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Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands

Hillel J. Kieval
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Languages of Community
    Book Description:

    With a keen eye for revealing details, Hillel J. Kieval examines the contours and distinctive features of Jewish experience in the lands of Bohemia and Moravia (the present-day Czech Republic), from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century. In the Czech lands, Kieval writes, Jews have felt the need constantly to define and articulate the nature of group identity, cultural loyalty, memory, and social cohesiveness, and the period of "modernizing" absolutism, which began in 1780, brought changes of enormous significance. From that time forward, new relationships with Gentile society and with the culture of the state blurred the traditional outlines of community and individual identity. Kieval navigates skillfully among histories and myths as well as demography, biography, culture, and politics, illuminating the maze of allegiances and alliances that have molded the Jewish experience during these 200 years.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92116-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Map
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Language, Community, and Experience
    (pp. 1-9)

    In a famous essay written in 1984, Milan Kundera (living at the time in exile in France) attempts to locate and define the elusive entity known as “Central Europe.”¹ He attacks the subject from a number of angles, searching, in the process, not only the political map of Europe, but the record of modern Western creativity as well. One approach is to define Central Europe in opposition to what it is not: not Russia and not Germany. Kundera also entertains the notion that Central Europe epitomizes the continent as a whole, a kind of “condensed version of Europe … in...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Czech Landscape, Habsburg Crown: The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia to 1918
    (pp. 10-36)

    The origins of the Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia lie in a distant and ultimately irretrievable past. Traditions in each of these lands attest to the existence of Jewish colonies attached to camps of Roman soldiers, but no written records of such early settlement have survived. If Jewshadentered these regions with or shortly after the Roman advance, they could, perhaps, lay claim to a longer continuous residence in the Czech lands than either Czechs or Germans, but claims to Jewish antiquity in the region will always be unprovable. Properly speaking, such concerns occupy the realms of apologetics...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Caution’s Progress: Enlightenment and Tradition in Jewish Prague, 1780–1830
    (pp. 37-64)

    In the light of contemporary disparities in economic and social development around the world, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that through much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the division between East and West—wealth and poverty, power and insecurity, progress and reaction—was understood to apply to the European continent itself. And, as Robin Okey has argued, the countries of East Central Europe comprised the first world region outside of the West to attempt the social, economic, and cultural transformations to which the termmodernizationcommonly refers.¹ Compared with the two great commercial giants of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Social Vision of Bohemian Jews: Intellectuals and Community in the 1840s
    (pp. 65-94)

    For the Jews of the Habsburg monarchy, political emancipation and social integration were often frustratingly difficult processes. The problem derived in part from the conservative, hierarchical nature of Austrian society, compounded by the government’s inability—or unwillingness—to match the wide-ranging transformations that it did encourage in the cultural sphere with commensurate political reforms. Thus, while Jews in Bohemia, Hungary, and lower Austria by and large accepted the educational and occupational reforms of Joseph II and his successors—constructing state-supervised primary schools along the model of the GermanNormalschule; placing their sons inGymnasienand eventually universities; patterning behavior, dress,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Pursuing the Golem of Prague: Jewish Culture and the Invention of a Tradition
    (pp. 95-113)

    The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 65B, reads:

    Rava said: If the righteous wished, they could create a world, as it is written [Isaiah 59:2]: “It is your iniquities that have separated you from your God” [i.e., made a distinction between you and God]. Rava created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera spoke to him but he [the man] did not answer. Then he [Rabbi Zera] said to him: You are from the companions [i.e., a creature created by the rabbis]. Return to your dust.

    Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaia spent every Sabbath eve studying theBook of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 On Myth, History, and National Belonging in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 114-134)

    Anthropology, classical philology, and religious studies have brought distinct analytical traditions to bear on the study of myth in human culture. Classicists have tended to view myth primarily as an epic literary genre, an account of “the gods,” which purports to transmit cultural information based on the preliterary, oral traditions of a people. It is understood to represent a bridge between orally transmitted epic tales and sagas and the more sophisticated genres of history, philosophy, and rhetoric. Anthropologists of the early part of this century who did ethnographic field work among so-called preliterate populations understood myth to be a primary...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Education and National Conflict: Germans, Czechs, and Jews
    (pp. 135-158)

    National movements typically have sought to link the political with the cultural, to achieve sovereignty or power for a particular group—defined variously in terms of language, broadly shared cultural traditions, and a sense of shared historical destiny—that is imagined to be cohesive and able to act in concert on the stage of history.¹ Because of the equation of culture and politics in modern nationalism and, just as importantly, because of the role that the technical and professional intelligentsia has played in promoting nationalism’s claims, the issue of public education has often been paramount. It was the local school...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Jan Hus and the Prophets: Fashioning a Czech Judaism at the Turn of the Century
    (pp. 159-180)

    In 1867 the Prague Jewish community laid to rest its venerable chief rabbi of twenty-seven years, Solomon Judah Rapoport. In the same year construction was completed on a new, domed synagogue on Geistesgasse, built in the so-called Spanish style of Reform Judaism. When Rapoport first came to Prague from Galicia at the age of forty-three, the city had very much the air of a provincial Austrian capital, modest in size, unprepossessing, and dominated by a Gentile, German-speaking elite. Its Jewish population continued to labor under numerous disabilities, including residential and occupational restrictions, the formalnumerus claususof the Familiants Laws,...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Death and the Nation: Ritual Murder as Political Discourse in the Czech Lands
    (pp. 181-197)

    The title of this chapter begs for some explanation. Let me begin by proposing that the termdiscoursedescribes a cognitive system, a set of logical propositions, metaphors, and symbols whose overall effect is to impose order and meaning on experience, to provide a “mapping” of reality according to which the objects of experience are applied to a discrete, limited, and knowable set of (culturally specific) meanings. Preexisting knowledge of the world is, in many respects, inseparable from perceptions of that world; it informs, directs, and molds perception and may also undergo modification as a result of—or in the...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Masaryk and Czech Jewry: The Ambiguities of Friendship
    (pp. 198-216)

    The relationship between the Jews of the Czech lands and Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850–1937), the national educator and politician who was to become the first president of Czechoslovakia in 1918, revolved around a pair of paradoxes. On the one hand, Masaryk enjoyed a reputation among both Jews and non-Jews as a staunch opponent of antisemitism, a relentless critic of the “blood libel,” and a defender of Jewish political rights.¹ Yet, as this chapter will attempt to demonstrate, the record of Masaryk’s dealings with Jewish leaders, as well as his writings on Jews, leaves little doubt that his attitudes were...

  15. EPILOGUE: A Sitting Room in Prague
    (pp. 217-230)

    In June 1964 on the occasion of the opening of a Kafka exhibition in Prague, Max Brod (1884–1968) returned to his native city following an absence of twenty-five years. Brod, Kafka’s lifelong friend and literary executor, had been active in Central European Zionism since 1911, was a founding member of the Jewish National Council at the close of the First World War, and enjoyed prominence as a writer and journalist during the interwar years. He managed to leave Prague just at the last minute, as it were, following the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, emigrating...

  16. APPENDIX Franz Klutschak’s Rendition of the Golem Folktale Panorama des Universums, vol. 8 [1841]
    (pp. 231-234)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 235-284)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-306)
  19. Index
    (pp. 307-311)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)