MOYSHE MARKUZE (MOSES MARCUSE) (b. 1740s)
He was, most likely, born in Germany. He studied medicine in Königsberg. In 1774 he moved to Poland, initially practicing as a doctor in Kopust (Kopyś), four miles from Shklov (Szkłów), Byelorussia, and later in Turisk, Volhynia, where for many years he was crown doctor close to the king and his lord’s commission. With help from a Polish magnate, Michal Babrowcki, “in 1790…he published Sefer refuot, hanikra ezer yisrael (The book of remedies that is called Ezer Yisrael), for those who dwell in the land of Poland, written in Polish-Taytsh [= Yiddish], which Rabbi Moses, [also] known as Dr. Marcuze and well known to many people, wrote, and he was a government-employed doctor, appointed by the king and the commission, a crown doctor; and he wishes to benefit the people with his book, so that each person might be able to help himself [in places] where there is no learned doctor; and whoever holds to the course of conduct prescribed by him can avoid becoming ill. Printed here in the holy community of Poritsk [Poryck] in the year 5550.” (Roughly twenty printers’ sheets), with approbations from the Turisk rabbi, Yankev Kahane, who highly praised the author as a learned man and expert in his line of work. Irrespective of the special character of Markuze’s work, the essence of which was to give the people the rudiments of hygiene and medicine, it is of extraordinary cultural historical and philological interest. At this time, when the first followers of the Jewish Enlightenment were working hard to corrupt their Yiddish mother-tongue and vernacular so as to cripple Germanized Yiddish or pure German, Markuze, the “Taytsh” (as he called it himself), was about to write his book in Yiddish, and only then—when he gained a good handle on the Yiddish language as it was spoken in Poland. This specialized medical text contained sufficient notes and digressions which had no connection to medicine or hygiene and were there to clarify to the people in their ignorance, in their wild fanaticism, and in their superstitions, and in this sense Markuze was a direct predecessor of that group of Jewish Enlighteners, for whom the ideals of the Enlightenment were not abstractions, but an impulse to true explanatory work among the people, to reconstruct Jewish life on healthy foundations. Markuze presented himself through his book as a devoted friend of the people and humanist with a positive program of productive work of properly secured social assistance, of spreading agriculture and handicrafts among the Jewish masses. His book was written in an authentic vernacular, though somewhat Germanized, Volhynian Yiddish, and in style as well Markuze was a pioneer in Yiddish literature and one of the few authors who gives us the thread of the developmental history of the Yiddish language, binding our contemporary living language with the Yiddish of the eighteenth century. “A Yiddishist in the eighteenth century,” as dubbed by Noyekh Prilucki, whom, incidentally, we have to thank for bringing Markuze’s back into the public light.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (with a bibliography); Dr. Yisroel Tsinberg, Di geshikhte fun der literatur bay yidn (The history of Yiddish literature) vol. 7 (Vilna, 1936), pp. 185, 203; Sh. Lastik, Di yidishe literatur biz di klasiker (Jewish literature until the classics) (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1950); Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), p. 110.