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The Modern Jewish Experience: A Reader's Guide

Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 410
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    The Modern Jewish Experience
    Book Description:

    The pace of scholarly research and academic publication in fields of Judaica has quickened dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century. The major consumers and producers of this new scholarship are found in Jewish Studies programs that have proliferated at institutions of higher learning around the world since the 1960s. From the vantage point of the nineties, it is difficult to fathom that until thirty years ago, Jewish studies courses were mainly limited to a few elite universities, rabbinical seminaries, and Hebrew teachers' colleges. Today there are few colleges at public or private insitutions of higher learning that do not sponsor at least some courses on aspects of Jewish study. In light of this explosion of research on Jewish topics, non-specialists and educators can benefit from guidance through the thicket of new monographs, source anthologies, textbooks and scholarly essays. The Modern Jewish Experience, the result of a multi-year collaboration between the International Center for the University Teaching of Jewish Civilization and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, offers just such guidance on a range of issues pertaining to modern Jewish history, culture, religion, and society. With contributions from two dozen leading scholars, The Modern Jewish Experience presents practical information and guidelines intended to expand the teaching repertoire for undergraduate courses on modern Jewish life, as well as a means for college professors to enrich and diversify their courses with discussions on otherwise neglected Jewish communities, social and political issues, religious and ideological movements, and interdisciplinary perspectives. Sample syllabi are also included for survey courses set in diverse linguistic settings. An indispensible resource for undergraduate instruction, this volume may also be used to great profit by educators of adults in synagogue and Jewish communal settings, as well as by individual students engaged in private study.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8496-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jack Wertheimer
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Part I: A Guide to Fields of Study
    • Area Studies
      • 1. The Jews in Early Modern Central and Western Europe
        (pp. 5-11)
        M. Bodian

        For the sake of convenience, I define Early Modern Europe as the period extending from the rise to dominance of the Atlantic states up to the eve of the Enlightenment, or, roughly, from the mid-sixteenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries. While this period is of crucial importance, it lacks the clearcut dynamics of post-Enlightenment Jewish history and suffers from an absence of overarching themes. I would suggest four class sessions.

        The best overall discussion of this topic can be found in Jonathan Israel,European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism.¹ This overview takes into account the variety of factors involved in...

      • 2. Polish Jewry to the Partitions
        (pp. 12-17)
        David E. Fishman

        Whether the history and culture of the Jews in pre-Partition Poland (1500–1795) should be included in a course on the Modern Jewish Experience is itself an open question. The harbingers of change in the political and social status of the Jews and in Jewish culture and ideology appeared in Western and Central Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and had little resonance at the time in the East. Historians have therefore tended to consider Old Polish Jewry under the rubric of “the Late Middle Ages” rather than that of “early modernity.” Historical documents from Poland in this period...

      • 3. The Jews in Imperial Russia
        (pp. 18-24)
        Eli Lederhendler

        When Catherine II of Russia helped to complete the dismemberment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, she also thereby determined the fate of the world’s largest Jewish community. The addition of Polish lands to the Russian empire (which began in 1772 and continued until the Congress of Vienna in 1815) brought most of the Jews of Eastern Europe under czarist rule.

        During the century and a half that separated the first partition of Poland from the October Revolution, “Russian” Jewry entered the Modern era, achieved formidable demographic strength (more than quadrupling in size from the beginning to the end...

      • 4. Soviet Jewry
        (pp. 25-31)
        Eli Lederhendler

        Since the writing of this essay, the face of what was formerly the Soviet Union has changed drastically and this chapter of East European history has ended. It will take time before we can properly assess the consequences of the many changes, and it is not my intention to do so prematurely. Much of what I wrote in 1990 still applies. The situation of the Jews in the new republics or States of the Commonwealth is still in flux, the emigration continues, and no sweeping new assessments can be made at this time.

        Surely teaching Soviet Jewry is one of...

      • 5. The Jews of Austria-Hungary
        (pp. 32-38)
        Marsha L. Rozenblit

        The historiography on European Jewry has largely focused on the experiences of the Jews of Germany, and that experience has been taken as paradigmatic for all Jews in Western and Central Europe. Even though important books like Todd Endelman’sThe Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society¹ argued against this trend and revealed how the German model of Jewish modernization—a model based on the development of an ideology of Emancipation—simply did not apply to liberal England, studies of German Jewry still dominate the field and form the basis of most courses on...

      • 6. The Jews of North Africa and the Middle East
        (pp. 39-51)
        Jane Gerber

        The inclusion of the Sephardic experience in a curriculum on the Modern Jewish Experience is a desideratum today. Sephardim constitute sixty percent of the population of Israel, a majority of the Jewish population of France, and approximately one quarter of the Jewish people. Their experience, in many ways, is the experience of all the Jewish people in modern times. Moreover, the Sephardic chapter of the modern Jewish experience is open-ended — the story of change is ongoing. The Sephardic loyalty to their traditions in the face of secularism, nationalism, expulsion, and migration provides many fundamental perspectives on the tenacity as...

      • 7. American Jewish History
        (pp. 52-61)
        Jack Wertheimer

        In a survey of recent research on American Jewish history, the historian Jonathan Sarna noted the massive expansion of the field during the past decades. He measured this growth by the rising number of publications recorded in “Judaica Americana,” a regular feature of the journalAmerican Jewish History: whereas in 1965 a total of 175 publications were listed, by 1989, the figure had jumped to 515 publications. Other measures of expansion include the burgeoning of courses on American Jewish history at institutions of higher learning, the easy availability of scholarly books in the field, and the acceptance of articles on...

      • 8. Jews in Commonwealth Countries
        (pp. 62-71)
        Gideon Shimoni

        There is no tradition of scholarship or even of university teaching marking off the English-speaking Jewish communities outside the United States as a special field. Apart from the Jews of Great Britain, whose emancipated status and involvement in salient events of worldwide significance for Jews usually draws some attention in a Modern Jewish History survey, these communities seldom are mentioned, let alone studied closely. There also exist no historical works predicated on any conception of these communities as a single unit.

        Yet it is a fact that these communities have a great deal in common in terms of their historical...

      • 9. Israeli Society and Culture
        (pp. 72-79)
        Chaim I. Waxman

        To understand Israeli society and culture it is important to be aware that although Israel is in many respects a modern society, it has a number of characteristics which make it unique; and, as the dean of Israeli sociologists, Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, argues,¹ to more fully comprehend the nature of its society and culture, its dynamism must be analyzed within the context of both its similarities to and differences from other modern societies.

        Eisenstadt points to four distinctive characteristics as paramount. First, Israel developed as a pioneering and ideological society, in contrast to most others except, perhaps, the early Puritan...

      • 10. Latin American Jewry
        (pp. 80-88)
        Victor A. Mirelman

        The scientific study of the Jewish communities of Latin America is a relatively new endeavor that has produced few works in English, and this dearth of literature hampers teaching about Latin American Jewry in English-speaking settings. Happily, a slow correction is under way with the publication of some studies in English. This is due in no small measure to the proliferation of Latin American Studies on American campuses on the one hand, and a keener awareness of Jews in Latin America by scholars of Jewish studies, who as of late have emphasized the Modern and Contemporary periods in Jewish history,...

    • Social and Political Issues
      • 11. The Traditional Jewish Community
        (pp. 91-94)
        M. Bodian

        The community as a flexible framework for Jewish life in the Medieval period was first studied by Louis Finkelstein,Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages.¹ Finkelstein’s work is largely confined to the study of major internal ordinances adopted in Medieval European communities. The basis for Jewish communal life in the context of Christian society was studied by James Parkes,The Jew in the Medieval Community.² A far more encompassing view of the community as the basic organizing structure in Jewish life was developed by Salo Baron in his pioneering work,The Jewish Community: Its History and Structure to the American...

      • 12. Jewish Emancipation
        (pp. 95-101)
        David Weinberg

        Two hundred years have passed since the first proclamation of Jewish civil equality in Europe, yet the issue of Emancipation continues to absorb and fascinate Jewish scholars. The reasons are not hard to find. The granting of legal rights to Jews not only brought about significant changes in their economic and social status but also had a profound impact on the internal administrative structure and ideology of the Jewish community. The repercussions of the entrance of the Jew into the modern world continue to reverberate among contemporary Jews. Indeed, the variety of forms of Jewish identity in the two contemporary...

      • 13. Secular Jewish Culture
        (pp. 102-108)
        David Weinberg

        The study of secularism and secularization in the West has made enormous strides over the past few decades. In breaking down the simplistic association of secularism with atheism and social progress typical of nineteenth-century thought, cultural historians and sociologists of religion have helped to broaden the scope and sophistication of the field. Scholars now recognize that there can be no uniform definition of the ideology of secularism and the process of secularization since they differ from community to community according to the nature of the particular society’s religion and religious institutions. Similarly, they have grown to realize that religious belief...

      • 14. Modern Jewish Social History
        (pp. 109-122)
        Shulamit S. Magnus

        Social history is the study of society in history. A relatively recent approach, social history developed as historians of Europe and the United States redefined the criteria of what was historically significant and worthy of study. Rather than examining “great events” or extraordinary personalities, social historians shifted the focus to the average, ordinary, but more typical masses of people and their behavior, who merited study because they were the vast majority of humanity throughout history. Migration, marriage patterns, fertility, occupational stratification and mobility, dress, manners, and mores replaced wars, diplomacy, kings, and philosophers as objects of study.

        Jewish social history...

      • 15. The Mass Migration of East European Jews
        (pp. 123-132)
        Jack Wertheimer

        Evyatar Friesel highlights the significance of migration for the modem Jewish experience by beginning his magnificentAtlas of Modern Jewish History¹ with a series of maps (pp. 10–19) depicting the remarkable shifts in Jewish population centers from the seventeenth century to the present. A pernsal of these maps makes it abundantly clear that Jews have repeatedly reconcentrated themselves demographically in the modem era: whereas the locus of Jewish settlement was primarily in Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and North Africa at the end of the seventeenth century, key centers soon arose in Central and Western Europe, and in our own...

      • 16. Modern Antisemitism and Jewish Responses
        (pp. 133-139)
        Marsha L. Rozenblit

        The shock of the Holocaust, the sheer fact that the Nazi regime had annihilated between five and six million European Jews in a systematic, bureaucratic, and utterly rational manner, precipitated an immediate inquiry into its root causes. Obviously, antisemitism—hatred of the Jews—had fueled Nazi success. The Nazis themselves had always espoused viscious anti-Jewish animosity, and their antisemitic ravings had found a ready ear in the large segment of the German population that had voted for them in the early 1930s. Even if the Germans who voted for the Nazis did not share all of Hitler’s anti-Jewish views, clearly...

      • 17. The Holocaust
        (pp. 140-148)
        Marsha L. Rozenblit

        The Holocaust, the annihilation of European Jewry by the Nazis during World War II, is a central event both in Jewish and in German, indeed all European, history. Because of its centrality and power, it presents many difficult challenges to the instructor in a course on the Modern Jewish Experience. Although the events of the Holocaust call into question the very nature of Jewish–gentile relations in the Modern period, the Holocaust was not inevitable or predetermined. Thus any presentation of the Holocaust must place it within the specific social and political context in which it occurred. Students must understand...

    • Religious and Ideological Movements
      • 18. Hasidism and Its Opponents
        (pp. 151-157)
        David E. Fishman

        A recent survey of scholarship on Hasidism suggested that no field in Jewish studies has undergone such thorough revision and transformation during the last decade as this one. Old conventional wisdoms have been undermined, and a whole new set of questions has been raised. Meanwhile, the author of another critical review of the historiography contends that nearly all the work done on Hasidism to date is impressionistic and methodologically flawed and suggests that the field should start from scratch all over again. (Morris M. Faierstein, “Hasidism: the Last Decade in Research”;¹ Zeev Gries, “Hasidism: The Present State of Research and...

      • 19. Religious Movements in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe
        (pp. 158-168)
        Allan L. Nadler

        The critical study of the traditional religious movements of East European Jewry during the Modern period remains—with the notable exception of the remarkable recent efflorescence of scholarship on Hasidism—an exceedingly neglected field. This is particularly true of the English-language scholarship on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Orthodox Judaism, which is so scarce that it is difficult even to consider it as constituting an established realm of academic research. The paucity of works in this area, particularly when contrasted with the highly developed and impressive recent scholarship on Hasidism, is, however, at least somewhat understandable. Unlike Hasidism, which represents a strikingly...

      • 20. Modern Jewish Religious Movements
        (pp. 169-180)
        Alan Mittelman

        The literature on modern Jewish religious movements, which—for the purposes of this essay—refers to Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Judaism, is vast. Considerable historical, sociological, and philosophical/theological scholarship on the movements exists, as does an ongoing production of primary source materials found in such institutional self-expressions as sermon collections, rabbinic professional journals, institutional documents, and so on. I am (thankfully) spared the daunting task of bringing conceptual and bibliographic order to such a field, as my focus is modest and practical. My concern is pedagogic. I concentrate on how the field of modern Jewish religious movements can best...

      • 21. Modern Jewish Politics
        (pp. 181-188)
        Eli Lederhendler

        There is a certain irony in the fact that Jewish political studies may justly be considered a new field—at one of the few conferences devoted specifically to the topic (held at the YIVO Institute in New York in the fall of 1989), one of the keynote speakers contended that the field of Jewish politics is still virgin territory. Given the Jews’ proverbial contentiousness and their track record of survival and national self-regeneration against considerable odds, one might assume that Jews would be considered political animals par excellence. Why this has not been so in the past, and why Jewish...

      • 22. Zionist Ideology
        (pp. 189-200)
        Gideon Shimoni

        The purpose of this essay is to suggest outlines and bibliographical resources for teaching about “Zionist ideology” or, as some prefer it, “the Zionist idea.” By far the greater part of the vast secondary as well as primary literature that has appeared on the history of Zionist ideology is in the Hebrew language. However, the proposals for university teaching that follow are predicated on the assumption that only readings in English may be set for the students. Fortunately, there is an ample basis for undergraduate teaching in the corpus of translated sources and research works available to the English reader...

      • 23. Religious Culture and Politics in Israel
        (pp. 201-210)
        Chaim I. Waxman

        The issue of religion in Israel should be seen within the context of the series of conflict settings within Israel referred to in my essay in this volume, “Israeli Society and Culture,” in large part because of the challenges of blending traditional religion with modern national Jewish life. Especially in Israel, where the ideology of Zionism—a movement which, as Shmuel Eisenstadt pointed out inThe Transformation of Israeli Society: An Essay in Interpretation,¹ is based on both rebellion and continuity—plays such a pivotal role, and where there is thus a highly intricate relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry,...

    • Disciplinary Perspectives
      • 24. Modern Jewish Literature
        (pp. 213-227)
        David G. Roskies

        The very term “Jewish literature,” suggesting an internally coherent, multilingual body of writing, already carries a great deal of polemical weight. In his pathbreaking essay of 1818, “Etwas über die rabbinische Literatur,”¹ German-Jewish scholar Leopold Zunz defined all of postbiblical Jewish writing until the advent of Emancipation as “Rabbinic Literature.” Henceforth, cultured Jews would write in German, not in Hebrew; as scholars, poets, and playwrights, not as rabbis. Meanwhile, back in Eastern Europe, the purveyors of Enlightenment were just beginning to write works of philosophy, natural science, philology, criticism, and belles lettres in the very language that Zunz considered dead....

      • 25. Jewish Art in the Modern Era
        (pp. 228-241)
        Richard I. Cohen

        As Jewish civilization has accorded central importance to the literary tradition, the visual dimension is often overlooked in the study of Jewish society, past and present. Jewish education in the traditional framework, unlike Medieval Christian society, shied away from instruction by visual images and established a clear hierarchy that regarded the written text as the supreme source of knowledge and truth. Nevertheless, visual images were present in Jewish life since classical times in texts and in synagogues, and it would appear that the rabbinic opposition was not as pronounced or fervent as is commonly assumed. Indeed in certain periods and...

      • 26. Jewish Music in the Modern Era
        (pp. 242-261)
        Neil W. Levin

        Jewish music came forward to meet modernity bearing a diverse and deeply rooted musical trousseau. If generically uneven by the measure of Western musical standards and forms, it was nonetheless a legacy that embraced in the aggregate a wide geographical spectrum of local and regional traditions and practices—with some of its underpinnings in ancient Israel, and other foundations in both Arabic and European cultures. Its contents comprised a complex liturgicalmelos—born in antiquity, fleshed out in the formative years of the Medieval European Jewish experience, and augmented during succeeding centuries; a rich and spiritually as well as socially...

      • 27. Modern Jewish Thought
        (pp. 262-274)
        Neil Gillman

        “Jewish thought” is a convenient umbrella term which delineates the inquiry into the broad intellectual assumptions underlying the varied forms of Jewish expression. It avoids the more technical connotations of “Jewish philosophy” and “Jewish theology” and hence includes both of these. It can also refer to both secular and religious forms of expression, for example, in our period to both political Zionism and Holocaust theology. When approached from a historical perspective, it becomes “Jewish intellectual history” or “history of Jewish thought.”

        Historical periodization is somewhat arbitrary, and the determination of precisely when Judaism entered its “Modern” period is no exception...

      • 28. Modern Jewish Demography
        (pp. 275-290)
        Sergio DellaPergola

        The scientific study of Jewish population, sometimes referred to as Jewish demography, focuses on the changing size and composition of Jewish populations, and on the determinants and consequences of such changes. It should be clearly indicated from the outset that variations in Jewish population size and composition reflect the action of both biological and demographic variables—as in the case of populations in general—and of identificational-cultural variables—as in the case of most other minority groups or subpopulations. The following statement most concisely identifies the main area of interest of Jewish population studies. For any given region or territory,...

      • 29. American and Canadian Jewish Sociology
        (pp. 291-312)
        Stuart Schoenfeld

        The sociology and anthropology of American and Canadian Jews is primarily a post–World War II phenomenon. There were far fewer sociologists and anthropologists before the war than there are now; few were Jewish; fewer studied Jews. Louis Wirth—a member of the influential “Chicago School” of American sociology—devoted a volume,The Ghetto.¹ to the Jewish immigrant experience. Louis Rosenberg,Canada’s Jews,² compiled detailed data based on the Canadian censuses. Such analysis was, and still is, possible because Canada, unlike the United States, enumerates Jews on the census—twice, in fact: as an “ethnic group” and as

        Within the...

  6. Part II. Teaching Resources
    • An Annotated Guide to Major Reference Works
      (pp. 315-328)
      Jack Wertheimer
    • Sample Syllabi for Survey Courses on the Modern Jewish Experience Taught in Diverse Linguistic and National Settings
  7. Index of Authors
    (pp. 379-392)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-393)