Perles, Perets ben Barukh Asher, 1835-1894

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1835
Death 1894

Biographical notes:

Joseph Perles was born in Baja, Hungary, in 1835. He was born into a long line of rabbis and talmudic scholars. His ancestors include the famous talmudist and mathematician Judah Loew ben Bezaleel (d. 1609 in Prague) and Asher ben Jehiel, or Asheri, (1250-1327), an outstanding legal codifier and talmudist. Joseph’s own father, Baruch Asher Perles, was won over in his studies by the simple interpretation of the Bible, the “peshat.” As rabbi of Baja, he appreciated both talmudic teaching and more secular culture. He read German books and periodicals, and sent Joseph to the local grammar school for part of his education. When the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau (now Wrocaw, Poland) opened, he had Joseph enrolled as its first student. The Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau was founded by Rabbi Zecherias Frankel (1801-1875) after his break away from the Reform Judaism movement. The seminary was founded in 1854 with the premise that Jewish law was not static, but needed to be flexible and adaptable to cultural changes as, Rabbi Frankel argued, it was historically. Both Baruch and his son Joseph were supporters of Frankel’s movement, which became what we now know as Conservative Judaism. In addition to studying at the seminary, Joseph Perles also took courses at the University of Breslau. He graduated from the university in Oriental Philology and Philosophy, receiving a Ph.D. in 1859. His dissertation, “ Meletemata Peschitthoniana,” was a treatise on the Syriac version of the Bible. Studying and writing about ancient versions of the Bible became one of his specialties. His work in medieval literature was also extensive.

Joseph Perles’s main scholarly contribution was to Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography, philology. Works include Zur rabbinischen Sprach-und Sagenkunde (1873), where Joseph Perles looks at Hebrew origins and Hebrew philology in the “ Arabian Nights ” tales, Die Juedische Hochzeit in Nachbiblischer Zeit, (1860), where he studies Jewish marriage customs in biblical times, and Die Leichenfeierlichkeiten im nachbiblischen Judentum, (1861), in which he studies mourning and funerary customs of Jews in biblical times. He also wrote Beitrage zur Geschichte der Hebraeischen und Aramaeischen Studien (1884). This is only a sampling of his work. Topics cover biblical history, German-Jewish history, philology and linguistics.

Rosalie Perles (1839-1932), wife of Joseph Perles, was a writer and journalist for a number of papers and periodicals. Her best-known work is Aphorismen, published immediately after her death in 1932. Their son, Felix Perles (1874-1933), became a noted rabbi and scholar in his own right. As a student, he became attracted to the Zionist movement in Vienna. Later he became rabbi at Koenigsberg (now Kalingrad, Russia). His academic interests included Bible criticism, Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography, medieval Hebrew poetry, Jewish dialectics and mysticism. He published a critique of W. Bousset’s Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1903), and a collection of essays, Jüdische Skizzen (1912). Felix Perles’ wife, Hedwig Perles, was an active social worker in Königsberg. Joseph Perles’ other son, Max Perles (1867-1894), became a noted oculist.

Joseph Perles served as a preacher of the Brüdergemeinde of Posen (now Poznan, Poland) from 1862-1871. He rejected an offer to serve as a rabbi in Berlin as well as a position to lecture at the newly founded Landesrabbinerschule in Budapest. He opted instead to become rabbi of the Jewish community of Munich in 1871. During his rabbinate the Munich Jewish community became more cohesive and organized, and a new synagogue was established during his tenure, in 1887.

Joseph Perles stayed in Munich until his death in 1894.

From the guide to the Joseph Perles Collection, 1808-1961, bulk 1854-1894, (Leo Baeck Institute Archives)

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  • Conservative Judaism

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