Born in Erswilken, near Tauroggen, a small town in Lithuania, Schapira was educated for the rabbinate. He was appointed to a rabbinical position at the age of twenty-four, but then decided to devote the rest of his life to the cultivation of the secular sciences. He went first to Odessa and later (1868) to Berlin, where he studied for three years in the Gewerbeakademie. Returning to Odessa, he became a merchant, but in 1878 he again took up his scientific studies, and for the next four years busied himself at Heidelberg, especially with mathematics and physics. In 1880, with Lazarus Fuchs as thesis advisor, he earned his doctorate with the dissertation Lineare homogene Cofunktionen. In 1883 he established himself as privat-docent in mathematics at the University of Heidelberg, becoming assistant professor in 1887. His contributions to mathematics were published in various mathematical journals.
Schapira remained a lifelong student of Hebrew literature, which he enriched by an edition, from a Munich manuscript, of the Mishnat ha-Middot (1880), and by his contributions to the Hebrew periodicals Ha-Meliẓ, Ha-Ẓefirah, and Mi-Mizraḥ umi-Ma'arab.
He was also an ardent Zionist, adhering from the very start to the Basel program. In 1884 Schapira was the to suggest the idea of founding a Jewish National Fund in order to acquire land in Palestine. He voiced his idea again in the First Zionist Congress of 1897, but it was only realized fully four years later, after Shapira had already died. Nonetheless, he is still considered founder of the JNF, which became an important player within the Zionist movement and had a great effect on the development and forestation of modern Israel. At that same Zionist congress in 1897, Shapira brought up the idea to found a Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Kohut, Berühmte Israelitische Männer und Frauen, vi. 249-250;
- Allg. Zeit. des Jud. May 13, 1898;
- Aḥiasaf, 1898, pp. 296–301;
- Ha-Meliẓ, 1898, No. 95; 1899, Nos. 62, 68, 76, 77
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Schapira, Hermann". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.