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The Jewish Enlightenment

Shmuel Feiner. Translated by Chaya Naor

Publication Year: 2011

At the beginning of the eighteenth century most European Jews lived in restricted settlements and urban ghettos, isolated from the surrounding dominant Christian cultures not only by law but also by language, custom, and dress. By the end of the century urban, upwardly mobile Jews had shaved their beards and abandoned Yiddish in favor of the languages of the countries in which they lived. They began to participate in secular culture and they embraced rationalism and non-Jewish education as supplements to traditional Talmudic studies. The full participation of Jews in modern Europe and America would be unthinkable without the intellectual and social revolution that was the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment.

Unparalleled in scale and comprehensiveness, The Jewish Enlightenment reconstructs the intellectual and social revolution of the Haskalah as it gradually gathered momentum throughout the eighteenth century. Relying on a huge range of previously unexplored sources, Shmuel Feiner fully views the Haskalah as the Jewish version of the European Enlightenment and, as such, a movement that cannot be isolated from broader eighteenth-century European traditions. Critically, he views the Haskalah as a truly European phenomenon and not one simply centered in Germany. He also shows how the republic of letters in European Jewry provided an avenue of secularization for Jewish society and culture, sowing the seeds of Jewish liberalism and modern ideology and sparking the Orthodox counterreaction that culminated in a clash of cultures within the Jewish community. The Haskalah's confrontations with its opponents within Jewry constitute one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of the dramatic and traumatic encounter between the Jews and modernity.

The Haskalah is one of the central topics in modern Jewish historiography. With its scope, erudition, and new analysis, The Jewish Enlightenment now provides the most comprehensive treatment of this major cultural movement.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

The Jewish Enlightenment

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xiv

"The historian of Jewish modernization is faced with the formidable challenge of recreating in all its vitality the dramatic and convoluted historical development that gave birth to the contemporary Jewish world. One of the most fascinating and telling areas to explore regarding the aspirations of the..."

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Introduction: The Jews and the Enlightenment

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pp. 1-18

"The Haskalah movement had no less a historical impact on the Jews than did the French Revolution on the history of Europe. A conscious and deliberate revolution began as soon as the first maskil mounted the public Jewish stage and proclaimed the independence of the republic of maskilim: Listen to me! I bear a reformist and redemptive vision that will be fulfilled in..."

PART I A Passion for Knowledge

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pp. 19-20

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Chapter 1 Intellectual Inferiority: The Affront

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pp. 21-35

"In the winter of 1702, a young Jewish student walked through the corridors of the faculty of medicine at the University of Frankfurt-on-Oder, his heart consumed by a sense of despair and frustration. Shmuel Shimon Ben-Yaacov, a native of Raudenai in Lithuania, had come to the Prussian University..."

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Chapter Two The Early Haskalah and the Redemption of Knowledge

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pp. 36-67

"Intense curiosity and a strong drive to acquire knowledge not easily accessible within the culture of the traditional Jewish society were the hallmarks of the early maskilim. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is hard to appreciate how much audacity these men needed to venture into the realms of the forbidden extra-Jewish and extra-religious knowledge."

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Chapter Three The Secular Author in the Public Arena

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pp. 68-84

"In their books, quite a few early maskilim also undertook to fill the traditional role of moralists for the society at large, a role that until then had been the exclusive province of magidim (preachers) and rabbis. Such a new sociocultural function was filled, for example, by the journal Kohelet musar, which consciously presented itself to its readers as the modern alternative to..."

PART II Jewish Kulturkampf

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pp. 85-86

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Chapter Four The Wessely Affair: Threats and Anxieties

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pp. 87-104

"On Shabbat HaGadol, the special Sabbath before the Passover festival, David Tevele, rabbi of the Lissa community in Western Poland, rose to the pulpit of the great synagogue to deliver a scathing sermon. ‘I deplore the act of this man, a hypocrite and evildoer, a boor, the worst kind of layman, by the name of Herz Wessely from Berlin.’ The rabbi, in thunderous tones,..."

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Chapter Five Projects of Enlightenment and Tests of Tolerance

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pp. 105-138

"Wessely was hardly a reliable witness of the reality that existed during his lifetime. On the one hand, his optimism was exaggerated and he depicted the kings of Prussia in ideal terms, attributing to them more tolerance than they actually demonstrated. On the other hand, he provided only a partial description of the Jewish world in the early 1780s, omitting several of the key..."

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Chapter Six The Rabbinical Elite on the Defensive

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pp. 139-162

"Despite the rumors from Altona-Hamburg about the affair involving Netanel Posner and Rabbi Raphael Kohen, the atmosphere in the small circle of maskilim in Berlin in the winter of 1782 was one of elation.1 Within the brief period of several months, there were many encouraging signs that could arouse the optimism of anyone who believed in the Enlightenment and..."

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Chapter Seven On Religious Power and Judaism

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pp. 163-182

"Neither side won a decisive victory in the 1780s campaign of the culture war. Nonetheless, the aftereffects of the Wessely affair continued to be felt for at least three more years. Wessely carried on defending his positions in two more epistles of the Divrei shalom ve’emet series; Mendelssohn had the..."

PART III The Maskilic Republic

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pp. 183

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Chapter Eight The Society of Friends of the Hebrew Language

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pp. 185-199

"The year 1782 was a particularly difficult year for Wessely, from the moment he touched off a fierce debate in Jewish public opinion with his Divrei shalom ve’emet. At the end of that year, he received a surprising letter from Ko¨nigsberg in Eastern Prussia. The writers of the letter, ‘A society of friends..."

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Chapter Nine The Maskilim: A Group Portrait

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pp. 200-220

"By constructing Moses Mendelssohn’s image as a great teacher, a trailblazer, and the embodiment of the Haskalah, historical memory and research have made it difficult to fully depict the nature and scope of the maskilic republic. Mendelssohn’s personality eclipses the ‘‘Berlin Haskalah..."

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Chapter Ten Euchel Establishes the Haskalah Movement

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pp. 221-242

"Moses Mendelssohn was the most famous Jew in the German Enlightenment republic, admired by Jews and non-Jews alike. Isaac Euchel eulogized him and wrote his widely circulated biography, which nurtured the Mendelssohn cult and Mendelssohn’s image as the father of the maskilim..."

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Chapter Eleven The Society for the Promotion of Goodness and Justice

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pp. 243-264

"In the last issue of the third volume that came out in the fall of 1786, the readers of Hame’asef were informed of changes about to take place in the journal as it began its fourth year of operation. In a notice ‘to their brethren, the maskilim,’ Chevrat Dorshei Leshon Ever announced its intent to..."

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Chapter Twelve Growth and Radicalization

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pp. 265-290

"On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year 5548 (1787), the workers of the Freischule printing house published a special poetic salutation to their employer, the provider of their livelihood, ‘The famous, exalted officer and minister, Daniel Itzig.’ This was not merely a gesture of flattery to..."

PART IV On Two Fronts

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pp. 291

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Chapter Thirteen Crisis at the Turn of the Century

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pp. 293-320

"For the young Haskalah movement, the century came to a close in a series of strident, worrisome chords, attended by a profound sense of crisis. The maskilim’s optimistic belief that the Jewish public sphere could be reshaped by modern intellectuals was replaced by their anxiety in the face of..."

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Chapter Fourteen Tensions and Polemics in the Shadow of Crisis

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pp. 321-341

"The death sentence that David Friedla¨nder pronounced on the Haskalah exemplified the sense of crisis that reached its height in the last two years of the eighteenth century and was manifested in the movement’s almost total waning. Until then the Haskalah had continued to develop, despite the..."

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Chapter Fifteen On Frivolity and Hypocrisy

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pp. 342-363

"The picture of Jewish society and culture in the 1790s is a very complex one, as we have learned from the previous chapters. Only a few years after the maskilim first made their appearance in the public arena, they found themselves embroiled in a series of conflicts, from within and from without. The accelerated pace of secularization, so evident in the city streets, led the orthodox..."

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Afterword: Haskalah and Secularization

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pp. 365-373

"To what extent did the eighteenth-century Enlightenment change the face of Europe? From a balanced historical perspective, which no longer holds that the French political revolution stemmed from philosophical ideas or which underestimates the value of the Enlightenment culture, one can state..."


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pp. 375-428


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pp. 429-440

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200942
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221725

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2011