of teachers and community workers in Eretz Yisrael; and Dr. Schwartz, coming to Israel by way of Kushta, would become not only one of its most important physicians, but also one of the Jewish community workers in the old Hebrew yishuv (the recent new one had not yet come into being), to whom a memorial stands in the royal court in Kushta. All initiatives passed through him and even the purchase of the land for Petah Tikvah was not accomplished without him. A quick look at the Jerusalem newspapers of the time, at the essays and histories of the Hibbat Ziyon movement by A. Droynov makes the great extent of Schwartz's role in the growth of the yishuv quite evident.
In the meanwhile Mueller and Schwartz studied everything that was required for entry into the tent of real learning the university. Actually, Mueller did not need to do much in order to reach this hoped for goal. About this youngster from Buczacz, Teller states he did not come empty-handed to Chernovtsy: an outstanding scholar of Mishnah (Shas), expert in Tanakh, grammar, and Hebrew language; and when hiding in the attic of his father's house, he had also had learned German, Polish, French, English, Russian and Greek… (On the Early Days, vol. 2, p. 166). Like others who had moved from the Beit Midrash to secular studies, he saw Braslav, the site the rabbinical school of Frankel-Graetz, as a lighthouse that mated these two worlds that still wrestle each other with open enmity in the cities and towns of Eretz Yisrael. However, he remained in Braslav only for a short time. It became clear that the real heights of Braslav were not the imagined ones that floated before the eyes of the young men of Israel in the towns of Russia and Galicia. He was not attracted by rabbinics the way he was drawn by Torah in the modern sense of scientific study. He went on to the universities of Vienna, Strasbourg, and Leipsa, where he immersed himself in study of the languages of the orient and the oriental world.
These were the days of the flowering of oriental studies in Europe and the West. The masters of this subject were disseminating their knowledge in the learning centers that Mueller now attended. Foremost among them were Nildaka and Felisher ; and the former even included the Bible and related languages within the perimeters of his work. Mueller was an attentive student to his teachers and he even pursued areas of study that up until that time had remained closed to others, specifically, the area of the languages of south Arabia. At this point in time, it was not an acknowledged field of study, but rather, concealed and hidden in the Arab desert and its wildernesses, it was one no western scholar had yet explored. The illui from Buczacz was now joining a small select group of researchers who were primarily seeking to bring languages hidden and buried on monuments and inscriptions in the wide area of south Arabia out of oblivion. Adventuresome and courageous travelers, among them the well-known Eduard Glazer, risked their lives to recover and bring back to Europe great amounts of epigraphy that was until then unseen by human eyes. Such travelers and researchers now needed experts in oriental languages who were gifted with a degree of mental acuity that was not found in the world that had brought such inscriptions to light. Mueller now became one of the greatest, important authorities on deciphering the enigmas of south Arabian inscriptions. In a short period of time, he acquired a world reputation as a specialist in this area with a wealth of essays, research studies, and articles. Such material involved only the very specialized. Moreover, within that narrow circle, he was so outstanding that the University of Vienna was no longer able to hide itself from his great scholarly achievements. The University of Vienna promoted him and granted him a prestigious academic title that even the liberal Vienna of Franz Joseph did not lavish upon Jews the title of Full Professor. Moreover, this was achieved without any of the corruption or flattery of the source of the title such as was common even among the great and good scholars of those days.
Indeed, such a promotion would not even be taken for granted today; in those
days, seventy to eighty years ago, it was so rare as to be almost non-existent.
The recognized fact that he came to such a high position without denying his
Jewishness was acknowledged in his own day. Thus, it was written about him in
those days: The well known scholar, Dr. David Mueller of Vienna, who
taught until now as an untenured instructor in the University, within the
division of ancient thought and Semitic languages, has been promoted to the
level of Full Professor. It is known that this scholar is one of a very select
few. Yet with all his knowledge and the high estimation with which he is held
in the scholarly world, he has not turned away from his people and his Torah
and he is one of the distinguished authors.. (HaZiphirah, 1885, p. 34).
Without a doubt, the most preeminent of the research articles that Mueller wrote for the Shachar is a comprehensive, sharp critique of Solomon Buber's edition of Pesikta (vol. 2, 1871, p. 385-95 reprinted in his German book, German Title, Vienna 1907, pp. 132-141). It was uncommonly audacious for one to take position against a scholar as recognized as Rabbi Solomon Buber, to point out errors in his edition, and particularly, to critique his grasp of the intertextual references within the midrashim of this work. Moreover, the major thrust of the essay was an attack against Buber's concealment of the source for much of his work, specifically, the work of Y. L. Zunz in his book of interpretations. With heartfelt words, Mueller protected the name and honor of the great work of Zunz against those who took from it generously without any acknowledgment. Delving into the deep water of talmudic and midrashic literature in this essay, Mueller appears to have revived his Beit Midrash days in Kolmyya and Buczacz. Indeed, in a reference to the critique, one as well known as R. Isaac Hirsh Weiss commented that it was correct and to the point (Dor, Dor v'Dorshov Part 3, vol. 4 p. 246, n. 9).
Although Mueller's Hebrew writings extend over decades, they are fewer than those he wrote in the vernacular. (Nonetheless, the number is greater than that attributed to him by G. Rosenmann in his article on Mueller in (Yiddish Title), vol 17, translated in Hebrew in Sefer Hazicharon of the Vienna Rabbinical Seminary, Jerusalem 5706, p. 26). When Smolenskin died and his family was destitute, it was Mueller who recruited a group of those well known in the Jewish world to help the family of the writer. Certainly Mueller sustained his hidden love for Hebrew literature, for its writers, and not the least, for the Hebrew language. That he himself did not acquire an eminent place in the scholarship on Hebrew language was due to the subject of his research and the nature of Jewish studies during that era. Since oriental studies was viewed as a branch of general science,, within the scope of subjects that comprised Jewish studies Mueller's reputation was almost unacknowledged. The situation did not change when Mueller began devoting himself to research on the Bible. Critical study of the Bible was unusual in Jewish scholarship whereas it was a most respected branch of general scientific, i.e., Christian, scholarship.
Certainly, within the oriental world there was ample room for the Jewish world. Generations of Jews lived in Arab speaking lands, including south Arabia. Mueller particularly tracked the Jewish perspective hence his concern with the several versions of Eldad the Danite and his research on the various customs intertwined within the stories of Eldad. This was but a small particular in a huge field; it is not surprising that he was swallowed up there and his work did not become known except to a few experts here and there. By now he had in a sense become custodian of research on south Arabia, be it in dealing with the finances of scientific explorations or in processing the results of these scientific explorations. Glazer's travels were made possible because of Mueller's connections with powerful circles (this time in France!); and in this capacity Mueller is to be credited for the first monumental book about the Negev, southern Israel, and Transjordan written by the well-known Czech scientist, Eloise Mussel (The Rock of Arabia, 4 vols.) Until recently this book was known only to a very few expert scholars. Now, since we have entered the area around Elat, it has become an enlightening work that solves a number of problems that were previously troublesome. Certainly, work in this area was generally associated Mueller's research on south Arabia. But, without a doubt, what was functioning here, knowingly or unknowingly, was the pull of the same love of Hebrew the love for the land of Israel.
Mueller's Hebrew writings are few. But Hebrew readers seek them out, view him as one of their own, and even take pride in his accomplishments and conquests in the field of oriental studies. From time to time brief articles about him, describing his steady rise in scholarly circles with warm praise, appear in Hebrew newspapers. These Hebrew readers are far from Mueller's field of interest; but he exists and certain scholars bother to publicly inform the Hebrew readers about him. One such scholar, for example, is Mueller's friend, the renown scholar, David Kaufman of Hashachar (9). Similarly, later on he wrote in a more popular form an article about Mueller's book on the prophets in Yiddish Title.
Not long after this, Mueller, distant from his brethren and his readers who
heard from and about him only second or third hand, would enter the
service that would involve an honored position within the life of
our community during the last two generations, specifically, the
service of teacher in the rabbinical seminary in Vienna.
Mueller was called to serve in this seminary as an instructor for Hebrew language, grammar, Tanakh, and in addition, the other subjects involved in the oriental studies that he had taught in the University of Vienna. Here, and only here, did he from the outset find students from his own native land and background. Therefore it is no wonder that from the start of his teaching appointment, the other seminaries began to lose their Galician students. The atmosphere in this seminary was not an easy one, for one third of the teachers were from a totally different environment and their academic approach was strange and foreign to students of the Galician schools. Nonetheless, the students quickly became acclimated. Particularly influential was the personal magic of the eminent teachers of Hungary and Slovakia the Rector, A. Schwartz, Abraham Bichler, and Rabbi Meir Ish-Shalom.
Certainly the other seminaries produced rabbis personally and professionally of excellent quality. However, an examination of the roster of students permits one to say, without exaggeration, that no other seminary turned so many minds and hearts toward the Zionist movement, the Land of Israel, and Hebrew education. Subsequently, Bichler left for London and Rabbi M. Ish-Shalom died. Avigdor Aptowitzer and S. Kreuss replaced them. With the arrival of these new powerful teachers, a kind of balance was achieved between the teachers two from Galicia and two from Hungary. Just recently in his recollections of Mueller (Batzron, vol. 19, pp. 7-9) Rabbi S. Kreus increased the tension between the teachers from Galicia on the one hand and those from Hungary on the other. The source of this tension is readily clear. Aptowitzer, a faithful student and disciple of Mueller who assisted with the first of the scholarly publications about Mueller (see Maznayim, vol. 16, p. 122) provides a clear example of how easily one learned, indeed, with enjoyment as opposed to the exhausting method of Kreuss which bursts through every line of his scholarly publications. As is known, Aptowitzer introduced the study of Hebrew as a language to the seminary, an innovation that was unheard of in any other rabbinical seminary of that time. The extent to which Mueller's approach to Hebrew and an Hebraic atmosphere extending from Tanakh to modern Hebrew literature was influential is readily apparent. This had in fact been the love of his youth. However, estrangement from and natural warfare against such a youthful love was common in those days, indeed not only in those.
The Galician students were faithful to their teacher from Buczacz; and as we will soon see, the influence between these students and their teacher was reciprocal, be it in Torah, in scholarship, or in life.
Certainly, it is not necessary to state that Mueller's approach to Bible, the subject in which he immersed himself as teacher at the seminary, was not the approach of Christian Bible scholars and researchers. It was a trick of fate that this scholar, in whom Hebrew, particularly biblical Hebrew, was a living language, was viewed by Christian scholars as a flower breaking into a territory that did not belong to him. However, even before the seminar had begun, Mueller was known as one of the most important researchers on Gaznius's medieval biblical dictionary. This dictionary had gone from the possession of the learned Christian Radiger (Gaznius's son-in-law) to a modern adaptation by Parnatas Buhal. Mueller's participation on the project, however, had essentially been in the area of oriental languages. Specifically in that realm non-Jews were ready to grant him wide breadth in which to distinguish himself. When it came to the Bible itself, he was so ill received that he subsequently had to write a special essay in defense of himself.
This issue requires us to advance to the subject of Mueller's biblical research. In that area he is credited with a great discovery in the area of biblical rhythm. Certainly Mueller's readings of Bible were more natural than those of non-Jewish scholars for whom language difficulties obscured broader general content. It became clear to Mueller that he had found a principle in the construction of prophetic verses, that from the perspective of beauty and ring was not like the rhythm of general literature which is based on long and short syllables. It became clear to him that the principle of this rhythm operated not only in the words of the prophets, but also in ancient Greek literature, in hieroglyphics, and even in Ben Sira. He worked and reworked this principle until he had established a wealth of evidence from all areas of ancient world literature and published it in two volumes entitled Yiddish Title (Vienna, 1895; Mueller's student, Michael Berkovitch who was Herzl's assistant and his first Hebrew translator, produced an excellent abstract of the work in a series of articles called, Siphre Haneviim B'zurotam Hareshona (The Initial Form of the Prophetic Books) that was published in Zephira 1896, Folio 70, 71, 75, 88, 100).
Innovation or not, there can be no doubt that only a Hebrew speaker, favored
with an ear for the particular hidden and concealed emotions of our language,
would have able to develop this principle in the manner in which Mueller had
|Thus said the Lord||Thus said the Lord|
|For three transgressions of Damascus||For three transgressions of Gaza|
|For four, I will not revoke it.||For four, I will not revoke it.|
|Because with threshing boards of iron||Because they exiled an entire population|
|they threshed Gilead.||Which they delivered to Edom.|
|I will send down fire upon the palace of Hazael,||I will send down fire upon the wall of Gaza,|
|And it shall devour the fortresses||And it shall devour its fortresses|
|I will break the gate bars of Damascus||I will wipe out the inhabitants of Ashdod|
|And wipe out the inhabitants from the Vale of Aven.||And the sceptered ruler of Ashkelon|
|And the sceptered ruler of Beth-eden||And I will turn My hand against Ekron|
|And the people of Aram shall exiled to Kir||And the Philistines shall perish to the last man|
|Said the Lord.||Said the Lord.|
|Thus said the Lord||Thus said the Lord|
|For three transgressions of Tyre||For three transgressions of Edom|
|For four, I will not revoke it;||For four, I will not revoke it;|
|Because they handed over an||Because he pursued his brother|
|entire population to Edom||with the sword and repressed all pity|
|Ignoring the covenant of brotherhood.||Because his anger raged unceasing|
|And his fury stormed unchecked.|
|I will send down fire upon the wall of Tyre||I will send down fire upon Teman,|
|And it shall devour its fortresses.||And it shall devour its fortresses.|
Multiple examples are brought by Mueller in his book, German Title (Vienna, 1898), and two supplements, German Title (Vienna, 1907). All of them demonstrate the inner rhythm that rings for any ear in the chapters of the Prophets. Consequently, there is no need to disrupt verses in the manner that gentile scholars of biblical meter, especially the most famous of them, Severus, had done. Mueller was sharply critical of the discoveries of the gentile scholars who found long and short syllables not only in poetry, but also in prose and even more that they invented and related verses and emendations of verses to what they had discovered in a way that would have repulsed a beginning student of Hebrew. Mueller fostered students who continued in the same direction. Especially noteworthy were Michael Berkovitz and P. Perles who demonstrated that the principle was widespread in areas that even Mueller had not paid attention to.
Mueller's books were not able to awaken the interest either in a positive or negative sense of Christian biblical scholars. It goes without saying that the Jewish scholars were all on his side and David Kaufman even published great praise of Mueller's discovery in Yiddish Title (subsequently included in his collected writings, vol. 1 Frankfurt, 1908, pp. 379-393). Such was not the case with gentile scholars who viewed biblical research as their personal domain. There were those who reacted with sharp words, scorn, an abundance of suspicions of the lowest sort (Rudolf Samand particularly excelled at this). Mueller suffered greatly from the negative treatment of the gentile scholars, particularly those whom he respected. In his third and last book devoted to this subject (the title of which is mentioned above), he responds to the most positive and negative of their reactions, and also delineates the history of his discovery and its influence on the literary scholarship of ancient literature.
There is much humble bitterness in this composition; needless to say, he did
not restrain from responding to his opponents as they deserved. He showed the
gentile scholars who had scorned him and his teachings to what extent they were
not equipped to grasp the spirit of the Bible and ancient Hebrew poetry, and
the degree to which these were coordinated with the complementary effort of
collecting what had been said by the early (Rishonim) and later (Aharonim) commentaries and thereby the full extent of biblical interpretation which is
indeed enormous. He returned again to analysis of the substantive charges of
his critics and, with additional examples, proved, against claims and
assertions of all sorts, the efficacy of his methodology and the principle he
had discovered. Mueller was absorbed in this task for ten years. After
that the storm abated and the power of the discovery was lost and forgotten:
except for a very few, all the general books on Bible that include multiple
details that are insignificant in the history of biblical research barely
mention Mueller and his great contribution in uncovering the inner principles
that function in ancient Hebrew prophecy.
A man such as Mueller was not able to stagnate and be satisfied with his unmatched achievements in oriental studies. To the contrary, as he grew older he continued to acquire knowledge and even entered into the newest area in oriental studies hieroglyphics. In those days it was still a young science that had not yet established firm, solid foundations. Mueller, who had used ancient Babylonian literature as a basis for the method he used with biblical meter, found yet another way to relate the Bible to this ancient literature that had been newly revealed after thousands of years. He published a scholarly edition of Hammurabi's Code and even added a Hebrew translation relating it to the Bible (Vienna, 1903; a large portion of it is included in B. Z. Dinberg's Yisrael B'Artzo [Israel in Its Land], Vol. 1, Book 1 Tel Aviv, 1934, pp. 78-87).
The era in which Mueller's book on Hammurabi's Code appeared was the era of the polemic over Bavel and Bibel that had been aroused by the anti-semite, Franz Delitash. Many Jewish scholars then opposed Delitash and contradicted his claim that the biblical narratives lacked originality and were dependent on Assyrian and Babylonian literature. The only one of the Jewish scholars who was fully qualified to respond to Delitash's slander was Mueller. However, Mueller was not a polemical person. Still, there was no more proven weapon against this hostile scholar than Mueller's book with its multiple facts. Specifically, in publishing the full text that made Hammurabi's Code understandable, it demonstrated the great cultural differences between the biblical world and Mesopotamian literature. Everyone could now be convinced of the ethical and cultural height of biblical literature and of the great distance between it and the world that Delitash praised and glorified to the German Kaiser and the German community that suddenly had become so enthusiastic about the loftiness of Mesopotamia.
This was a great service on the part of Mueller even though it was never basically intended for such. In the haven of his university and seminary teaching he never ceased work on texts, innovations, and activities to promote research and scientific trips to oriental lands. He devoted his last years to the scientific legacy of Edward Glaser as well as expending much energy on Mussel's travels and book, The Rock of Arabia.Mussel's expression of gratitude for Mueller's very real assistance which appears at the beginning of all four volumes of his wonderful book suggests that Mueller was especially interested in the results of research and travels among the Bedouins of the Negev and Transjordan, their languages and stories, and, not least, in the landscape of Israel. Together with this he assisted Reuben Brainin who sought to develop a forum in Vienna that would unite east and west in the context of a common Hebrew background. In East and West Mueller published a little linguistic article that demonstrated the extent to which he was situated in the Hebrew world and how close its affairs were to him. Who would have guessed that the symbol of our market, the flying camel, was also due to Mueller's Hebrew research which fully explained and demonstrated the relationship between this symbol and similar ones in the oriental world.
With a good reputation, Mueller died at the age of sixty-six in Vienna on the twenty-first of December 1912. He left behind multiple books and research articles that have made him long remembered. He also left behind hundreds of students who have spread out over the Jewish world and continued his tradition, the tradition of scientific learning, and lastly, his great affection and love for the Land of Israel and our Hebrew language.
Yehuda Farb Hacohen, Agnon's grandfather
Professor David Tsvi (Heinrich) Mueller
To my dear honorable uncle, the eminent and great scholar ksht [honor the glory of his name] mohrr [our teacher and master, rabbi] Yehuda Farb ny [may his light shine], greetings!
First of all, I thank you profusely for your honor's letter, which gave me much happiness. May God lengthen your years and protect you from trouble and may your old-age be blessed and good.
Today I received a letter from my brother ny from Stryy, and enclosed in it was a letter from my dear mother t [may she live], in which she writes that a bad rumor has reached the town of Buczacz and that slanderers have slandered me and have spoken ill of me, and that she would rather die than endure this. And I, in my innocence, do not know the meaning of this and I do not know what sin I have committed, I have not stolen horses nor written false bills nor spoken evil of D' and his teachings. Quite the opposite, I am the strong pillar on which the house of Yehuda leans and all members of the Vienna community respect me, and through my doing the name of D' is sanctified. I have also been chosen to serve as a teacher at the study house for rabbis which has been founded and which I helped to found and to glorify Torah. Who is this man who has the impudence to say evil things of me which hurt my dear mother's heart and your heart, my dear uncle? They are slanderous liars who wish only to violate my honor out of malice.
I request that his honor my uncle write to tell me the root of the incident, tell me who laid the venomous seed and I shall prove his falsehood to his face. And I shall present trustworthy witnesses such as the honorable Rabbi avdak [presiding judge of religious court] of Vienna, Dr. Gidemanen or the rabbi of the Karlsroh community  who will be a teacher, like myself, in the study house for rabbies, and others like them.
And I do love and respect your greatness.
David Zvi Mueller