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Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment)

HASKALAH (JEWISH ENLIGHTENMENT)

HASKALAH (JEWISH ENLIGHTENMENT). "Haskalah" is the Hebrew term for the Enlightenment movement and ideology that began in European Jewish society in the 1770s and continued until the 1880s. A proponent of the Haskalah was known as a maskil ('an enlightened Jew'; pl. maskilim ). The Haskalah shared many aspects of the European Enlightenments, but as a national variant of the general movement it also addressed specific Jewish concerns of the period. The Haskalah was a feature of Ashkenazic Jewish society, the branch of world Jewry with origins in medieval French and German lands whose descendents inhabited German lands, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the partitioned lands of Poland. Beginning in Prussia, and spreading eastward to Austrian Galicia and tsarist Russia, the Haskalah, like the European Enlightenment, was an optimistic, self-conscious intellectual movement that urged European Jews to dare to liberate themselves from their past and fashion their own lives, in the spirit of Immanuel Kant's well-known answer to the question, "Was ist Aufklärung?"; in the Jewish case, maskilim exhorted their brethren to unfetter themselves from and transform the culture of early modern Ashkenazic Judaism. Maskilim, like other European enlighteners, turned back to a classical era in search of an unbenighted rational past free of superstition and religious intolerance. But, in contrast to philosophes and Aufklärer, who, in Peter Gay's interpretation, found their model in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Jewish enlighteners favored the "golden age" of medieval Iberian-Jewish culture, seeking to remake early modern Ashkenazic Jewish culture in its image.

THE CRITIQUE OF EARLY MODERN ASHKENAZIC JEWISH SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Contemporary European Jewish society, in the minds of the maskilim, had become insular, valorizing the study of Talmud and its commentaries to the exclusion of the Hebrew Bible, biblical grammar, Hebrew poetry, and humanistic subjects, such as mathematics, geography, natural science, and history, that were indispensable to modern European life. According to the maskilim' s critique, the ideal of the Torah Sage (talmid hakham), together with the exclusionary legislation of the non-Jewish political authorities, had resulted in a distorted Jewish economic profile concentrated solely in trade and other "unproductive" professions. Moreover, early modern Ashkenazic Jewry's attachment to minhag (religious custom), in addition to its observance of traditional Jewish law, had deepened its parochialism, leading to an explosion of new Jewish rituals that hindered participation in broader European society. Maskilim resoundingly judged Yiddish, Ashkenazic Jewry's capacious vernacular composed of German, Hebrew, Slavic, and Romance-language components, as incapable of elevating Jewish culture and unsuitable for expressing the values of modern Jewish life. Perforce, the Haskalah was decidedly male, for early modern Jewish life was gendered, and only Jewish men received the requisite education in traditional Jewish languages and texts for a full-scale enlightened critique of their culture.

Marked by a didactic commitment to regenerate and revitalize Ashkenazic Jewish culture as a means of preserving Jewish life in the modern world, the Haskalah gave voice to a new kind of European Jew, a secular intelligent. The worldview of the maskilim, individuals in the process of "enlightening" themselves, was shaped by an ideology of creative tension between the worlds of traditional Jewish culture and European society and values, what the Prussian maskil Naphtali Herz Wessely (17251805) called Torat ha-Adam (secular knowledge) and Torat ha-Elohim (sacred knowledge) in his programmatic educational pamphlet, Divrei Shalom ve-Eme (Words of peace and truth, 1782). In contrast to activists in the European Enlightenment who were already Europeans, the maskilim not only waged a self-conscious battle to regenerate Ashkenazic Jewish culture, but also struggled to justify Jewish participation in European society as men, like all other men, endowed with the universal faculty of reason. The Haskalah, in its defense of Jewish particularism, qualified the universalism of the Enlightenment.

The figure of Moses Mendelssohn (17291786), son of a poor Jewish scribe from Dessau who settled in Berlin, the center of the Prussian Enlightenment, epitomized the new type of European Jew. Mendelssohn remained devout throughout his life, yet acquired a vast reservoir of secular and non-Jewish knowledge that he applied to philosophical, political, and exegetical writings, penned in both flawless German and impeccable Hebrew. His Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism (1783), a philosophic defense of the compatibility of the observance of Jewish law with the ideals of Enlightenment natural religion, expressed the Haskalah's conservative attitude toward revelation and inherited traditions, a posture characteristic of the moderate German Aufklärung' s debt to the philosophy of Christian Wolff. Shaped in the Prussian context, the Haskalah lacked the anticlericalism and critique of the religious establishment that motivated the French philosophe's conception of Enlightenment.

The generation of Prussian maskilim after Mendelssohn institutionalized the movement by establishing periodicals (Ha-Me'assef/ the Gatherer), publishing houses (Hevrat Hinukh Ne'arim/Society for the Education of the Youth), reading circles (Hevrat Dorshei Leshon Ever/The Society for the Promotion of the Hebrew Language, 1782, Königsberg), and schools (Jüdische Freischule/ Jewish Elementary School, 1778), with new textbooks (Lesebuch für jüdische Kinder/ Reader for Jewish children, 1779), activities supported by the maskilim and a small group of economically elite Jews with privileges to live in Prussia's cities. By the 1790s, the Haskalah in Prussia encountered the political demands of the centralizing absolutist state, which sought to dissolve all premodern corporations, including the Jewish communal authority (kahal), and the acculturating aspirations of the rising Jewish bourgeoisie, resulting in its radicalization. Prussian Jewish intellectuals soon focused their efforts on political emancipation and cultural acceptance, rather than on inner reform, embodied by the maskil David Friedländer's 1799 letter to Pastor Teller asserting his willingness to convert to Christianity with the provision that he not accept the divinity of Christ. The shift in emphasis was tellingly marked by the failure of Hebrew periodical literature to sustain itself in Prussian lands, giving way to new German periodicals (Sulamith) focused on the struggle for political rights.

THE EASTWARD TURN OF THE HASKALAH

The social and political environment of central and eastern Europe, with their demographically rich Ashkenazic Jewish populations and laggard state-building multiethnic empires, became fertile ground for the dissemination of the Jewish Enlightenment. Although subject to the centralizing political demands of absolutist Austria and Russia to integrate the Jewish community into the life of the state, the quest for political emancipation and religious reform was largely absent among maskilim in the East. Rather, the Haskalah in Austrian Galicia and Russia focused on communal regeneration, particularly as it faced the entrenchment of traditional Jewish culture by Hasidism, the extraordinarily successful Jewish spiritual movement that, born in the mid-eighteenth century, had transformed eastern European Jewry. Using the didactic tools of the general Enlightenment (periodical literature, satire, ethical anthologies, curriculum reform), the battle of east European maskilim, such as Mendel Lefin (17491826), Joseph Perl (17731839), Nachman Krochmal (17851840), and Isaac Baer Levinsohn (17881860), against Hasidism gave birth to modern secular Hebrew and Yiddish prose literature, new forms of Bible commentary, and historical writing.

Although always a self-selected intellectual minority within Ashkenazic Jewry, the maskilim represented a radical break with traditional patterns of Jewish life and engendered sharp opposition from traditional rabbinic authorities in central and eastern Europe. Nonetheless, recent scholarly interpretations of the Jewish Enlightenment emphasize its conservatism in comparison with the other responses of European Jewry to modernity (that is, Jewish nationalism, socialism, revolution, migration, political emancipation, and communal self-liquidation/assimilation). Flowering almost a full century after the European Enlightenments, the Haskalah's Hebraism and religious moderation laid the foundation for contemporary constructions of liberal Jewish identity.

See also Enlightenment ; Jews and Judaism ; Mendelssohn, Moses ; Philosophes ; Prussia .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Breuer, Edward. The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans and the Study of Scripture in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1996.

Feiner, Shmuel. Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness. Translated by Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverston. Oxford and Portland, Ore., 2002.

Feiner, Shmuel, and David Sorkin, eds. New Perspectives on the Haskalah. Oxford, 2001.

Katz, Jacob, ed. Toward Modernity: The European Jewish Model. New York and Oxford, 1987.

Mahler, Raphael. Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia and New York, 1985.

Sorkin, David. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. Berkeley, 1996.

Stanislawski, Michael F. For Whom Do I Toil?: Judah Leib Gordon and the Crisis of Russian Jewry. New York, 1988.

Nancy Sinkoff

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Haskalah

HASKALAH

Hebrew term for enlightenment.

Haskalah is the name of the movement for the dissemination of modern European culture among the Jews. The movement began in the mid-1700s in Berlin with the work of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (17291786). Advocates argued that to achieve emancipation, the Jews must adopt the modern values and social customs of the countries in which they lived. In the mid-1800s, modern European culture for the Jews generally meant German and French culture and secular education, although efforts were made in this period by groups of Jews throughout Europe.

One consequence of this process was the secular use of the Hebrew language to spread the new ideas, leading to an eventual revitalization of the language. Another effect was the creation of a stratum of Jews versed in both the intellectual traditions of modern Europe and traditional Judaism. It was from subsequent generations of these Jews that the ideas of modern Zionism originated. Finally, for many Jews, acquiring modern European culture meant the abandonment of traditional Jewish customs, resulting in assimilation.

See also hebrew; zionism.


Bibliography

Ackerman, Walter. Out of Our People's Past: Sources for the Study of Jewish History. New York: United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1977.

martin malin

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Haskalah

Haskalah (Heb., ‘enlightenment’). The Enlightenment movement of the late 18th and 19th cents. in Judaism. Those who espoused the Haskalah were known as Maskilim. Related to the secular Enlightenment, Moses Mendelssohn is generally considered to be the ‘father of the Haskalah’.

Prominent Haskalah thinkers included Naphtale Herz Wessely, the educationalist, who believed that Jewish children ‘were not all created to become Talmudists’, and David Friedlaender who rejoiced in the decline of the yeshivot. Throughout Europe, rich Jews rejected Yiddish and taught their children the language of their host nation.

In their desire for acceptance and emancipation, the Maskilim were particularly patriotic towards their host countries, and the messianic hope was weakened. Members of the Assembly of Jewish Notables, set up by Napoleon in 1806, described themselves as ‘Frenchmen of the Mosaic religion’. The diaspora was no longer seen as a punishment for Israel's wickedness, but the result of historical and geographical factors. Judaism was understood as a spiritual and moral creed, and from this thinking grew the Reform movement with its updated Prayer Book and its rejection of the absolute claims of halakhah.

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"Haskalah." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Haskalah

Haskalah (hä´skəlä´), [Heb.,=enlightenment] Jewish movement in Europe active from the 1770s to the 1880s. Beginning in Germany in the circle of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and spreading to Galicia and Russia, the Haskalah called for increased secularization of Jewish life through secular learning, a concern for esthetics, and linguistic assimilation (especially in Germany), all in the cause of speeding Jewish emancipation. The proponents of the Haskalah (maskilim) established schools and published periodicals and other works. By publishing in Hebrew, they contributed to the revival of the language.

See J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis (1961).

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"Haskalah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Haskalah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/haskalah

"Haskalah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/haskalah