How Judaism Became a Religion

How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought

Leora Batnitzky
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sz30
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    How Judaism Became a Religion
    Book Description:

    Is Judaism a religion, a culture, a nationality--or a mixture of all of these? InHow Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Batnitzky boldly argues that this question more than any other has driven modern Jewish thought since the eighteenth century. This wide-ranging and lucid introduction tells the story of how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period--and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea.

    Ever since the Enlightenment, Jewish thinkers have debated whether and how Judaism--largely a religion of practice and public adherence to law--can fit into a modern, Protestant conception of religion as an individual and private matter of belief or faith. Batnitzky makes the novel argument that it is this clash between the modern category of religion and Judaism that is responsible for much of the creative tension in modern Jewish thought. Tracing how the idea of Jewish religion has been defended and resisted from the eighteenth century to today, the book discusses many of the major Jewish thinkers of the past three centuries, including Moses Mendelssohn, Abraham Geiger, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Zvi Yehuda Kook, Theodor Herzl, and Mordecai Kaplan. At the same time, it tells the story of modern orthodoxy, the German-Jewish renaissance, Jewish religion after the Holocaust, the emergence of the Jewish individual, the birth of Jewish nationalism, and Jewish religion in America.

    More than an introduction,How Judaism Became a Religionpresents a compelling new perspective on the history of modern Jewish thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3971-1
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    Is Judaism a religion? Is Jewishness a matter of culture? Are the Jews a nation? These are modern questions, and this book tries to explain why this is the case. More specifically, this book tells the story of how and why the idea that Judaism is a religion was invented in the modern period, and the many conceptual tensions that followed from it.

    Like the notion of Jewish religion, the modern concept of religion more generally is not a neutral or timeless category but instead a modern, European creation, and a Protestant one at that. The etymology of the term...

  5. Part I Judaism as Religion
    • Chapter 1 MODERN JUDAISM AND THE INVENTION OF JEWISH RELIGION
      (pp. 13-31)

      For both biographic and philosophical reasons, Moses Mendelssohn is rightfully considered the founder of modern Jewish thought. While Mendelssohn lived before individual Jews had political rights, he articulates a vision of how Jews and Judaism could complement the modern nation-state. Mendelssohn gives voice to the claim that I will be exploring throughout this book: that Judaism is a religion. In fact, he invents the modern idea that Judaism is a religion. Yet his argument is fraught with the fundamental tension that would and still does define much of modern Jewish thought: religion is a modern German Protestant category that Judaism...

    • Chapter 2 RELIGION AS HISTORY: RELIGIOUS REFORM AND THE INVENTION OF MODERN ORTHODOXY
      (pp. 32-51)

      In March 1812, the status of Jews in Prussia changed. Jews were declared citizens of the Prussian state and were permitted to hold academic positions, although not governmental ones. Special taxes and occupational restrictions for Jews were abolished. This change in status came not from Dohm’s, Mendelssohn’s, or Friedländer’s efforts but instead stemmed from the humiliating defeat of Prussia by Napoléon I in 1806. The edict of 1812 reflected the French notion of equality, and emancipated the peasantry along with the Jews while also establishing a modern bureaucracy in Prussia. This positive turn of events would soon become negative for...

    • Chapter 3 RELIGION AS REASON AND THE SEPARATION OF RELIGION FROM POLITICS
      (pp. 52-72)

      In the last chapter, I discussed the emergence of modern Jewish historians and their role in the creation of Jewish religion. I now turn to modern Jewish philosophers who define themselves as fundamentally opposed to history as such, but who, like the figures explored in chapter 2, also affirm the modern idea that Judaism is a religion, whether explicitly or implicitly. Within different geographic locations, and historical and political contexts—Hermann Cohen in early twentieth-century Germany, Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) in the late twentieth-century United States, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–94) in late twentieth-century Israel—the thinkers considered in this...

    • Chapter 4 RELIGION AS EXPERIENCE: THE GERMAN JEWISH RENAISSANCE
      (pp. 73-90)

      In the last three chapters I explored a trajectory of modern Jewish thought, beginning with Mendelssohn and peaking with Cohen, that posits a confluence between Judaism and rationality. As we have seen, this argument goes hand in hand with an affirmation of modern liberal politics in which Jews and Judaism would exist as a minority that would contribute to the majority culture. I turn now to disillusionment with these sorts of assertions in German Jewish thought in the early twentieth century.

      Tellingly perhaps, the Jewish intellectuals who were disillusioned with claims for philosophical rationality and political liberalism were of the...

    • Chapter 5 JEWISH RELIGION AFTER THE HOLOCAUST
      (pp. 91-108)

      In the last four chapters, I have explored different but complementary arguments that Judaism is best defined as a religion. Defining Judaism as a religion, as these chapters have shown, implicitly supports the idea that Judaism in no way interferes with and may even complement the modern nation-state. The notion of religion thereby reinforces the idea of the modern nation-state, and vice versa. While the thinkers that I have considered in these last chapters differ in important ways, they all basically agree that political modernity, which allows Jews to become citizens of the modern nation-state, is good for the Jews...

  6. Part II Detaching Judaism from Religion
    • Chapter 6 THE IRRELEVANCE OF RELIGION AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE JEWISH INDIVIDUAL
      (pp. 111-129)

      As mentioned in the introduction, two interrelated aspects of a modern concept of religion are especially relevant to the story of the invention of Jewish religion. First, as we saw in the last five chapters, this story cannot be separated from the emergence of the modern nation-state; if Judaism is a religion, it is something different in kind from the supreme political authority of the sovereign state. Second, the modern concept of religion suggests that religion is one particular sphere of life among other particular and separate spheres, such as politics, morality, science, and economics. We saw that a number...

    • Chapter 7 THE TRANSFORMATION OF TRADITION AND THE INVENTION OF JEWISH CULTURE
      (pp. 130-146)

      Standing against the modern category of Jewish religion invented in western Europe, the modern notion of Jewish culture, which developed in eastern Europe, transformed traditional Judaism. Rather than defining Judaism as a narrow sphere of life among other spheres, however, as happened in the West, Jewish culture became a vibrant form of life that encompassed all aspects of the experience of modern Jews. Let us recall Katz’s characterization of the three possible paths that German Jews could have taken after emancipation. First, Jews could have simply left Judaism behind and joined the German cultural tradition. Second, Jews could have used...

    • Chapter 8 THE REJECTION OF JEWISH RELIGION AND THE BIRTH OF JEWISH NATIONALISM
      (pp. 147-165)

      The term anti-Semitism, coined in the late nineteenth century, implies that all Jews are Semites. Why, at this time, were Jews defined as such, and not, for instance, as German, French, Russian, or Polish? As we saw in chapters 2, 6, and 7, in the first half of the nineteenth century, in both western and eastern Europe, Jews had achieved some measure of success integrating into their various societies. This success, however, was met by non-Jewish society not with openness to further integration but rather with anti-Semitic backlash, from both the Right and Left. While they had their different reasons,...

    • Chapter 9 JEWISH RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES
      (pp. 166-182)

      Many immigrants to the United States saw themselves as the new Israel who had escaped the bondage of their past enslavements and respective Egypts, and Jewish immigrants felt no differently. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, many Jews looked to the United States as the new Promised Land, and their hopes for their new home are captured in striking literary testimonies. In his playThe Melting Pot, Israel Zangwill (1864–1926), a British Jew who ran an emigration society that helped thousands of Jews emigrate to the United States and actually coined the term “melting pot,” describes a...

  7. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 183-192)

    I began this book with the questions: Is Judaism a religion? Is Jewishness a matter of culture? Are the Jews a nation? In the last nine chapters, we have seen that Jewish thinkers of a variety of religious and ideological stripes have answered these questions by emphasizing one way of understanding Judaism or Jewishness, whether religion, culture, or nationality, instead of others. By way of conclusion I turn to ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which can be understood as a wholesalerejectionof all these modern attempts to divide human life into different spheres, and thereby as a refusal to engage the question...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 193-202)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 203-211)