||Critique of R. Isaac Samuel Reggio's ha-Torah ve-ha-Philisophia by
Isaac Baer Levinsohn (Ribal, 1788–1860) one of the founders of the Haskalah in Russia. A child prodigy, he began heder at the age of three and composed a Kabalistic work at the age of nine. At ten, Levinsohn was versed in Talmudic lore, and knew the Hebrew Bible by heart. He mastered the Russian language, an unusual achievement for a Russian Jew of that time. From 1813 to 1820 Levinsohn lived in Eastern Galicia, where he was befriended by such leaders of the Haskalah as Nahman Krochmal, Isaac Erter, Joseph Perl, and S. J. Rapoport. From 1820–23 he spread the ideas of the Haskalah as a private tutor in wealthy homes in Berdichev and other towns. He attempted to persuade the Russian authorities to mitigate the persecution of the Jews and to introduce reforms in the spirit of the Haskalah, including a plan for agricultural settlement of Jews. It was on his advice that the Russian authorities limited the number of Hebrew printing presses to three: Warsaw and Vilna in 1836, and Zhitomir in 1846 and imposed censorship on imported Hebrew books. In 1856, the Russian government decided to support him by buying 2,000 copies of his book Beit Yehudah and distributing them to synagogues and Jewish schools.
Levinsohn’s literary work was mainly polemical and propagandistic. He published a the first Hebrew grammar for Russians in 1817. Levinsohn wrote satires against Hasidim and their zaddikim. His most influential work is Te’udah be-Yisrael, which is severely critical of traditional Hadarim which he calls “Hadrei mavet” (rooms of death) and opposes their talmudic-centered curriculum, as well as the use of Yiddish, favoring instead its replacement by “pure” German or Russian. In his second major work, Beit Yehudah (Vilna, 1838) Levinsohn, who follows Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, purports to reply to 35 questions asked by “the great Christian nobleman Emanuel Lipen” (the name is a scramble of the Hebrew letters Peloni Almoni, concerning the nature of the Commandments, the Talmud, the Karaites, the Pharisees, the Zohar, Shabbateanism, Hasidism, and poses the question: “Is there still hope to reform the House of Israel and how?” His contemporaries called him the Russian Mendelssohn.