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When Jewish historians narrate the history of their field, they often point to Leopold Zunz (1794–1886) as its founder. My article challenges the notion that Zunz’s early understanding of Wissenschaft was primarily historical. Reconstructing the meaning of Wissenschaft for Zunz in its context, I argue that it was more philosophical than historical and closely linked to an ideal of character formation. Zunz’s view of Wissenschaft reveals the ways in which German idealist philosophy, neo-Humanist manifestos, and a Romantic religious reform agenda could produce a scientific interest in the human past that seems at odds with central tenets of historicism.