Jeremy Bentham and the Rabbi of Slonim: a Forgotten Encounter in the 1780's

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) Gamla torget 3, 3rd floor, IRES Library
  • Website
  • Organiser: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES)
  • Contact person: Jevgenija Gehsbarga
  • Phone: 018 471 1630
  • Föreläsning

with Prof. Israel Bartal (Israel Academy of Sciences)

On December 9, 1787, the renowned English philosopher of Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham was traveling through Eastern Europe, where his brother Samuel, a prominent engineer and industrialist, was serving in the employ of Prince Potemkin and Empress Catherine the Great. Jeremy spent some time with his brother hoping to implement some of the innovative architectural ideas that he was developing in his Panopticon. In the course of a journey through the town of Slonim (now in Belarus), Jeremy discovered to his chagrin that he was unable to find a vacancy at any of the town’s respectable inns. He was forced to lodge for the night with a Jew, a rabbi who was the proprietor of a hardware store. Bentham was surprised to note that his host possessed two glass-enclosed bookcases that housed between 250 and 300 volumes. The rabbi took particular pride in two scientific works in his collection: a book on astronomy to which he had added a diagram of his own, and a Hebrew edition of Euclid's Elements. Prof. Bartal will discuss this lesser-known encounter, revisiting the conventional historiography on late 18th century Eastern European Polish and Jewish enlightenment.

Israel Bartal is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History, and the former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2006-2010). He served as the Chair of the Historical Society of Israel (2007-2015). Since 2016 he is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences. Professor Bartal taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, McGill, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, as well as at Moscow State University, Paideia (Stockholm), and the Central European University in Budapest. He is the author of The Jews of Eastern Europe. 1772-1881 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, 2006), Published also in Hebrew, Russian and German.