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Secularism in Question

Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times

Ari Joskowicz
Ethan B. Katz
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Secularism in Question
    Book Description:

    For much of the twentieth century, most religious and secular Jewish thinkers believed that they were witnessing a steady, ongoing movement toward secularization. Toward the end of the century, however, as scholars and pundits began to speak of the global resurgence of religion, the normalization of secularism could no longer be considered inevitable. Recent decades have seen the strengthening of Orthodox movements in the United States and in Israel; religious Zionism has grown and radically changed since the 1960s, and new and vibrant nondenominational Jewish movements have emerged.

    Secularism in Questionexamines the ways these contemporary revivals of religion prompt a reconsideration of many issues concerning Jews and Judaism from the early modern era to the present. Bringing together scholars of history, religion, philosophy, and literature, this volume illustrates how the categories of "religious" and "secular" have frequently proven far more permeable than fixed. The contributors challenge the problematic assumptions about the development of secularism that emerge from Protestant European and American perspectives and demonstrate that global Jewish experiences necessitate a reappraisal of conventional narratives of secularism. Ultimately,Secularism in Questioncalls for rethinking the very terms that animate many of the most contentious debates in contemporary Jewish life and far beyond.

    Contributors:Michal Ben-Horin, Aryeh Edrei, Jonathan Mark Gribetz, Ari Joskowicz, Ethan Katz, Eva Lezzi, Vivian Liska, Rachel Manekin, David Myers, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Andrea Schatz, Christophe Schulte, Daniel B. Schwartz, Galili Shahar, Scott Ury

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9151-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION. Rethinking Jews and Secularism
    (pp. 1-22)

    For much of the twentieth century, most secular and religious thinkers believed that they were living in an age of steady secularization. Many perceived the Enlightenment and Europe as the interlinked chronological and geographical focal points that had given birth to secularization before it began its inevitable march across space and time. Depending on their religious outlooks, they saw their own era as ushering in either a “Golden Age” of secularism or a dark period of godless decadence. It was only in the closing decades of the twentieth century—when scholars and pundits began to speak of the global resurgence...


    • CHAPTER 1 “Our Rabbi Baruch”: Spinoza and Radical Jewish Enlightenment
      (pp. 25-47)

      In 1845, the Haskalah’s republic of letters was roiled by a brief biographical portrait published in a Hebrew periodical. The author of the sketch was the Galician Hebrew poet and Maskil Meir Letteris (1800–1871); the subject, the rationalist philosopher and notorious Jewish heretic Benedict (né Baruch) Spinoza (1632–77). Nearly two centuries earlier, in 1656, the Sephardic congregation of Amsterdam had excommunicated Spinoza for his “horrible heresies” and “monstrous deeds, expressly prohibiting all contact with, as well as reading anything by, the future author of theTheological-Political Treatise(1670) and theEthics(1677).¹ Letteris was not the first Jewish...

    • CHAPTER 2 Reading Mendelssohn in Late Ottoman Palestine: An Islamic Theory of Jewish Secularism
      (pp. 48-64)

      “German Philosopher, translator of the Bible, and commentator; the ‘third Moses,’ with whom begins a new era in Judaism.” So opens the 1905Jewish Encyclopediaarticle on Moses Mendelssohn. The authors of this encyclopedia article did not specify the nature of the “new era” ushered in by Moses Mendelssohn, but one of this encyclopedia’s readers believed he knew, and he wrote an Arabic book about it calledZionism or the Zionist Question. During the final years of Ottoman rule in Palestine, Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi, a Muslim Arab from a distinguished family in Jerusalem, wrote a manuscript about Jewish history and...

    • CHAPTER 3 Tradition and the Hidden: Hannah Arendt’s Secularization of Jewish Mysticism
      (pp. 65-76)

      Recent discussions of secularization have undermined the notion of a linear transformation from traditional religious ideas and concepts to “enlightened,” profane, and disenchanted worldviews. The sinuous paths from tradition to modernity are particularly striking when elements of both are intermingled, which calls into question any attempt at drawing clear-cut distinctions between them. At this point secularization appears as an unfinished and unfinishable process of modernization. Neither can the contours and borders of secularization ever be clearly delineated. Even within a single tradition, in this case the Jewish one, drawing sharp divisions between religion and modernity and within different modes of...


    • CHAPTER 4 Messianism Without Messiah: Messianism, Religion, and Secularization in Modern Jewish Thought
      (pp. 79-97)

      In the midst of the turbulent Bavarian Revolution, in January 1919, only two months after the end of the First World War, a group of university students invited Professor Max Weber to speak at a Munich bookshop. There, he delivered an emotional speech, without notes, in which he addressed the “disenchantment” of the modern world and warned students against yearning for a prophet or redeemer. There is no such phenomenon in the modern, contemporary world of science and technology, a world alienated from God and free of prophets, he claimed. Weber’s speech was stenographed and later published under the title...

    • CHAPTER 5 In the Name of the Devil: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “Agesilaus Santander”
      (pp. 98-114)

      This chapter offers a close reading of Walter Benjamin’s autobiographical essay “Agesilaus Santander” (1933) and discusses its theological and poetical implications as a project that challenges the concept of secularism from a demonic point of view. In Benjamin’s writings the demon represents a radical, destructive, yet creative movement that also carries redemptive implications: the demon is represented as the other face of the messianic force, its double. The demonic perspective here thus involves more than simply the question of Benjamin’s biography as a German Jewish writer in dark times. It rather reveals how Benjamin’s short text introduces essential tensions of...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Secular and Its Dissonances in Modern Jewish Literature
      (pp. 115-141)

      This essay explores the role of musical figurations as a mode of representation in modern Jewish literature. It focuses on how images of musical instruments and musicians, in particular the violin and the violinist, which are embedded in religious traditions and imbued with theological connotations, are employed in the realm of a secular poetics. Transformed into modern literary texts, these musical figurations, which cross historical periods and cultural discourses, are intertwined with contradictory categories: disaster that reverberates with national revival, lamentation that resonates with a promise of redemption, exilic experience that echoes with the visions of a homeland. Music plays...

    • CHAPTER 7 Civil Society, Secularization, and Modernity Among Jews in Turn-of-the-Century Eastern Europe
      (pp. 142-167)

      For generations, scholars of European history and society have bound modernity to intellectual and social processes of secularization. Grounded in Enlightenment-era discussions regarding the nature of humanity, the place of God, and the construction of the modern self, thinkers such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel repeatedly maintained that being modern meant shedding one’s religious faith and becoming a rational, secular individual.¹ Such interpretations continued to dominate academic scholarship after the Second World War as scholars from Jürgen Habermas to Jonathan Israel took similar positions regarding the intimate connection between secularization and modernity.² And so, the twinning, if...

    • CHAPTER 8 Secular French Nationhood and Its Discontents: Jews as Muslims and Religion as Race in Occupied France
      (pp. 168-186)

      The Second World War reconfigured the meanings of nation, race, religion, and the secular in metropolitan France. The German occupation in June 1940 and the immediate establishment of the authoritarian, antisemitic, procollaboration Vichy regime laid the groundwork for the horrors of the Shoah on French soil. This essay traces the manner in which these events shaped the respective positions of Jews and Muslims and explores a little-studied consequence of such developments: many Jews’ choice to disguise themselves as Muslim. As we shall see, this decision entailed both de-secularizing and secularizing components.¹ Such effects can only be understood properly by analyzing...


    • CHAPTER 9 Galician Haskalah and the Discourse of Schwärmerei
      (pp. 189-207)

      The conflict between Maskilim and Hasidim in nineteenth-century Galicia has generally been viewed as an intracommunal Jewish affair, with occasional interventions by the non-Jewish authorities.¹ More recently, it has been portrayed as an example of the culture wars waged between advocates of modernity and their critics, or between a liberal and tolerant worldview where religion occupies at best a limited place, and a religiosity that embraces all spheres of life. According to this interpretation, Maskilim perceived Hasidim as an obstacle to the renewal of Jewish society and Jewish culture. Moreover, while in Western and Central Europe Maskilim adopted a moderate...

    • CHAPTER 10 Secularism and Neo-Orthodoxy: Conflicting Strategies in Modern Orthodox Fiction
      (pp. 208-231)

      During the second half of the nineteenth century a new literary genre emerged in Germany, a paradoxical genre that could be called neo-Orthodox or modern Orthodox fiction. Published in a serialized form in Orthodox weekly journals, such asJeschurunandDer Israelit, these novels and novellas were meant to communicate religiously traditional and observant life to their readers. Their authors and publishers strove to attract a younger audience, both male and female. Despite their common purpose to foster Orthodoxy, these works differed greatly in a number of ways from traditional religious genres offering moral and halakhic guidance, such as rabbinic...

    • CHAPTER 11 Secularism and Nationalism: The Modern Halakhic Discourse on the Identity and Boundaries of the Jewish Community
      (pp. 232-258)

      This essay deals with the responses of Orthodox rabbis to secularization, and more specifically the responses of the Religious Zionist rabbis to this challenge in the first decades following the establishment of the State of Israel.

      Prior to the modern era, the Talmud and other classical halakhic sources had established a harsh attitude toward so-called transgressors, those who violated accepted halakhic norms and practices. This was based on the desire to distance such individuals from the Jewish community. In the eyes of the Talmud, the Jewish community is inherently a community of Torah-observant Jews. This position was significantly challenged in...


    • CHAPTER 12 Between Supersessionism and Atavism: Toward a Neo-Secular View of Religion
      (pp. 261-275)

      The three participants in this forum represent three distinct political, intellectual, and methodological perspectives within the field of Jewish history. And yet, what brought us together to propose a research group at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies was a shared interest in the relevance of recent debates over the secular to the field of Jewish studies, and vice versa. Two core assumptions animated the organizers.

      First, secularism is important because it is, and can only be, about religion—or, perhaps to strip away the ideological sheen of “secularism,” we can say, following Talal Asad, that “the concept of...

    • CHAPTER 13 Secularism, the Christian Ambivalence Toward the Jews, and the Notion of Exile
      (pp. 276-298)

      This essay focuses on several key aspects of secularism and secularization from a Jewish point of view, and seeks to draw out the political implications and urgency of the question. My point of departure is an observation by Carlo Ginzburg on the role of Christian ambivalence toward the Jews in the construction of modern historical consciousness. Examining its implications in several historical and political contexts, I suggest that we expand Ginzburg’s argument and view it as central rather than parenthetical to many aspects associated with the secular, particularly the notion of progress. Based on this analysis, I show the unique...

    • CHAPTER 14 “Eleven Calendars”: Beyond Secular Time
      (pp. 299-314)

      Turning to this world and the present time has often been seen as a central aspect of modern secular cultures. In secular contexts, the moment when “newness enters the world”¹ and progress can take place is always here and now. The present moment is imagined as opening up possibilites for worldly agency rather than heavenly interventions. Its transformative power, while sometimes linked symbolically to divine promises of the past or messianic visions of the future, is not entirely bound or defined by them. Secularism, which is often discussed in terms of space and spatial distinctions, whether taken literally or metaphorically,...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 315-394)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 395-398)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 399-410)
    (pp. 411-416)