EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2020/21
One Biography, Multiple Places:
The Life and Work of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann; Between Prague and Jerusalem (1883-1975)
The Purpose of the Conference: Event Rationale
The Centre for Holocaust Studies and Jewish Literature planned the conference for several years in cooperation with Israeli colleagues from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev (Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Boaz Huss), the Hebrew University (S. H. Bergmann Centre for Philosophical Studies, Michael Roupach) as well as with researchers from Germany (Enrico Lucca, Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture in Leipzig, who is working on Bergmann monograph, and Olaf Glöckner, the Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam ). The aim was to connect various institutions and various researchers regarding the life and work of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann.
The originally planned event structure:
The event was planned to take place as a two-day conference at the Charles University in Prague. Some 15-20 speakers were to be invited to present their work in several panels of 90 minutes each.
1) Hugo Bergmann: One Biography and Multiple Places
2) Bergmann and Contemporary Jewish Thought
3) Bergmann and Contemporary European Philosophy
4) Bergmann in Palestine/Israel between Politics, and Institution
5) Bergmann, Kabbalah, and Esotericism
The aim of the conference was to present various aspects of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann’s life and thought, his importance and impact as a philosopher, theologian, political thinker, and academic leader. Originally from Prague, where in the first two decades of the 20th century, he took part in the Jewish-cultural renaissance of the local German speaking community. Immediately after the First World War, Bergmann first served in the delegation representing Czechoslovak Jewry at the Paris Peace Conference, and then went to London, where he worked as an employee at the Educational Department of the World Zionist Organization. He moved with his family to Palestine in 1920, where he assumed an influential role within the Jewish Yishuv. He soon became a leading institutional figure associated with the development both, of the Jewish National Library (of which he was the first director) and the university. From 1928 on, Bergmann lectured in modern philosophy at the newly established Hebrew University, and in 1935 he was nominated full professor in the Department of Philosophy. He was elected the first Rector of the Hebrew University (1935–1938). Bergmann contributed greatly to the enhancement of the University’s stature and helped to determine the direction of its academic activity. During the visit of T. G. Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak President, to Palestine in 1927, Bergmann served as his guide. In light of his active advocacy of bi-nationalism and Arab-Israeli dialogue, and by virtue of his participation in various other political and labour organisations, Bergmann emerged as an important point of reference for left-wing Israeli discourse. After World War II, Bergmann took a trip back to Prague. This was so that, in cooperation with the Prague Jewish Museum, along with Gershom Scholem, he was able to organise the retrieval of valuable Hebrew books, that had been collected by the Nazis in Theresienstadt, so that the books could be transported to Palestine. Bergmann became a leading philosopher and cultural figure in Israel and in the Jewish world as a whole. He was responsible for the translations of German philosophy into Hebrew, participated in the national public debate, was a founding member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and was twice granted the Israel prize (in 1954 for his work in humanities, and in 1974 for his special contribution to society and to the State of Israel). Besides his interest in philosophy, mathematics and natural sciences, Bergmann also showed great interest in religion, mysticism, and Western esotericism. His influences included Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and Sri Aurobindo.
The Actual Course of the Conference
Due to the Covid situation, the conference was postponed from May, then later from September and October, and finally to November of 2021.
Nevertheless, the main goals of the event have been achieved. Despite several challenges and the absence of several expected participants (Andreas Kilcher, Guillaume Frechette), the conference – the first international event dedicated to Shmuel Hugo Bergmann – was successful. The conference was attended by students and interested members of the public and the Jewish community in Prague. It is hoped that the conference will be the beginning of further cooperation and research on Shmuel Hugo Bergmann. A volume of collected studies based on the lectures presented at the conference is planned to be published.
The conference One Biography, Multiple Places: The Life and Work of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann Between Prague and Jerusalem (1883–1975) was held in Prague on the third through the fourth of November 2021. Twenty-one researchers from five countries (Israel, the U.S., Britain, Germany and Czech Republic) presented their papers. Due to the Covid situation, four of them (Blanka Soukupová, Julius Schoeps, Hillel J. Kieval, Michael Roupach) only participated online. Due to his family situation, Nicham Ross had to leave Prague and return to Negev earlier than planned.
The conference was promoted on the websites of the Centre for Holocaust Studies and Jewish Literature, the Faculty of Arts and the Masaryk Institute, and on Czech Radio (interview with Prof. Jiří Holý). Financial support was provided by the EAJS as well as by the Faculty of Arts, the Masaryk Institute in Prague, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Lunches were provided in the kosher dining room of the Jewish Council in Prague (Maiselova street). The tour of the old Jewish Quarter was organised for the conference participants (Thursday afternoon, November fourth).
The conference took place at Charles University and was free for scientists, students and interested members of the public. The main organiser was The Centre for the Study of the Holocaust and Jewish Literature, while several other institutions were co-organisers (Masaryk Institute in Prague, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam, Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow, Leipzig, European Association of Israel Studies).
The event consisted of the Ceremonial Opening (in the Historical residence of the Charles University, Karolinum, Patriots Hall) and five panels regarding various aspects of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann’s life and thoughts:
1) Bergmann in Prague;
2) Bergmann and the Czech Lands;
3) Philosophy and Theology;
4) Bergmann in Palestine and Israel;
5) Bergmann in the World.
Papers and Discussion:
Wednesday, November third, Faculty of Arts, Jan Palach Square, room 201
9.00 First Panel: Bergmann in Prague
Chair: Zbyněk Tarant
Jan Fingerland (Czech Radio in Prague): Bergmann’s Prague Years: A Man Beyond Categories of his Era
The aim of the paper was to enrich the picture of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann by putting his personality into the context of his environment, and at the same time to stress what made him different already as a young man. There are two areas of study to address. First of all, his family background. He was Jewish, born in Prague, yet in a family of countryside Jews, religious, bi-lingual, lower middle class. It is important to base this part on his own recollections, recollections of his contemporaries, as well as on the documents stored in the National Archives in Prague. And secondly, Bergmann was a man of his age – again, with a very complex identity. He was a Jewish intellectual of his time, philosopher, a religious thinker, a practical man, and a “real” Zionist who was willing to transfer his activities to Palestine. In many ways, he was a good representative of a Central European Jewish intellectual of his age. However, in many other aspects, he was trying to find his own path from his very youth. Some of his early experiences influenced his later activities in the British Mandate of Palestine and in Israel. What was typical, and what was unique in his case? The overall finding is that Bergmann was from the very beginning a personality who – based on his moral as well as philosophical convictions – ready to stay outside of categories of his time.
Julius H. Schoeps (Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam): Hugo Bergmann, Theodor Lessing and the “Prague Circle”
In the orbit of the “Prague Circle” which was mainly dominated by writers and intellectuals like Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Felix Weltsch and Oskar Baum, also characters like Robert Weltsch, Hans Kohn and Hugo Bergmann found inspiration, approval and encouragement to enter the path of Jewish modernisation, admiring especially the ideas of philosophical thinkers like Martin Buber. Astonishing different ways of life appeared later on, while some of the Prague protagonists remained closely connected either as friends, or just as congenials. One of the awesome peripheral figures of the Circle was the philosopher and cultural critic Theodor Lessing, a self-proclaimed unconventional thinker and admirer of Arthur Schopenhauer, later also considered an “enlightened Nietzschean”. In a certain way, Hugo Bergmann represented the direct opposite of Theodor Lessing. He himself was not only an avowed Kantian and follower of Bernhard Bolzano, but also someone who sympathized with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (the admiration of Steiner was shared by others in the Prague Circle, too).
Štěpán Balík/Marie Brunová/Jiří Holý/Hana Nichtburgerová/Olga Zitová (The Centre of the Study of the Holocaust and Jewish Literature, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague): Hugo Bergmann on the Yiddish, and Yiddish Research in the Czech Republic
In 1904 and 1914 Hugo Bergmann published two articles dealing with the Yiddish language: Einiges über das Jiddische (“Jargon”) [Something about Yiddish /Jargon/] and Unsere Stellung zum Jiddischen [Our Attitude to the Yiddish]. Unlike other researchers (for instance Jindřich Kohn), he paid considerable attention to this language and he learned Yiddish himself. It was a period when Prague’s young Jewish intellectuals (Jiří Mordechai Langer, Franz Kafka) were taking an increased interest in Eastern Jewish culture. After more than a century, prospects for Yiddish Studies in the Czech Republic are not very promising. The study of Yiddish writing in the Czech lands in the early modern period is still marginal. This should be able to be done with the cooperation of experts from abroad, mainly from Poland and Germany, and with the involvement of the existing disciplines: Czech and Slavic Studies, German Studies, as well as Hebrew Studies. It also means a certain return to Hugo Bergmann’s concepts, inspired by the multicultural reality of Prague. His idea of Zionism was based on Jewish roots, nevertheless, at the same time, it was opened to German and Czech cultures.
Anne-Dorothea Ludewig (Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam): “The Lifeline”: Max Brod and Hugo Bergmann
Hugo Bergmann and Max Brod came from the same German-speaking Jewish milieu in Prague; they did not attend the same Gymnasium but met already during their school years and again later at Charles University. Although Bergmann was only a few months older, Brod remembered and in a way idealised him as a teacher and mentor. Particularly in his memoirs “Streitbares Leben” (“Disputatious Life”) Brod describes Bergmann as the one who opened his eyes and showed him the way to Zionism: “Das rettende Seil warf mir Hugo Bergmann zu.” (“Hugo Bergmann threw me the lifeline.”) Certainly, the mentioned autobiography was published in 1960, at this time Brod had been living in Palestine/Israel for more than 20 years – he was forced to leave Prague in 1939, together with his closest friend Felix Weltsch, who was also a friend of Hugo Bergmann’s, he literally escaped the Nazis at the last minute. But contrary to Bergmann Max Brod never planned to leave his hometown, he was more a “Salon-Zionist”, interested in the idea of a diasporic but self-conscious Judaism. In Palestine he maybe changed not his mind, but he invented a new narrative: exile became aliya and the arrival in Tel Aviv an implementation of a “Lebensprogramm” (life program).
Main Topics of Discussion: cultural Zionism; Berta Fanta (Bergmann’s mother-in-law) and her salon in Prague; polemics regarding Yiddish vs. Hebrew as a written and spoken language of the Jewish community.
Discussants: Petr Brod (Jewish Council in Prague), Zbyněk Tarant, Enrico Lucca, Manfred Weinberger (Faculty of Arts, Charles University)
Second Panel: Bergmann and Czech Lands
Chair: Marie Brunová
Blanka Soukupová (Faculty of Humanities, Charles University): The Jewish National Movement in the Czech Lands, the National Jewish Council, and Hugo Bergmann
Among the most notable figures of the national Jewish (Zionist) movement was university librarian Hugo Bergmann, who even represented Czechoslovak Jews at the peace conference in Versailles. The aim of the paper was to analyse the relationship of Czechoslovak Zionists to the newly founded republic, to their Judaism, and to the idea of a Jewish state against a backdrop of the turbulent post-war years. Special attention was devoted to Hugo Bergmann, who helped shape Jewish national identity both before and after the First World War. Bergmann’s contribution to Czech and Czechoslovak Zionism was compared with the contributions of other major figures of the Zionist movement (Singer, Brod, Weltsch, etc.). With this comparison in mind, the paper then attempted to determine and clarify the particularities of the Czechoslovak Zionist movement.
Zbyněk Tarant (Faculty of Arts, University of West Bohemia): From Landšroun to the World Stage: Life and Work of Leo Herrmann
The small town of Landskron (Lanškroun) at the borders between Bohemia and Moravia became the birthplace of Leo Hermann – an important Zionist activist, chairman of the Bar Kochba student club, member of the Czechoslovak delegation to Versailles, a close associate of Hugo Hermann, member of the Brit Shalom, co-founder and lifelong chairman of Keren HaYesod, producer of the first Zionist sound film and active rescuer of Czechoslovak Jews after Munich agreement. Despite the importance of this personality, who belonged to the German-Jewish circle around Max Brod and Hugo Bergmann, different portions of his life story are known in different parts of the world. The Czechs remember Hermann’s cooperation with the Czechoslovak government in exile, while the Israelis know him most for his work in Keren HaYesod. Intended as an invitation to the audience to share their insight, experience, and research tips at the beginning of a new research project, the presentation aims to provide an overview of Hermann’s life and work, hopefully merging the Czech and Israeli narratives about Hermann’s life into one. Special attention will be given to Hermann’s rescue efforts and the Czechoslovak version of the Ha‘avara agreement.
Main Topics of Discussion: Hugo Bergmann and the Prague Zionist movement; Bergmann and T. G. Masaryk; Bergmann’s political activities.
Discussants: Jan Fingerland, Petr Brod, Boaz Huss, Štěpán Balík.
Lunch Break (Jewish Council, Maiselova Street)
Third Panel: Philosophy and Theology.
Chair: Enrico Lucca.
Daniel M. Herskowitz (Wolfson College, University of Oxford): Bergmann as a Conduit of European Philosophy: The Case of Martin Heidegger
Among Shmuel Hugo Bergmann’s many intellectual activities, one of the most influential, if also overlooked, was his role as the key conduit of contemporary European philosophical ideas to the Yishuv/Israel during the period between the 1920s and 1960s. In his writing and teaching, Bergmann consistently provided updates and analyses of the latest philosophical developments and debates taking place in Europe to the Hebrew speaking reader. It will be focused on Bergmann’s efforts to introduce the philosophies of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, among the most influential philosophers of the time, to the Israeli audience. It will be looked at both his public and academic writings on these two thinkers and draw on unknown archival material, and contextualise his analysis of their philosophy in light of their contemporary reception in Europe and the current situation in the Yishuv/Israel. Particular attention will be given to Bergmann’s efforts to bring some of the works of Husserl and Heidegger to be translated into Hebrew.
Guy Paz (Adam Waldorf High School in Jerusalem): The Embracing of Anthroposophical Vision of Judaism: Shmuel Hugo Bergmann Reads Ernst Müller
In this paper was discussed several issues that arise from Hugo Bergman’s preface to the 1959 reprint of “Der Sohar und seine Lehre”, an introduction to the canonical work of Medieval Kabbalah written by the Jewish anthroposophist Ernst Müller (1880-1954). The book was first published in 1920, concluding a work that started as a cooperation between Müller and Bergmann who were life-long friends. Bergman, questioning the relevance of the book, touches thereupon his own relationship with Anthroposophy and his criticism of Gershom Scholem’s philological-historical method. Thus, he presents a very empathetic and positive approach towards Müller’s anthroposophical perspective on Kabbalah and Judaism. The preface withholds former criticism of Bergman, both towards the scientific value of Anthroposophy and its perception of Judaism.
Nicham Ross (Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Ben Gurion University of the Negev): An Existential Reading of the Bible and a Leap of Faith: Between Buber and Bergmann
This paper was focused on Martin Buber’s influence on the justifications given by Samuel Hugo Bergmann to his religious beliefs. In particular it was stressed the differences between their claims regarding the existential leap to faith. Buber’s (and Franz Rosenzweig’s) influence on Bergmann is most evident in the following existential ideas: (1) Suspension of doubt and introducing simple faith without sophistication. (2) The idea that the entire Torah’s importance from A to T is one: confirming the very encounter between man and God (Buber), or between Israel and God (Bergmann). However, contrary to the leap of faith in the Bible, common to Bergmann and Buber, they differ with regard to the issue of faith in the very existence of God. Bergmann argued that a ‘leap of faith’ is required, without prior conviction. His rationale for such a leap is man’s existential need for an anchor and compass in life.
Main Topics of Discussion: Israeli reception of Martin Heidegger and his Nazi engagement; was Bergmann an original philosopher?; modern continental philosophy and Judaism.
Discussants: Arie M. Dubnow, Shimon Lev, Enrico Lucca.
Wednesday, November 3, Carolinum, Celetná Street/Ovocný trh, Patriots Hall
Opening Speech: Michal Pullmann, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University
Partner Institutions’ Greetings
Jiří Holy/Marcela Menachem Zoufalá (The Centre for the Study of the Holocaust and Jewish Literature, Charles University)
Boaz Huss (Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Ben Gurion University of the Negev)
Enrico Lucca (Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow, Leipzig)
Michael Roubach (S. H. Bergmann Centre for Philosophical Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Martin Klečanský (Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Science)
Olaf Glöckner (The Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam)
Joanna Dyduch (The European Associate of Israel Studies, Institute of the Middle and Far East, Jagiellonian University in Kraków)
Chair: Joanna Dyduch
Hillel J. Kieval (Washington University, St. Louis): Shmuel Hugo Bergmann from Prague to Jerusalem: Continuities and Ruptures
The essays published in Jawne und Jerusalem (1919) spanned some eight years, from 1911 to 1918. This was a period marked at its beginning by the intellectual collaboration of the Prague student Zionist organization Bar Kochba with the philosopher Martin Buber; in its middle, by the outbreak of the First World War; and at its end by the creation of the First Czechoslovak Republic, the dispersal of many of the original Prague Zionists to work outside the country, and Bergmann’s own preparation to emigrate to Palestine, where he would be among the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among the remarkable essays in Jawne und Jerusalem are Bergmann’s early contemplation on the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Palestine (“Bemerkungen zur arabischen Frage,” 1911), his response to the crisis posed by the First World War, a statement on the relationship of Zionists to the Yiddish language (written by a committed Hebraist), and his classic statement on the religious signification of modern Jewish life (“Die Heiligung des Namens,” 1913). The goals of the paper were to assess Bergmann’s work in its historical context, to evaluate its long-term impact on modern Jewish culture, and to explore its relevance to the state of Jewish nationalism in the twenty-first century.
Topic of Discussion: Why are Hugo Bergmann’s early works not translated into English?
Discussant: Jan Fingerland.
Ceremonial Opening Reception
Thursday, November fourth, Faculty of Arts, Jan Palach Square, room 201
Fourth Panel: Bergmann in Palestine and Israel
Chair: Shimon Lev
Boaz Huss (Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Ben Gurion University of the Negev): Shmuel Hugo Bergmann and the Formation of Israel Esoteric and Alternative Spiritual Culture
From an early age, Hugo Bergmann found much interest in mysticism, esotericism, and eastern religions. In Prague, he was introduced by Berta Fanta (his mother-in-law) to the Theosophical Society and became acquainted with Rudolph Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society. After immigrating to Palestine/Israel, Bergmann continued to be interested in Steiner’s teaching. Later, he became interested and became affiliated with many other modern religious and spiritual teachings, including Spiritualism and Parapsychology, the traditional school of René Guénon and Frithjof Schoun, the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (Mirra Alfasa), and the Fourth Way of George Gurdieff and Peter Ouspensky. Bergmann played a pivotal role in introducing modern esoteric teachings to Israeli public and in the formation of modern alternative spiritual movements in Israel.
Olaf Glöckner (The Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies, University of Potsdam) / Marcela Menachem Zoufalá (The Centre for the Study of the Holocaust and Jewish Literature, Charles University): Hugo Bergmann between Philosophy, the Zionist Dream and the Search for Justice
Hugo Bergmann wa one of the most brilliant and successful intellectuals, academics and Zionist visionaries in the Yishuv in Palestine and in the early State of Israel. After Alija from Prague and doing basics and formative work for the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem, he started teaching philosophy at the Hebrew University, got his own chair in 1935 and became the Rector of the University shortly after. But how did Bergmann deal with Zionist idealism and visions of (culturally) changing the world in his early years in Palestine on the one hand, and the persistence of Israeli-Palestinian violence and cultural rifts across Israeli society on the other? Was there a derivative in Bergmann’s conceptual ideas for Eretz Israel, and how did close friends react to his resolute commitment? These questions shall be punctually answered by means of Bergmann’s diaries, especially the late ones.
Zvi Leshem (The National Library of Israel, the Gershom Scholem Collection for Kabbalah and Hassidism, Jerusalem) Shmuel Hugo Bergmann: To Be a Librarian in 1920 – What Did That Mean?
Shmuel Hugo Bergmann is best known for his work as a philosopher and scholar of philosophy. However, another significant aspect of his professional life was that of librarian, both in Prague at Charles University and after his Aliyah in 1920, as the director of the Jewish National Library. Bergmann viewed the “Bet HaSeforim” as an important cultural institution for the “New Yishuv” and it figured prominently in his own vision of a secular Zionist cultural revolution in the Land of Israel. As the Director of the Jerusalem National Library (later Jewish National and University Library) between the years of 1920–1935. Bergmann modernised the library, significantly expanded its collections, and publicised it among world Jewry. He brought great scholars to work there, including Gershom Scholem (who revamped the classification system for Judaica collections) in 1923, and oversaw its transition from a grandiose but rundown version of a public library, to the main academic research library in Palestine.
Main Topics of Discussion: unlike Martin Buber, Bergmann was interested in Rudolf Steiner and other esoteric thinkers. Nevertheless, he was critical of their prophetic manner; Bergmann’s engagement in Brit Shalom against the Jewish Nationalism and for Arab-Jewish reconciliation; nonetheless, he did not find collaborators on the Arab side; protests of Czechoslovak writers against the Czechoslovak government which broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War.
Discussants: Arie M. Dubnow, Guy Paz, Olaf Glöckner.
Fifth Panel: Bergmann in the World
Chair: Boaz Huss
Arie M. Dubnov (Department of History, Columbian College for Arts and Science, George Washington University, Washington D.C.): A Part of Asia, or Apart from Asia? S. H. Bergmann, the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi, and the Boundaries of Zionist Asianism, 1947-1956
On March 23, 1947, the soon-to-be Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wearing his staple mandarin-collared coat and white Gandhi hat, opened the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi. A self-proclaimed “great gathering of the nations of Asia”, the conference brought together almost 200 delegates from twenty-eight countries, many of which were in the midst of struggles for independence against the slowly receding European empires. Amid this forest of delegates from across the Asian continent was a ten-member delegation representing the Yishuv, the Jewish community in pre-1948 Palestine, chaired by Shmuel Hugo Bergmann. It is necessary to locate this affair within a longer history of what I propose to dub as “Zionist Asianism”: an effort to forge political ties and reimagine the Jewish political renaissance that would parallel and collaborate with non-European and non-Western nationalisms. It will be suggested to see Zionist Asianism as a sentiment as well as a political strategy, which grew out of an inherent cultural ambivalence concerning the Otherness of the Jew that animated Zionist thought from its inception and tied to an immanent tension within Jewish nationalism, in which “Western” perceptions of the modernizing Zionist project clashed with conceptions that emphasized the Jews’ Semitic “Easternness.”
Shimon Lev (independent researcher and curator, Jerusalem): ”I Read Sri Aurobindo to Find Some Light in Our Difficult Days”: Hugo Bergmann’s Encounter with India, Aurobindo, and the Mother
The encounter of the Austro-Hungarian-born Jewish philosopher and Zionist Shmuel Hugo Bergmann with the Indian philosopher and Guru Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950), and with Aurobindo’s collaborator and successor, the Mother – born Mirra Alfassa (1878–1973) – is relatively unknown. Bergmann’s papers, which are located in the National Library of Israel and at the Hebrew University (both in Jerusalem) reveal that alongside his better-known political interests, Bergmann kept numerous articles, newspaper cuttings, papers, letters, reports, and notebooks (full of illegible comments) relating to Aurobindo and the Mother. As it will be discussed, Bergmann also published articles about Aurobindo’s philosophy, made references to him in lectures and writings, and mentioned him in his diaries.
Samuel Glauber-Zimra (Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought, Ben Gurion University of the Negev) “I Frequently Hold a Telepatic Dialogue with You“: The Correspondence of Shmuel Hugo Bergmann and R. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Shmuel Hugo Bergmann maintained a decade-long correspondence with R. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924–2014) following the latter’s visit to Israel in 1958. The unpublished correspondence between the two men, who were separated in age by more than four decades, reveals a close bond of friendship and a shared intellectual and spiritual curiosity. Schachter-Shalomi’s letters, written in a deeply personal tone, provide a window into his whirlwind activities during these formative years in which he lay the groundwork for what would become the Jewish Renewal movement. Notably, Schachter-Shalomi in 1963 shared with Bergmann his recent experimentation with LSD, providing the latter with encouragement and instructions for taking his own trip, while Bergmann introduced Schachter-Shalomi to the works of Hillel Zeitlin, a pre-war Jewish religious thinker whose writings inspired Schachter-Shalomi in part to form the B’nai Or Religious Fellowship in the 1960s. Schachter-Shalomi likewise confided in Bergmann his efforts to form a spiritual fraternity in Winnipeg, Canada, where he then served as Hillel director at the University of Manitoba.
Enrico Lucca (Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow, Leipzig): Fighting for the Future of European Jewry: Hugo Bergmann in Sweden (1947-1948)
Drawing on archival sources both from Sweden and from Israel, diaries as well as institutional and personal letters, it will be reconstructed a fascinating chapter in Bergmann’s life: his stance in Stockholm from July 1947 to November 1948 as an educator of the local Jewish community, which marked Bergmann’s return to Europe after the Second World War and the Holocaust. Over the course of the fifteenth months that he actually spent in Sweden, Bergmann held two cycles of public lectures, attended by an audience of both Jews and non-Jews, preached in the Synagogue at least two times each month, organised a study circle for young people dedicated to discuss religious themes, promoted the creation of a liberal Jewish youth group where he regularly lectured, took great interest in organising and updating the library of the community, and tried to gave new life to the local Hebrew language circle. This chapter of Bergman’s life proves particularly significant at least for two reasons: we can trace on the one hand—especially through his correspondence, his view on current events in Palestine, very often marked by doubts, fear, and frustration (for a moment Bergmann even pondered not to come back to Palestine); on the other hand, we trace his efforts to find a place where to keep the tradition of European Judaism alive after the Holocaust. In this sense, it is particularly interesting to analyse Bergmann’s lectures on modern Jewish thinkers, which—published first in Swedish and later in English—will finally contribute to shaping the first canon of modern Jewish thought.
Main Topics of Discussion: Bergmann was an open and dynamic personality who was able to connect various fields of research and different ideas; the conference in New Delhi wanted to build a bridge between the East and West (ideas of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi); besides Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo also had a strong influence on Bergmann.
Discussants: Zvi Leshem, Shimon Lev, Enrico Lucca, Zbyněk Tarant.
Lunch Break (Jewish Council, Maiselova Street)
Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (guide Ms. Michaela Efrati)