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  • Resuming Contact after World War I:Epistolary Networks of the Wissenschaft des Judentums
  • Mirjam Thulin

In the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish scholars with different educational and ideological backgrounds throughout Europe and North America were connected by their shared agenda in the Wissenschaft des Judentums (academic study of Judaism).1 Given that Wissenschaft des Judentums never gained acceptance in academia, this networking was particularly important. Supplementing the rabbinical seminaries, academic societies and associations, meetings, and private journeys, epistolary networks were vital to communication between scholars, enabling their exhaustive discussion and information gathering.

The postal communication preserved from scholars' written estates and personal archives displays how, even without the institution of the university, Wissenschaft scholars formed tight local and national academic cultures. The letter gives us a unique perspective on the ways Jewish scholarship was being shaped in reaction to prevailing political and cultural currents. The work of Jewish scholars shows the evolution of national styles similar to those of the ambient culture of the time, including a certain alignment with national boundaries. Jewish associations and [End Page 94] historical societies operated mainly within the political borders of states and empires, and Wissenschaft scholars increasingly wrote in the national vernacular, both in their books and letters.

As they adapted to local sociopolitical and cultural contexts, Jewish scholars collaborated less frequently across national borders, especially in times of war when questions arose about Jewish belonging and loyalty to the nation-state.2 Not surprisingly, World War I posed a particular challenge for Jewish intellectuals on these fronts. Debates about Jewish belonging intensified around discussions of universalism and particularism in Judaism and the nature of Jewish peoplehood.3 Contacts between scholars in Europe and America particularly suffered during the war, not only because of logistical difficulties but also because of perceptions about Jews' difficult status as a cosmopolitan population.

At the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in Breslau, founded some six decades prior to the outbreak of war, the historian Markus Brann (1849–1920) experienced World War I as a lecturer and scholar of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. Brann was politically conservative and loyal to the emperor but at the same time desperate about the endless and brutal war that interrupted, among other things, modern Jewish scholarship. Therefore it is not surprising that Brann sought to revitalize connections between Jewish scholars across Europe and in America soon after peace was attained. Letter-writing networks were an essential instrument in this enterprise. Brann's correspondence with Chicago rabbi Abraham Cronbach in August 1920 serves as an example of how letters were a front line, a means of tentative initial connection between scholars and worldly affairs after years of separation. The letters also reveal how Jewish social activities such as charity fundraising paralleled and reinforced these reconnections.


Markus (Marcus) Mordechai Brann was born on July 9, 1849, in Rawitsch (Pol. Rawicz), in the Prussian province of Posen, son of Salomon [End Page 95] (Shlomo) Brann (1814–1903) and his wife Dorothea Brann (d. 1885), née Silberberg.4 His sister Rebekka (1856–1936) was born when the Branns moved to Schneidemühl (Pol. Pila), where Salomon held a position as preacher and rabbi. Before entering the rabbinical program of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (Pol. Wroclaw) in April 1868, Markus Brann received thorough Hebrew and talmudic training from his father. Parallel to his studies at the seminary, he studied at the local university, receiving his doctorate in history in 1873 with a dissertation on King Herod and his sons.5 Two years later, Brann obtained his rabbinical diploma at the JTS. Though he preferred to become a full-time scholar, he took the exam as state teacher. After his graduation, he worked as assistant curate (Hilfsprediger) and religious teacher in the Jewish community in Breslau. In his spare time, he compiled several works [End Page 96] on the history of the Jews in Breslau.6 In 1883 he took office as director of the Auerbach orphanages for boys and girls (Auerbach'sche Waisenha¨user), a renowned welfare institution in Berlin;7 two years later he was appointed rabbi of the Silesian city Pless (Pol. Pszczyna). Eventually...


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