The author examines the phenomena related to the publication of the first modern Hebrew journal, Hameasef (1783-1811), in early Haskalah in Germany.
While attaching importance to the earlier appearance of Kohelet Musar, edited by Moses Mendelssohn in the 1750's, the article argues for the primary historical and literary place of importance of Hameasef. In Hameasef, one notices significant trends related to the new and modern conceptualization of Judaism offered by Hebrew Haskalah. The journal manifested a newer, wider view of Jewish communities of Europe, and presented a re-interpretation of Jewish heritage. This journal, unlike the ephemeral Kohelet Musar, established a center of Hebrew literature, fostering the creative efforts of Hebrew writers and poets, transcending its boundaries and its time.
The development of the European literary periodicals in the eighteenth century and the changes in cultural scene in Europe, especially the emerging middle classes, the setting up of readers' societies and public libraries, are cited as general backdrop for the launching of the Hebrew monthly.
The article reviews the early literary periodicals in Germany, and concentrates on the Berlinische Monatsschrift, which started publication half a year before the Hebrew journal, and thus was said to have influenced the latter. By examining the introductions to both the German and Hebrew monthlies and the contents of their respective issues, the author concludes that while there are certain similarities between the two, their orientation was essentially different. There were certain similarities in format, size, and printing practices. However, other German periodicals, examined as well, shared these similarities. A comparison of the literary aspects of the two journals and their use of prevalent literary genres indicates general trends of 18th-century European literature, and does show that the Hebrew journal concentrated on its own unique Hebraic heritage, promoting the publication of original literary works. The ostensible affinity between the two is explained as an adherence to Enlightenment tenets, to literary conventions and to journalistic practice that the two had in common.
The author goes on to review some of the other important German journals, such as the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (started in 1765), Magazin für die Deutsche Sprache (1782), Der Deutsche Merkur (1783), and Deutsches Museum (1776), in order to show the prevailing journalistic trends of the time. The Hebrew journal's affinity to the German periodicals in general is marked by its attempt to preserve a unique Judaic and Hebraic character for which there was no precedent except in the general literary tradition of Hebrew letters.
Finally, there is an attempt to classify Hameasef in accordance with various definitions of Enlightenment periodicals, as suggested by such critics as W. Graham, R. Bond, and J. Wilke. The Hebrew journal is classified as an interdisciplinary periodical, dedicated to both creative work and thought, yet also as a journal desirous of disseminating knowledge and promoting the Hebrew Enlightenment.