Joseph Perl

Joseph Perl (1773October 1, 1839) was an Ashkenazi Jewish educator and writer, a scion of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment. He wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German. Born and raised in the Austrian province of Galicia shortly after its annexation in the first partition of Poland, he was a follower of hasidism in his youth. Later, he turned against hasidism and became a proponent of Jewish emancipation and Haskalah, although he remained an observant Jew. He is best known for his many writings on hasidism, ranging from critical treatises to parody.

In 1816 he published a book in German, Ueber das Wesen der Sekte Chassidim Aus ihren eigenen Schriften gezogen (On the Nature of the Sect of the Hasidim, Drawn from Their Own Writings), in which he attempted to demonstrate the absurdity of the beliefs and practices of hasidic rabbis, including Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of what became the Lubavitcher movement, the largest and most influential brand of hasidism. His work was rejected by the imperial censors, who apparently feared that it would create disharmony among Austria's Jewish subjects.

Perl's satire of the Hasidic movement, Revealer of Secrets (Megalleh Temirim), is said to be the first modern novel in Hebrew. It was published in Vienna in 1819 under the pseudonym "Obadiah ben Pethahiah." Structured as an epistolary novel, it is currently in print only in an English translation, by Dov Taylor, published by Westview Press. It is an unusual book in that it satirizes the language and style of early hasidic rabbis writing in Hebrew, which was not the vernacular of the Jews of its time. To make his work available and accessible to his contemporaries, Perl translated his own work into Yiddish. A subsequent parody of hasidic writings, Words of the Righteous, written with Isaac Baer Levinsohn and published in 1830, is available in Hebrew.

As an educator, he was founder of the Deutsche-Israelitische Hauptschule, a school for Jewish children which taught secular subjects such as history, geography, mathematics, and natural science in German, in addition to Bible and Talmud.


  • First Hebrew Novel: Joseph Perl's Revealer of Secrets, at National Yiddish Book Center. Review by Hillel Halkin.
  • Ken Frieden. "Joseph Perl’s Escape from Biblical Epigonism through Parody of Hasidic Writing," AJS Review 29 (2005): 265-82.
  • Jewish Encyclopedia entry
  • Jonatan Meir. Divrei Saddiqim (דברי צדיקים). Words of the Righteous: An Anti-Hasidic Satire by Joseph Perl and Isaac Baer Levinsohn. Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 12, 2004, 180 pages, ISBN 0-9747505-7-3
  • Allan Nadler. "New Book Reveals Darker Chapters In Hasidic History." Jewish Forward. Fri. Aug 25, 2006
  • Nancy Sinkoff, "The Maskil, The Convert, and the Agunah: Joseph Perl as a Historian of Jewish Divorce Law," AJS Review 27 (2003), 281–300.
  • Dov Taylor. Joseph Perl's Revealer of Secrets: The First Hebrew Novel. Westview Press. Boulder, Colorado. 1997. Translation with notes, commentary, and introductory materials. ISBN-10: 0813332125

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