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Haskalah: The Romantic Movement in Judaism

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Commonly translated as the "Jewish Enlightenment," the Haskalah propelled Jews into modern life. Olga Litvak argues that the idea of a Jewish modernity, championed by adherents of this movement, did not originate in Western Europe's age of reason. Litvak contends that the Haskalah spearheaded a Jewish religious revival, better understood against the background of Eastern European Romanticism.

    Based on imaginative and historically grounded readings of primary sources, Litvak presents a compelling case for rethinking the relationship between the Haskalah and the experience of political and social emancipation. Most importantly, she challenges the prevailing view that the Haskalah provided the philosophical mainspring for Jewish liberalism.

    In Litvak's ambitious interpretation, nineteenth-century Eastern European intellectuals emerge as the authors of a Jewish Romantic revolution. Fueled by contradictory longings both for community and for personal freedom, the poets and scholars associated with the Haskalah questioned the moral costs of civic equality and the achievement of middle-class status. In the nineteenth century, their conservative approach to culture as the cure for the spiritual ills of the modern individual provided a powerful argument for the development of Jewish nationalism. Today, their ideas are equally resonant in contemporary debates about the ramifications of secularization for the future of Judaism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5437-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    The Rutgers book series Key Words in Jewish Studies seeks to introduce students and scholars alike to vigorous developments in the field by exploring its terms. These words and phrases reference important concepts, issues, practices, events, and circumstances. But terms also refer to standards, even to preconditions; they patrol the boundaries of the field of Jewish studies. This series aims to transform outsiders into insiders and let insiders gain new perspectives on usages, some of which shift even as we apply them.

    Key words mutate through repetition, suppression, amplification, and competitive sharing. Jewish studies finds itself attending to such processes...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Part I Terms of Debate

    • 1 Wrong Time, Wrong Place
      (pp. 3-22)

      The historical treatment of the Haskalah is a case study in mistranslation. Scholarly convention uniformly renders this Hebrew word as “enlightenment,” a definition that inevitably invites comparison with the European movement of the same name. Nearly every book or article dealing with the subject assumes and then proceeds to expound upon this ostensible kinship. The consensus view of the Haskalah from the perspective of the European Enlightenment is more or less taken for granted as an article of scholarly faith, even in Israel where there is no need for translation from the Hebrew. To be sure, historians disagree about the...

    • 2 Beyond the Enlightenment
      (pp. 23-46)

      In defiance of basic chronological and geographical discrepancies, Haskalah scholarship persists in trying to wedge the history of a nineteenth-century Eastern European movement into the history of eighteenth-century Western Europe. New books that advance bold interpretive claims about the Haskalah barely venture beyond Berlin in the 1790s. Despite the recent appearance of local studies that focus on the Haskalah in Galicia and Russia (see below, chapter 4), the mindset of the “Jewish Enlightenment” is still positioned within the framework of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century German rationalism and treated as an offshoot of the dogmatic philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff....

  8. Part II State of the Question

    • 3 Haskalah and History
      (pp. 49-64)

      Historical scholarship on the Haskalah is driven principally by the continual reassessment of the connection between the “Jewish Enlightenment” and the Jewish experience of modernity. The received view assumed a direct and “intimate relationship” between the “Jewish Enlightenment” and the revolutionary “processes of political emancipation and the integration of Jews into the larger society.”¹ According to a highly influential argument, presented by Jacob Katz in hisTradition and Crisis(originally published in Hebrew in 1958), the Haskalah initiated Jews into secular middle-class culture and launched Jewish intellectuals into the fray of liberal politics. “That the Haskalah movement caused fundamental changes...

    • 4 Haskalah and Modern Jewish Thought
      (pp. 65-78)

      In the study of modern Jewish thought, Mendelssohn typically stands in for the Haskalah. For historians of Judaism, Mendelssohn’s work is a litmus test for the possibility of a “Jewish Enlightenment,” construed as a philosophical experiment rather than a set of new social or literary practices. Mendelssohn’sJerusalem, writes Allan Arkush, has “earned a great deal of attention” as the “inaugural work of modern Jewish philosophy. . . . Scholars . . . have treated Mendelssohn as a philosopher whose primary goal in writing this book was to show in a comprehensive manner that there was no contradiction between the...

  9. Part III In a New Key

    • 5 Exile
      (pp. 81-88)

      Romantic currents filtered into eighteenth-century Jewish thought with Luzzatto and Mendelssohn. But the Haskalah only crystallized into a movement when the idea of Jewish renewal became an ideology that supplied a novel answer to the question of Exile (Heb.galut). Most Eastern European Jewish intellectuals remained unexceptionably pious and deeply immersed in Jewish learning; however, they parted company with orthodox rabbinic opinion on their approach to Exile as a problem in time. A consciousness of living on the edge of a new era in Jewish history imbued the most modest of practical proposals with messianic urgency. In order to appreciate...

    • 6 New Creation
      (pp. 89-112)

      Maskilic discourse developed within the framework of the Jewish mythology of Exile; but it was the partition of Poland and the reconfiguration of political authority in Eastern Europe between the 1780s and the 1830s that provided the immediate context for a new vision of cultural and intellectual renewal. In order to understand why the politics of partition inspired such extravagant hopes, it is important to appreciate the impact of the precipitous decline of state authority on Jewish communal life in Poland-Lithuania during the second half of the eighteenth century. As the fortunes of the Polish magnates rose, royal power declined....

    • 7 Faith
      (pp. 113-130)

      Jewish Romanticism developed against the visible contradictions of imperial geography. The partitions introduced an alternative political structure into Polish Jewish life. Prussia annexed its Polish territories outright, absorbed the province of Poznan into its administrative structure, and renamed it Posen (which does not mean that the Polish Jews who lived there instantly became German Jews). But in the Habsburg and Russian domains, the reforming state confronted a much larger and more concentrated Jewish population. Here, the state continued to maintain Jewish communal autonomy in the interests of peace and orderly tax collection. At the same time, representatives of a new...

    • 8 Paradise
      (pp. 131-156)

      In 1860, Sh. J. Fuenn published the first-ever history of Jewish Vilna. EntitledCity of Faith(Heb.Kiryah ne’emanah), the book located Vilna at the center of rabbinic learning. But its author was hardly a traditional rabbi. Throughout his long life, Fuenn continued to play a leading role in the various projects and social initiatives that consumed the attention of maskilim in the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.” An eminent talmudist, Fuenn also had a distinguished career in the Russian civil service. In 1844, he was appointed to teach Jewish history and the Hebrew language at the Vilna Rabbinical Seminary. In 1856,...

    • 9 Fall
      (pp. 157-180)

      If the northern paradise of “perfected Jewish manhood” had a bad conscience, then it spoke Yiddish and presided over the infamously “lawless world” of the southern provinces of the Pale of Settlement. Of course, the use of Eastern Europe’s Jewish vernacular was not confined to Volhynia and Podolia. The Lithuanian Jerusalem nourished not only traditional Jewish learning and the beginnings of a modern Jewish literature in Hebrew. It also produced Ayzik Meyer Dik, the most successful Yiddish writer among Russia’s Jewish Romantics. But in the imaginary geography of the Haskalah, the semantic and grammatical “chaos” of the Jewish vernacular was...

    • 10 The End of Enlightenment
      (pp. 181-190)

      In 1792, a Prussian scholar and litterateur named Karl Philipp Moritz introduced to the German reading public a book of “particular worth,” notable for its “nonpartisan and unprejudiced depiction of Judaism.” The “story,” Moritz promised, would “transport” the reader “into the area among the people where chance let the writer be born and reason let his spirit ripen to a level of education that found no nourishment on this soil, and therefore obliged him to seek under foreign skies what had now become a necessity.”¹ Moritz confidently asserted that the “facts” presented in the author’s unvarnished account of his own...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 191-220)
  11. Index
    (pp. 221-226)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-228)