Joseph Klausner

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Joseph Klausner

Joseph Gedaliah Klausner [pronunciation?] (20 August 1874 – 27 October 1958), (Hebrew: יוסף גדליה קלוזנר‎), was a Jewish historian and professor of Hebrew Literature. He was the chief redactor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica. He was a candidate for president in the first Israeli presidential election in 1949, losing to Chaim Weizmann by 83 votes to 15.[citation needed] He was the grand-uncle of Amos Oz.


Klausner was born in Olkeniki, Vilna Governorate in 1874. At the turn of the 20th century, his family left Lithuania due to growing antisemitism (Amos Oz tells that the reason for leaving was his grandmother's health) and settled in Odessa where her closest family lived)], where Klausner was educated. He frequented scientific, literary, and Zionist circles. Klausner was a committed Zionist, and knew Theodore Herzl personally.

In 1912, he visited Palestine for the first time, and moved there in 1919. In 1925, he became a professor of Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He embarked upon research on the history of the Second Temple period. Although not an Orthodox Jew, he observed Sabbath and the dietary laws. He had a wide grasp of the Talmud and Midrashic literature.

Joseph Klausner was a member of the circle of Russian Zionist political activists from Odessa, which included Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Ussishkin, and although 'not a party man' he was a fellow traveler with Revisionist Zionism. Klausner contributed significantly to the 'Zionist education' of the Revisionist youth movement, Betar, and nationalist youth movements in general. With his background as an academic with expertise in Jewish history, he was also and unusually an activist in Zionist polemics, and rarely stood on the side of majority Zionist leadership; this eventually brought him to the forefront of Jewish anger at the failure of the Zionist establishment in Palestine. In July 1929, Klausner established the Pro-Wailing Wall Committee to defend Jewish rights, and resolve problems over access and arrangements for worship at the Western Wall.[1] Demonstrations by Revisionist youth stemming from the committee's work were later identified as the proximal cause of the 1929 Palestine riots by the Shaw Commission.[2] Also as a result of the ensuing riots, his house in Talpiot was virtually destroyed.

Amos Oz wrote about his great uncle in his autobiography, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" (ch.9-11).


Klausner earned his Ph.D. in Germany. One of his most influential books was about Jesus. The book Jesus of Nazareth, and its sequel, From Jesus to Paul, gained him some celebrity. In it, Klausner described how Jesus was best understood as a Jew and Israelite who was trying to reform the religion, and he died as a devout Jew. He was attacked about this issue as much by Christians as by Jews. The book was considered to be so informative by Herbert Danby, an Anglican priest, that he translated the work from Hebrew into English so that English scholars might avail themselves of the information contained within this book. A number of clergymen were so incensed at Danby for translating this controversial work that they demanded his recall from Jerusalem.[3] Later in his career, he was given a chair in Jewish history.

He was an ardent Zionist, but had numerous disagreements with Chaim Weizmann. The two were candidates in the presidential election of 1949; Weizmann was declared the first President of Israel.

Awards and honours[edit]

  • In both 1941 and 1949, Klausner was awarded the Bialik Prize for Jewish thought.[4]
  • In 1958, he was awarded the Israel Prize in Jewish studies.[5]
  • In 1982, in recognition of his scholarly achievements, the State of Israel issued a stamp with his picture on it.


"...the Anglican bishops in Jerusalem demanded that the archbishop dismiss Dr. Danby, the missionary who had translated Jesus Of Nazareth into English, as it was a book that was 'tainted with heresy, in that it portrays our Saviour as a kind of Reform rabbi, as a mortal, and as a Jew who has nothing at all to do with the Church.' " quoted in Amos Oz's memoir, A Tale Of Love And Darkness, Harcourt, 2003, p. 60. Oz, born Klausner, was the grandnephew of this great scholar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shindler, Colin, The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right, pp. 96–97, (2006), I B Tauris & Co Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84511-030-7
  2. ^ Mattar, Philip, The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin Al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06463-2, (1988), p. 48.
  3. ^ Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness, page 60.
  4. ^ "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933–2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv Municipality website". 
  5. ^ "Israel Prize recipients in 1958 (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on 17 January 2010. 

External links[edit]