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Jewish Scholarship and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Germany

Between History and Faith

Nils Roemer

Publication Year: 2005

    German Jews were fully assimilated and secularized in the nineteenth century—or so it is commonly assumed. In Jewish Scholarship and Culture in the Nineteenth Century, Nils Roemer challenges this assumption, finding that religious sentiments, concepts, and rhetoric found expression through a newly emerging theological historicism at the center of modern German Jewish culture.
    Modern German Jewish identity developed during the struggle for emancipation, debates about religious and cultural renewal, and battles against anti-Semitism. A key component of this identity was historical memory, which Jewish scholars had begun to infuse with theological perspectives beginning in the 1850s. After German reunification in the early 1870s, Jewish intellectuals reevaluated their enthusiastic embrace of liberalism and secularism. Without abandoning the ideal of tolerance, they asserted a right to cultural religious difference for themselves--an ideal they held to even more tightly in the face of growing anti-Semitism. This newly re-theologized Jewish history, Roemer argues, helped German Jews fend off anti-Semitic attacks by strengthening their own sense of their culture and tradition.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book would have been impossible without the instruction, assistance, and encouragement that friends, colleagues, and teachers offered me throughout my years of studying, researching, and writing. Among the many teachers I had the privilege to study with, I must single out Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, who supported me throughout my graduate training and early on directed my interest in the history of German Jewish historiography. Without his advice, recommendations,...

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pp. 3-11

Nineteenth-century German Jewish historical scholarship, known as Wissenschaft des Judentums (science of Judaism), has long been recognized as one of the major spiritual and intellectual responses to the crisis of modernity and as an instrument in the struggle for emancipation. But to what extent did the achievements of Wissenschaft scholars find...

Part I: Historicizing Judaism

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1. Between Theology and History

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pp. 15-25

In the second half of the eighteenth century, a new consciousness of discontinuity in German life emerged that manifested itself in terms such as “change” and “progress.” German Aufklärer transformed the political and social vocabulary, and embedded key concepts in historical time. These conceptual ideas were implicated in the formulation of a...

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2. Returning Judaism to History

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pp. 26-34

The legacy of the Enlightenment and the failure to universalize Jewish emancipation at the Vienna conference in 1815—and the renewed antagonism toward the Jews—became defining experiences for the second generation of maskilim and a few university-trained intellectuals. In contrast to the ambiguities of Enlightenment conceptions of Jewish...

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3. Recovering Jewish History in the Age of Emancipation and Reform

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pp. 35-46

Aside from Jost’s Geschichte der Israeliten, Jewish historians had produced few valuable essays that reflected the formulation of an ambitious program. With the exception of Jost and Zunz, only a small number of former Verein members continued along the path of Wissenschaft. Its association with religious reform and the battle over emancipation further...

Part II: Fissures and Unity

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4. Jewish Historiography at the Center of Debate

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pp. 49-59

The revolution of 1848–49 failed to carry out the legislative emancipation of the Jews in the German lands. Overall, Jews had to wait until the 1860s and even the 1870s before their legal emancipation was fully completed. Nevertheless, the post-1848 era marks some important innovations in German Jewish history. Concurrent with German Jews’...

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5. “Bringing Forth Their Past Glories”

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pp. 60-70

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, Jewish historians were fairly optimistic about the internal cultural transformation of German Jewry. During this time, Isaac Jost used the term Neuzeit to describe the period after 1750, a time he considered a “sunrise” within the historical process. Jost believed in the imminence of emancipation and cultural...

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6. Finding Common Ground in the Creation of a German Jewish Reading Public

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pp. 71-78

The decades after the failed revolution exhibited contradictory features. At a time when Jewish scholarship mirrored internal division of the Jewish communities, historians aimed to create a new foundation for an inclusive German Jewish culture, while their scholarship further accentuated the existing frictions. Yet paradoxically, it was the recognition of...

Part III: Challenges and Responses

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7. Wissenschaft on Trial

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pp. 81-91

The unification of Germany in 1871 finally universalized Jewish emancipation and promised the possibility of unity without homogeny by bringing diverse regional and religious cultures together into one nation. This diversity provided ample justification for Jewish self-assertion as a distinct ethnic group and renewed attempts at overcoming...

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8. History as a Shield of Judaism

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pp. 92-100

In the midst of the debates and trials, Judaism’s defenders deemed its history as an instrument against renewed anti-Semitic challenges. The defense initiatives and the renewed quest for Jewish unity based on a common past signaled a departure from an era in which German Jews had fully identified themselves with the cause of liberalism. The resurgence...

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9. Reconciling the Hearts of the Parents with the Hearts of the Children

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pp. 101-108

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, an era of Jewish historiography slowly came to an end. At a time when the major Jewish historians stopped writing, like Leopold Zunz, or died, like Abraham Geiger (1874), Zacharias Frankel (1875), and Heinrich Graetz (1891), Jewish historiography confronted new challenges. Jewish historians...

Part IV: Reading Jewish History in the Fin de Siecle

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10. Past, Present, and Future of Jewish History: Between Hope and Despair

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pp. 111-123

In 1898, Adolf Kohut published an elaborately illustrated and beautifully decorated coffee-table history of German Jewry. The frontispiece features the Prague Jewish cemetery and depicts a walking path curving into the distance under a canopy of trees with tombstones on either side. Placed at the beginning of the book, the sketch captures the encounter...

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11. The Jewish Past at the Center of Popular Culture

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pp. 124-131

In the 1890s the popularization of Jewish history reached a new level. An article in the Israelitische Wochenschrift from 1892 called the trend toward establishing historical associations “a powerful movement.”1 The Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums proclaimed in 1893 that a Verein für jüdische Geschichte und Literatur (Association for Jewish history and literature...

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12. Libraries with and without Walls

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pp. 132-141

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, local associations preserved historical landmarks, scholars and educators popularized Jewish history in lectures and public celebrations, and libraries furthered the dissemination and preservation of the common heritage. Earlier, in 1861, Abraham Geiger noted that “the most eloquent witness for the respect...

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pp. 143-154

In his seminal work on historical writing, Michel de Certeau observed that “before we can understand what history says about a society, we have to analyze how history functions within it.”1 This study has been concerned with analyzing constructions of the Jewish past in the scholarly discipline and the popular culture that shaped the identities of...


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pp. 155-214


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pp. 215-244


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pp. 245-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780299211738
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299211707

Publication Year: 2005