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Joseph Perles Family Collection

Identifier: AR 1351

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the material concerns the scholarly and religious career of Dr. Joseph Perles. His work is divided within the collection into sermons, academic papers, and correspondence. The sermons are handwritten in notebooks, and are often marked and notated with changes. The handwriting can be difficult to read. In both sermons and correspondence a researcher can discern much about Joseph Perles’s own academic and rabbinical development, as well as his role in Conservative Judaism. There is material he collected, such as documents pertaining to the history of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau and the history of the Jewish community in Munich. Various family members are also represented. The correspondence of Felix Perles gives a great deal of insight into the work Felix did in carrying on the legacy of his father.


  • 1808-1961


Language of Materials

The collection is in German, Hebrew, Italian, French, and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Joseph Perles was born in Baja, Hungary, in 1835. He was born into a long line of rabbis and talmudic scholars. His ancestors include the famous talmudist and mathematician Judah Loew ben Bezaleel (d. 1609 in Prague) and Asher ben Jehiel, or Asheri, (1250-1327), an outstanding legal codifier and talmudist. Joseph’s own father, Baruch Asher Perles, was won over in his studies by the simple interpretation of the Bible, the “peshat.” As rabbi of Baja, he appreciated both talmudic teaching and more secular culture. He read German books and periodicals, and sent Joseph to the local grammar school for part of his education. When the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau (now Wrocaw, Poland) opened, he had Joseph enrolled as its first student. The Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau was founded by Rabbi Zecherias Frankel (1801-1875) after his break away from the Reform Judaism movement. The seminary was founded in 1854 with the premise that Jewish law was not static, but needed to be flexible and adaptable to cultural changes as, Rabbi Frankel argued, it was historically. Both Baruch and his son Joseph were supporters of Frankel’s movement, which became what we now know as Conservative Judaism. In addition to studying at the seminary, Joseph Perles also took courses at the University of Breslau. He graduated from the university in Oriental Philology and Philosophy, receiving a Ph.D. in 1859. His dissertation, “ Meletemata Peschitthoniana,” was a treatise on the Syriac version of the Bible. Studying and writing about ancient versions of the Bible became one of his specialties. His work in medieval literature was also extensive.

Joseph Perles’s main scholarly contribution was to Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography, philology. Works include Zur rabbinischen Sprach-und Sagenkunde (1873), where Joseph Perles looks at Hebrew origins and Hebrew philology in the “Arabian Nights” tales, Die Juedische Hochzeit in Nachbiblischer Zeit, (1860), where he studies Jewish marriage customs in biblical times, and Die Leichenfeierlichkeiten im nachbiblischen Judentum, (1861), in which he studies mourning and funerary customs of Jews in biblical times. He also wrote Beitrage zur Geschichte der Hebraeischen und Aramaeischen Studien (1884). This is only a sampling of his work. Topics cover biblical history, German-Jewish history, philology and linguistics.

Rosalie Perles (1839-1932), wife of Joseph Perles, was a writer and journalist for a number of papers and periodicals. Her best-known work is Aphorismen, published immediately after her death in 1932. Their son, Felix Perles (1874-1933), became a noted rabbi and scholar in his own right. As a student, he became attracted to the Zionist movement in Vienna. Later he became rabbi at Koenigsberg (now Kalingrad, Russia). His academic interests included Bible criticism, Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography, medieval Hebrew poetry, Jewish dialectics and mysticism. He published a critique of W. Bousset’s Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1903), and a collection of essays, Jüdische Skizzen (1912). Felix Perles’ wife, Hedwig Perles, was an active social worker in Königsberg. Joseph Perles’ other son, Max Perles (1867-1894), became a noted oculist.

Joseph Perles served as a preacher of the Brüdergemeinde of Posen (now Poznan, Poland) from 1862-1871. He rejected an offer to serve as a rabbi in Berlin as well as a position to lecture at the newly founded Landesrabbinerschule in Budapest. He opted instead to become rabbi of the Jewish community of Munich in 1871. During his rabbinate the Munich Jewish community became more cohesive and organized, and a new synagogue was established during his tenure, in 1887.

Joseph Perles stayed in Munich until his death in 1894.


1.75 Linear Feet


This collection mostly documents the professional career of Rabbi Joseph Perles, one of the first rabbis of the Conservative Judaism movement. As a rabbi, he strengthened and organized the Jewish community of Munich during his posting there from 1871-1894. The collection focuses on his religious writings, as well as his writings on Biblical archaeology, rabbinical philology, and folklore. A number of his sermons are included. There is a large body of correspondence from fellow rabbis and academic peers across Europe. Papers from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau include a statute of the year 1854, a yearly report from 1875, and correspondence concerning nomination of directors for the seminary in 1875 and 1879.

Related Material

Breslau (Theological Seminary) Collection (AR 2044)

Heinrich Graetz Collection (AR 154)

Zacharias Frankel Collection (AR 2903)

Guide to the Papers of Joseph Perles (1835-1894), 1808-1961 (bulk 1854-1894) AR 1351
Processed by LBI staff, finding aid created by Michael Simonson
© 2004
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from JosephPerles.xml

Revision Statements

  • 2010-03-23 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States