NAFTOLI-HERTS (NAPHTALI-HERZ) HOMBERG (September 1749-August 24, 1841)
He was born in Libeň, near Prague. He was a pupil in the yeshiva of R. Yikhezkl Landau. Over the years 1768-1779, he studied in Breslau, Berlin, and Hamburg. He served as a teacher of Moses Mendelssohn’s son, Yosef, and a teacher for the Jewish community of Trieste; from 1787 he was working as inspector of the German government schools in Galicia, where by various forced means he tried to assimilate the Galician Jews to German culture. Between 1787 and 1800, he founded over one hundred such schools in Galicia as well as a teachers’ seminary in Lemberg. In 1788 he turned to the Galician rabbis at the time with a “manifesto,” in which he attempted to demonstrate the truth of the government’s stance on the issue of Jewish education. In 1794 he handed the government a memorandum, in which he “explained” the reasons for Jewish obstinacy in standing by their traditions, and he proposed that the yeshivas be closed, Hebrew be banned from instruction, and a strict censorship on religious texts be introduced. From 1800 he lived for fourteen years in Vienna, and there he published two textbooks on the Jewish religion: Imre shefer, kolelim inyene tora umusar liyelde bene yisrael (Fine words, including matters of Torah and morality for Jewish children) in German and Hebrew (Vienna, 1802); and Bne-Zion, ein religiös-moralisches Lehrbuch für die Jugend israelitischer Nation (Children of Zion, a religio-moral textbook for the youth of the Israelite nation) in German (Augsburg, 1812) which appeared in three printings, the third in Warsaw (in Hebrew) in 1896. The latter work became obligatory for use in the schools for Jewish children, and in Böhmen Jewish couples before their weddings had to sit for an examination on these books to be able to file for their marriages. He also served as the censor for Hebrew texts and head inspector (1814-1841) for schools in Prague where he also published his book in Judeo-German: Ben Yakkir, Ueber Glaubenswahrheiten und Sittenlehren für die Israelitische Jugend (Beloved son, concerning the truths of faith and morals for Israelite youth): “Hold firm to the foundations of religion or the truths of faith and modestly teach the Israelite youth. Put things forward in questions and answers. Next to one place another (for religion and instruction in school)” (Vienna, 1820), 107 pp. This volume was translated into Polish—as Ben Jakir czyli Syn ulubiony, o prawdach religiynych i nauce obyczaiow dla młodzieży izraelskiéy przez zapytania i odpowiedzi—by Jakub Tugendhold, a sad, well-known censor in Warsaw (see Y. Shatski, Geshikhte fun yidn in varshe [History of the Jews in Warsaw], index to volumes 1, 2, and 3). The original and the translation of Ben Yakkir can be found in Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Homberg died in Prague. In the memory and folktales of Galician Jews, he remains an informer and a seducer.
Sources: Y. Tsinberg, Geshikhte fun der literatur bay yidn (History of Jewish literature), vol. 7, books 1 and 2, vol. 8, book 1, see index; Dr. Y. Klausner, Historiya shel hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature), vols. 1 and 2 (Jerusalem, 1930-1950), see index; Sh. Dubnov, Velt-geshikhte fun yidishn folk (World history of the Jewish people), vols. 7 and 8, see index; B. Wachstein, Die Hebräische Publizistik in Wien (Hebrew journalism in Vienna) (Vienna, 1930), part 1, p. 83.