Jewish Studies: Jewish Studies from 1818 to 1919

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Although Judaism has long valued the study of sacred texts as an instrument of piety, the field of Jewish studies as an academic discipline is a product of the emancipation process and the westernization of Judaism in the nineteenth century. Born of a sense of the profound changes in the context of Jewish life and imbued with the academic ethos of the newly founded University of Berlin (1810) and with the philosophic rhetoric of German Idealism, Wissenschaft des Judentums heralded a series of disorienting intellectual shifts: from Christian to Jewish scholarship on Judaism; from dogmatic to undogmatic, but not value-free, scholarship on Judaism; from a partial to a comprehensive conception of Jewish creativity; and from an exegetical to a conceptual mode of thought. What stands out in the subsequent development of the discipline over the next century, beyond its ceaseless growth and bifurcation, is the continued centrality of the German provenance down to the 1930s.

Early Academic Context

As launched by Leopold Zunz (17941886) and his friends in the Verein für Kultur and Wissenschaft der Juden (18191824), the application of the historical method to the study of Judaism by university-educated Jews challenged the undisputed Christian monopoly on the subject. Because economic utility had largely dictated the peripheral legal status of pre-emancipation Jews, their spokesmen had scarcely felt the need to transcend the insularity of the ghetto with an "insider's" depiction of Judaism for Christian consumption. In consequence, according to Zunz, "Rarely has the world been presented with more damaging, erroneous, and distorted views than on the subject of the Jewish religion; here, to render odious has been turned into a fine art" (Etwas über die rabbinische Litteratur, 1818). Against this backdrop, Wissenschaft des Judentums embodied a novel and sustained effort by Jews themselves to recount their history and expound their religion for non-Jews, to dissipate the miasma of misconceptions and prejudice with facts and empathy. From the outset, Zunz intuited the political payoff of the enterprise: Public respect for Judaism would be the only secure ground for lasting social intergration.

Symptomatic of the prevailing denigration was the exclusion of ancient Jewry from the vaunted field of Altertumswissenschaft. Admission was restricted to the Greeks and Romans, for they alone of the nations of antiquity had achieved the level of a learned culture. In his lectures on the discipline, Friedrich August Wolf, famed Homer scholar and one of Zunz's teachers, dismissed Israel's historical claim to equal treatment:

The Hebraic nation did not raise itself to the level of culture, so that one might regard it as a learned, cultured people. It does not even have prose, but only half poetry. Its writers of history are but miserable chroniclers. They could never write in full sentences; this was an invention of the Greeks. (Vorlesungen über die Altertumswissenschaft, vol. 1, 1831, p. 14)

Thus, academically as well as philosophically, Judaism was relegated to a preliminary and long-surpassed stage of Oriental history, and hence was consigned to the periphery of Western consciousness.

The absence of any countervailing Jewish scholarship at the time is graphically illustrated by the plight of the young Heinrich Heine, then a member of the Verein, when he tried to convey an image of the attractiveness and pathos of medieval Judaism through the medium of a historical novel. The reasons for his failure to complete Die Rabbi von Bacharach (1840) are no doubt many, but among them surely is the total absence of empathetical historical works by Jews in German. With the primary Hebrew sources closed to him, Heine, under Zunz's tutelage, was forced to feed on the standard Christian fare, with the result that his imagination soon foundered. By way of contrast, Michael Sachs's evocative Die religiöse Poesie der Juden in Spanien, which appeared in 1845, did trigger Heine's poetic fantasy and led directly to his richly inventive and deeply felt collection, Hebräische Melodien (1851), an eloquent testimony to what he, and German academics, had lacked in 1824.

Wissenschaft des Judentums

In terms of method, Wissenschaft des Judentums raised an equally formidable challenge to the principles and parameters of traditional Jewish learning. Unfettered by dogmatic considerations, the alienated intellectuals of the Verein, at bitter odds with rabbinism but not prepared to convert, had formed "an association of consciousness" to begin conceptualizing Judaism afresh. Toward that end it embraced the research program enunciated in 1818 by Zunz in his profound, prescient, and determinative work Etwas über die rabbinische Litteratur. Convinced that emancipation spelled the end of the Hebraic-rabbinic period of Jewish history, Zunz called for its dispassionate historical assessment. In the process, he demonstrated with stunning detail its dimly realized cultural expanse and diversity. Postbiblical Hebrew literature was authored by Jews of all kinds, not only rabbis, and embraced all the interests of the human mind, not only matters of Jewish law. Given that scope, only the historian was equipped to speak of its genesis and character with any authority. The anticlerical thrust was unmistakable: The canons of modern scholarship were to be enlisted "in order to know and sort out the old which is useful, the antiquated which is detrimental, and the new which is desirable." History presumed to usurp the role of halakhah and philosophy as both the arbiter and expositor of Judaism. At issue was a grievously flawed method of learning overgrown with historical myth and error, indifferent to time and contextual analysis, hostile to all non-Hebraic and non-Jewish sources, and crippled by a truncated view of Jewish literature and a static concept of sacred texts.

The comprehensiveness of this vision of the Jewish experience extended into the present. As conceived by Zunz and amplified by Immanuel Wolf in his opening essay for the Verein's ephemeral Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (1823), from whence the name, the field comprised not only the study of a remote past but of a living present. Both as an inner idea and a religious culture, Judaism was still of vital concern to a living community, which itself deserved scholarly attention. In the words of Wolf, "The history of the past is directly followed by the second main division of the subject, i.e., Judaism in the living form in which it lies before usthe general statistical position of the Jews in every country, with special reference to their religious and political circumstances" (Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, vol. 2, 1957, p. 202). It is precisely this sense of continuity and connectedness that distinguished the practitioners of Wissenschaft des Judentums from those of Altertumswissenschaft. For all its appeal and meaning to German neohumanists, Altertumswissenschaft was not the uninterrupted cultural legacy of a contemporary community. A century after the Verein, Ismar Elbogen (18741943), Weimar's premier Jewish historian, again emphasized this existential dimension of the field by defining it as "the academic study of a vital Judaism, standing in the stream of development, as a sociological and historical unity" (Festschrift der Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1922, p. 141). Its proper academic analogue, claimed Elbogen, was not the study of Greece and Rome but the world of Islam. Given this degree of contemporaneity, Wissenschaft des Judentums became the major medium for thinking through the dilemmas generated by Judaism's confrontation with modernity.

Zunz's contribution

What facilitated that use was the shift to a conceptual mode of thought. For all their anticipation of modern scholarship, the pathbreaking Hebrew commentaries accompanying Moses Mendelssohn's translation of the Torah and Wolf Heidenheim's edition of the German cycle of festival prayerbooks both adhered to the traditional exegetical mode, which bespoke the centrality of sacred texts. In consonance with the secular temper of the age, modern scholarship would render the text subordinate to larger issues that required thematic and synthetic treatment. No one searched for new sources more zealously or read old ones more trenchantly than Zunz, but all in the service of questions and constructs that defied the limitations of disjointed analysis. The modern scholarship of eastern European autodidacts, steeped in the thought patterns of rabbinic culture, often failed to reach the level of conceptualization, coherence, and systematization achieved by university-trained practitioners of Wissenschaft in the West.

Of the original members of the Verein, Zunz alone remained true to the promise of Wissenschaft. Years later Heine would celebrate him as one "who stood firm, constantly and unshakably, in a period of transition, hesitation, and vacillation. A man of words and a man of action, he worked unceasingly, he did what needed doing, at a time when others lost themselves in dreams and sank to the ground, bereft of courage" (quoted in S. S. Prawer's Heine's Jewish Comedy, 1983, p. 470). For much of his productive life, Zunz focused his scholarly energy on a history of the synagogue, the institution that he regarded as "the expression of Jewish nationality and the guarantee of its religious existence." In 1832, his Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden was published, which first exhibited the full sweep of Midrashic creativity in the synagogue from the third century bce down to his own day, and from 1855 to 1865 he complemented that work with three volumes: Die synagogale Poesie das Mittelalters (1855), Die Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes (1859), and Literaturge-schichte der synagogalen Poesie (1865), which unveiled the synagogue's undreamed of liturgical richness. The final volume alone included the treatment of some six thousand liturgical poems along with the identification of nearly one thousand poets.

That devotion to the history of the synagogue derived from Zunz's conviction that a culture deserved to be studied at its core, in its more quintessential expressions and not on the fringes of its creativity. Not only did he fearlessly refuse to dilute the "parochial" character of Jewish culture, but by portraying it with insight and warmth he meant to raise the self-respect and level of commitment of contemporary Jews. "Genuine scholarship," ran his motto, "gives rise to action." Historical consciousness could serve to augment the depleted forces for Jewish survival.

Concept of development

The upshot of Zunz's massive research on the synagogue was to introduce the concept of development, the trademark of modern historical thought, into the study of rabbinic literature. The urgency of the hour dictated the early agenda of Wissenschaft scholars: Emancipation seemed to challenge the very nature of a Judaism more rabbinic than biblical. Could subjects entangled in a seamless web of ritual obligations meet the demands of citizenship? Scholars soon moved beyond the inviting freedom of aggadic exegesis to the more problematic realm of rabbinic law to explore its genesis, evolution, and authority. Within two decades, works such as Levi Herzfeld's Geschichte des Volkes Iisrael (3 vols., 18471857), Naman Krochmal's Moreh nevukhei ha-zeman, edited by Zunz (1851), Heinrich Graetz's Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, volume 4 (1853), Abraham Geiger's Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel (1857), Zacharias Frankel's Darkhei ha-Mishnah (1859), and Joseph Derenbourg's Essai sur l'histoire et la géographie de la Palestine (1867) had pierced the darkness of the Persian and Greco-Roman periods of Jewish history to illumine the dynamic origins of the halakhic system. For all the disagreement in detail and interpretation, the cumulative effect of their prodigious research was to dissolve a corpus of literature that had long been venerated as a single harmonious entity into its many historical components: namely, early sources, literary forms, exegetical modes, stages of complexity and composition, conflicting protagonists, and formative external influences. While it discomforted Orthodox spokesmen such as Samson R. Hirsch, and although it rested heavily on later rabbinic sources, the research served to show Christian scholars the unabated vitality of Judaism after the Babylonian exile and the responsive nature of rabbinic leadership.

Jewish sectarianism

At the same time, Wissenschaft chipped away at the static rabbinic monolith from yet another direction. As early as 1816, Krochmal, living in the midst of a still-unpunctured traditional society in eastern Galicia, had publicly defended the legitimacy of investigating the literature of the Karaites, who despite their halakhic deviance, had never distanced themselves from Jewish suffering. A few years later, Peter Beer of Prague published his Geschichte, Lehren und Meinungen aller bestandenen und noch bestehenden religiösen Sekten der Juden und der Geheimlehre, oder Cabbalah (2 vols., 18221823), an unabashedly antirabbinic history of Jewish sects (including medieval mystics), which provided a glimpse of the recurring resistance to Talmudic hegemony. At first, much of the interest in Jewish sectarianism focused on the era of the Second Commonwealth, but the steady publication of Karaite manuscripts in the ensuing decades, especially the rich cache by Simcha Pinsker in 1860, prompted works such as Isaak M. Jost's Geschichte des Judenthums und seiner Sekten (3 vols., 18571859), Heinrich Graetz's Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, volume 5 (1860), and Julius Fürst's Geschichte des Karärthums (3 vols., 18621869), which reflect a renewal of the effort at a synthesis of Karaite history, though with insufficient attention to the Islamic ambiance. In Geiger's Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel (1857) and Das Judentum und seine Geschichte (3 vols., 18641871) the inherent link between sectarianism and halakhic development and the possible continuity of sectarian praxis were ingeniously integrated into a single overarching theory. Still more important, Geiger rehabilitated the Pharisees as the progressive party in ancient Judaism and claimed their patrimony for his own movement. The effect was to undercut the penchant among Reform leaders to connect their cause with the Sadducean-Karaite line, an affinity without much benefit.

Rabbinic and biblical literature

The absorption with rabbinic literature was a function of conception as well as need. When Zunz unfurled the agenda of Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1818, it was restricted to "neuhebräische oder jüdische Literature." By design he seemed to exclude, for the moment, the study of biblical literature, a subject firmly ensconced in the German university. If scholarship was to facilitate legislation, it had to concentrate on what was least known and most problematic: the nature and history of rabbinic Judaism. And, in fact, the modest amount of biblical scholarship produced by Jews in the nineteenth century bespeaks an avoidance intensified by dogmatic inhibitions but also born of political considerations.

Against this background, what was achieved, while not generally original, was not undistinguished. In Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden (1832), Zunz already argued for a single author of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles and a postexilic date for Ezekiel. In later essays, he analyzed the Pentateuch in terms of numerous constituent sources with none earlier than 900 bce and Leviticus following Ezekiel. Though Geiger preferred to date Leviticus before Deuteronomy, he matched Zunz's documentary analysis of the Pentateuch and insisted on the fluidity of the biblical text long after composition. More conservative scholars like Krochmal and Graetz confined their research to the Prophets and the Writings, often taking leave of traditional views.

The most substantial and lasting Jewish contribution of the century to biblical research, however, came not from Berlin or Breslau but from Padua, where Shemuʾel David Luzzatto, with an unsurpassed knowledge of the Hebrew language, renewed the long-disrupted genre of medieval Jewish exegesis of the Bible. Independent of Protestant scholarship and rooted in the distinctive style of Italian Judaism, Luzzatto's Hebrew commentaries were anything but doctrinaire. Unfortunately, by the last quarter of the century the rising tide of German anti-Semitism also seeped into the halls of the university and retarded the acceptance of the documentary hypothesis by Jewish scholars for decades. In 1910, the rabbinical seminary in Breslau still excluded modern biblical criticism from its curriculum.

Spanish Judaism

Zunz's modest proposal of 1818 ended with the charge to undertake the publishing of largely unknown but classical specimens of "rabbinic literature" in order to begin to banish the contempt in which it was held. By way of example, he declared his intention to bring out a scholarly edition with Latin translation of a Hebrew philosophical treatise by Shem ov ibn Falaquera, a thirteenth-century Spanish Jew. The identification of the best of Hebrew literature with medieval Spain epitomized the Sephardic bias so vital to emancipated Ashkenazim in search of legitimacy. With roots going back to the seventeenth century, the attraction of Spanish Jewry and its descendants became a pervasive cultural force in nineteenth-century German Jewry, finding diverse expression in liturgy, synagogue architecture, literature, and, of course, scholarship.

Young scholars, whose own intellectual emancipation often started with Moses Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed and the Hebrew literature of the Haskalah, gravitated naturally to the poetic and philosophical legacy of Spain. Ironically, the term golden age, which is used to highlight Jewish cultural creativity in Muslim Spain, is not of Jewish provenance. It was first bestowed by Franz Delitzsch, the greatest Christian scholar of Judaism in the nineteenth century, in his Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Poësie (1836), in which he depicted the two centuries from 940 to 1140 as the golden and silver ages respectively of Jewish poetic achievement. But the term accorded fully with the needs and perceptions of German Jewry, and despite the heroic effort by a penitent Zunz not to ignore the dissimilar but equally impressive cultural achievements of medieval Ashkenazic Jewry, the Wissenschaft of a long line of scholars served to deepen and solidify the bias. At the same time, their failure to generate much sympathy for the mystical side of Spanish Judaism was a consequence of their own rational bent, compounded by outrage at the unfounded historical claims of the mystics themselves.

The attraction to cultural history was reinforced by a decided aversion to political history. To work out a conceptualization that would have done justice to the unconventional political history of Diaspora Jewry would have produced more flak than self-esteem. The embattled position of German Jewry militated against the subject. When Michael Sachs decided to produce Die religiose Poësie der Juden in Spanien (1845), a volume of medieval religious poetry in translation, he settled on Spain because of the widely held view, going back to Shlomoh Yehudah Rappoport, that Sephardic poets addressed God as lonely believers, whereas Ashkenazic poets only lamented the fate of the nation. Sachs specifically asked of Luzzatto, who had agreed to supply him material, not to send any "national poems." Somewhat later, in volume five of his Geschichte der Juden, Graetz did declaim with courage that the medieval Jewish experience betrays a political dimension, but he failed completely to demonstrate it. Neither he nor his colleagues moved beyond the older Spanish conception of Jewish political history as one of recurring persecution, though they amplified it factually and emotionally. On occasion, isolated works of political history such as Selig Cassel's "Geschichte der Juden" in the Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste (1850), Otto Stobbe's Die Juden in Deutschland während des Mittelalters in politischer, socialer und rechtlicher Beziehung (1866), and a volume of Regesten zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland während des Mittelalters (1862) by Meir Wiener did reveal just how much the systematic use of non-Jewish archival sources could enlarge and enrich the conception of the subject, but Graetz, with whom Stobbe worked closely, remained skeptical about their large-scale utility.

Institutional standing

By the mid-1870s when the founders of jüdische Wissenschaft had completed most if not all of their work (only Zunz, Steinschneider, and Graetz were still living, though Zunz was no longer productive), the study of Judaism had all the signs of an academic discipline except one: inclusion in the structure of the German university, the premier research institution of the century. Though a direct product of its research imperative, Wissenschaft des Judentums matured entirely outside the framework of the university. Jewish scholars as its primary practitioners were never accorded the university's recognition and support. The occasional appointment of a Privatdozent or Honorar-professor in a cognate field was but the trappings of academic respectability. Of course, that was exactly the kind of institutional affiliation, given their commitment to undogmatic scholarship and their resentment of rabbinic leadership, for which the founders yearned. Typical of faculty and bureaucratic resistance to the idea was the rebuff administered to Zunz in 1848 by the philosophy faculty of the University of Berlin to his request to create a chair in Jewish history and literature. Such a chair, it was felt, smacked of confessional interests and would merely strengthen Jewish parochialism. Misreading Zunz's intent, the faculty declared that it was not the function of the university to train rabbis. In the German context, such exclusion, which was, to be sure, experienced for a time by other nascent fields (such as history), meant the denial of the discipline's universal significance and doomed hardy aficionados to eke out a living in circumstances that were often trying. Increasingly, young scholars had little choice but to enter the ranks of a rabbinate in transition and to "make" the time for sustained research.

The creation of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau in 1854 from the largesse of a single Jewish benefactor finally provided an institutional base for the floundering field and cemented its connection with the modern rabbinate. With a curriculum informed by Wissenschaft des Judentums, a small faculty immersed in it, and a scholarly journal promoting it, Breslau became the model for all modern rabbinical seminaries established during the next half-century in central and western Europe and the United States. Despite denominational differences, these institutions determined the scholarly character of the modern rabbinate, until it was modified again at the turn of the century by the changing social and political needs of the Jewish community. Its graduates brought to the pulpit a lively commitment to deepen as well as to disseminate the new mode of Jewish learning.

But Zunz and Moritz Steinschneider viewed these developments with dismay, regarding much of the scholarship coming out of Breslau as dogmatic and pretentious. Twice in the 1870s, Steinschneider, a man of awesome learning, prodigious output, and extensive personal contacts with non-Jewish scholars, preferred to turn down invitations from new seminaries in Berlin and Budapest and to stay at his modest post as director of the girls' school of the Berlin Jewish community. In 1876, he reaffirmed the original integrationist vision with typical acerbity:

Institutions to preserve the rabbinate in the form acquired during the last centuries promote systematic hypocrisy and scholarly immaturity. What is scholarly about Jewish history and literature has no need to avoid the atmosphere of the university and must be made accessible to Christians. The task of our time seems to me, above all, to call for the temporary funding [obviously with Jewish moneyI. S.] of unpaid instructorships for Jewish history and literature at philosophical faculties, so that governments will be prompted to create professorships and institutions in which matriculated Gymnasium students might prepare themselves for the study of Hebrew literature. (Jewish Studies in Memory of George A. Kohut, ed. Salo W. Baron and Alexander Marx, 1935, p. 521)

When Steinschneider shared his reasons for refusal with his old mentor and lifelong friend, Heinrich L. Fleischer, Germany's leading Orientalist, the latter, sensing the futility of such expectations, chided him for his errant purism: "If men like you deny your cooperation, have you then still a right to complain about the new institution's lack of success? Why not get involved from the outset in the hope that in this way the better will triumph?" (letter of July 1, 1875, Fleischer correspondence from the "Steinschneider Papers," archives of the Jewish Theological Seminary).

No scholar among the Wissenschaft pioneers contributed more to validating the right to university admission for Jewish studies than Steinschneider himself. With his matchless command of unpublished sources, he painstakingly reconstructed the unsuspected and seminal role that medieval Jews in the Islamic world had played in the transmission of Greco-Roman culture to the Christian West. His oeuvre, especially his massive Die hebraeischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (2 vols., 1893), demonstrated for the first time the existence of a cultural unity in the medieval world that transcended religious differences, a theme that would continue to exercise Jewish scholars in the twentieth century. For instance, at Harvard, Harry A. Wolfson would try to integrate the parallel traditions of medieval religious philosophy into a single universe of discourse that operated from Philo to Spinoza. And at Princeton, on the basis of the inexhaustible documentary wealth of the Cairo Geniza, Shlomo D. Goitein would portray the social, economic, and material contours of a medieval Mediterranean society through the prism of Jewish life.

Turn of the Century

The engagement of Jewish scholarship with the vital concerns of a dynamic community was, if anything, intensified by the unsettling events of Jewish history in the twentieth century. In particular, the resurgence and diffusion of anti-Semitism at the turn of the century added to the inherent momentum toward specialization and institutionalization which the discipline had already generated in the course of the century. Even without this intrusion, the remarkable sweep of early Wissenschaft works would hardly have survived the growing technical complexity of the field. In 1897 alone, Solomon Schechter brought back to Cambridge from the Cairo Geniza, which he had emptied, some 100,000 literary fragments pertaining to nearly fifteen hundred years of Jewish history in the Greco-Roman and Islamic worlds. Thus, new sources, interests, and anxieties expanded Jewish scholarship into a movement of international proportions.

Historical Societies

The last decades of the nineteenth century give evidence of a chain reaction across the Jewish world in the formation of national Jewish historical societies. With the overt intention of stimulating research on the antiquity, fate, and contribution of Jews in their respective lands of settlement, these societies betray all the anxiousness of insecurity. But they also testify to the emergence of a cadre of indigenous scholars. The first to be founded in Paris in 1880 was the Société des Études Juives, which published the triannual Revue des études juives (1880), designed to accomplish two ends: By casting its net over the entire field of Jewish studies, the Revue served to challenge the German hegemony embodied in Breslau's Monatsschrift für die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (18511939), a policy that accorded with the rancor sown by the Franco-Prussian War; at the same time, the Revue placed at the heart of its agenda the twofold intent of encouraging the study of Jews in the history of France and of French Jews in the history of medieval Judaism. By 1897 the new subfield could boast of a volume of universal Jewish import. In Gallia Judaica (1897) Henri Gross, Hungarian-born as were so many of the Wissenschaft circle, produced a geographical dictionary that listed, along with ample historical information, all French localities in which Jews are known to have lived according to medieval Hebrew sources. In the twentieth century, this accomplishment became the model for the Germania Judaica (1917) of the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaft des Judentums and the Sefer ha-yishuv (1939) of the Palestine Historical and Ethnographical Society.

American Scholarship

In America too, Jewish scholarship was enlisted to stem the growth in anti-Semitism set off by the massive influx of eastern European Jews. Jewish notables exploited the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America in 1892 to create an American Jewish Historical Society, which would restrict its mission to assembling data on the role of Jews in "the discovery, settlement, and development of our land." Its president Oscar S. Straus, who had served as the American ambassador to Constantinople a few years before, invited and funded a noted European scholar of Spanish Jewish history, Meyer Kayserling of Budapest, to write Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries (1894) to "bring to light the extent to which our race had direct part and share with Columbus in the discovery of our continent." Straus hoped that the historical confirmation of "this fact would be an answer for all time to come to anti-Semitic tendencies in this country."

Far more important than Kayserling's careful study of 1894 was the publication in 19011906 of the twelve-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, edited by Isidore Singer and Cyrus Adler, by the non-Jewish firm of Funk and Wagnalls. Produced in a land on the fringes of the Wissenschaft movement with no scholarly tradition of its own, this first Jewish encyclopedia represented a collective venture of huge proportions and astonishingly high quality, a magnificent summation of nearly a century of Jewish scholarship, and, above all, the transplantation of Wissenschaft des Judentums to America. But the level of scholarly attainment should not obscure the pragmatic concerns of its genesis. The preface alluded to the anxieties of the moment: " the world's interest in Jews is perhaps keener than ever before. Recent events, to which more direct reference need not be made, have aroused the world's curiosity as to the history and condition of a people which has been able to accomplish so much under such adverse conditions." Accordingly, the editors were eager to present a balanced picture of Jews as both integrated and parochial, as both cosmopolitans and cultivators of their own traditions.

Anglo-Jewish Scholarship

The founding of the Jewish Quarterly Review in 1888 and the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1893 certainly suggests a similar set of circumstances for Anglo-Jewry. The fact that Lucien Wolf launched the research program of the society in 1901 with his splendid edition of Menasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell reflects the same need as felt in America for a "foundation myth" that intersects at a decisive juncture with the history of the nation. In one sense both Wolf's texts and the very idea of the society owed their patrimony to Henrich Graetz, who in his address to the immensely successful Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887 had called for an organized scholarly effort to study local history. The Jewish Quarterly Review, on the other hand, became the academic organ for a talented cluster of English scholars who had gathered around the charismatic figure of Solomon Schechter. For two decades it not only encompassed the full panoply of Jewish studies, but also often protested the jaundiced scholarship on ancient Judaism coming out of Germany.

Russian Scholarship

Under the guidance of Simon Dubnow, the small and ever more beleaguered liberal sector of Russian Jewry also began to display an interest in the study of local history to firm up its sense of belonging and distinctiveness. Fully aware of the social role of Jewish scholarship in the West, the young Dubnow transformed his own religious alienation into a lifelong program for the cultivation of historical consciousness. In 1891 to 1892, he issued appeals in Russian and Hebrew to set up a Jewish historical society that would coordinate a nationwide effort to collect the diverse sources, fast disappearing, related to the nine-hundred-year history of Jews in Poland and Russia. He pointed with envy to what had been accomplished in the West and berated Russian Jews for failing to realize the cohesive power of historical consciousness. However, his own conception of Jewish history had already begun to diverge from that of his Wissenschaft mentors. While he too stressed the greater importance of the internal Jewish sources, he articulated for the first time a vision of Jewish political history in the Diaspora that went far beyond the passive endurance of persecution. In the institution of the gahal, Diaspora Jews, wherever they settled, had created a unique instrument of national self-government that preserved a large measure of political initiative. The still-unemancipated status and traditional character of Russian Jewry had sensitized Dubnow to the medieval political expression of Jewish nationhood, and he pleaded for the sources to study its history. In his History of the Jews in Russia and Poland (3 vols., Eng. ed., 19161920) and Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes (10 vols., 19251929), Dubnow not only combined his many preliminary studies into a coherent narrative of a millennium of Jewish history in Poland and Russia, but also fully formulated and espoused his theory of Diaspora nationalism.

Dubnow's original proposal finally bore fruit in 1908 in Saint Petersburg with the founding of the Russian Jewish Historical Ethnographic Society by Maxim Vinaver and David Günzberg. Also at Saint Petersburg that same year, the scholarly, artistocratic Günzberg opened at his own expense an academy of Jewish studies in which Dubnow delivered public lectures on Jewish history and conducted seminars for advanced students, whose rank included some of the leading Zionist historians of the next generation. Most important of all, Dubnow's call to collect and record had become part of the credo of the nationalist Jewish renaissance emanating from Saint Petersburg. In the last three years before the war, the writer Solomon Anski led an ambitious ethnographic expedition sponsored by the society into the Jewish hinterland of the Ukraine to plumb its rich deposits of folklore and iconography, bringing back thousands of photographs, tales, folkways, manuscripts, and artifacts. In 1915, Issachar Ryback, a young art student, financed his own study of the wooden synagogues of White Russia, and in 1916 the society sent him and fellow artist El Lissitzky back to the Ukraine to do the same for its synagogues. In a far more somber vein, Anski in Khurbm Galitsye (1921) documented the agony of Galician Jewry inflicted by war in a monumental memoir of his heroic relief mission, and Elias Tcherikower, entirely in the spirit of Dubnow, organized and administered at great personal risk during the years 1918 to 1920 an archive to record the unparalleled slaughter of as many as seventy-five thousand Ukrainian Jews amidst the chaos of civil war.


The wholesale consumption of Jewish folklore in Russian exuded all the enthusiasm of the populist fervor unleashed by the socialist and Zionist rebellions at the turn of the century. But as an academic field, its origins lie in Germany, and as such it marked a sharp departure from the preoccupation with high culture that absorbed the founders of jüdische Wissenschaft. With fewer acknowledged luminaries than in the Sephardic world to distract them, the early students of Ashkenazic Judaism were forced to look at popular expressions of religious culture. The skein of development runs from the midcentury writers of ghetto novellas about central European Jewish life at the threshold of emancipation through the often overlooked collection of Judeo-German proverbs and expressions, Sprichwörter und Redensarten deutsch-jüdischer Vorzeit (1860) by Abraham Tendlau, the pioneering social histories of medieval Ashkenazic Jewry in Abraham Berliner's Aus dem inneren Leben der deutschen Juden im Mittelalter (1871), and Moritz Güdemann's Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der abendländischen Juden während des Mittelalters und der neueren Zeit (3 vols., 18801888), to Max Grunwald's work at the end of the century. A graduate of Breslau and at the same time rabbi in Hamburg, Grunwald delivered a manifesto in 1896 urging creation of a society, museum, and journal of Jewish folklore, and two years later he began publishing the first number of the Mitteilungen der jüdischen Volkskunde (18981929), which he was to edit singlehandedly in different formats for thirty volumes. That the first chair in Jewish folklore established at the Hebrew University in 1973 bears the name of this polymath is resounding testimony to his decisive role in launching the field.

The fascination with folklore signaled a broadly felt need to reconnect with the irrational, to reinvigorate an excessively cerebral tradition with the life-giving forces of imagination. Rabbinic Judaism as codified in the East or spiritualized in the West did not exhaust the record of Jewish lore and legend begun in the first decade of the twentieth century by scholars as diverse as Martin Buber, ayyim Bialik and Yehoshuʿa Ravnitzki, Louis Ginzberg, and Micha Josef Berdyczewski. Ginzberg's monumental The Legends of the Jews (7 vols., 19091938), elegantly designed for scholar and layman alike, not only revealed the popular wellsprings of rabbinic religion, but also demonstrated the extent to which Jewish legends preserved and mediated the folklore of antiquity.


Jewish art, as cultural expression and scholarly discipline, was similarly invigorated by the discoveries of folklore. In no area of contemporary Jewish life did creativity require quite as urgently the validation and inspiration of a historical tradition. Jewish artists and historians faced the same deep-seated stereotype, shared by friend and foe alike, that Jews by virtue of religion and race were singularly bereft of any aesthetic sensibility. But dramatic historical evidence to the contrary began to mount: the exhibition of the Isaac Strauss collection in Paris in 1878, the publication of the Sarajevo Haggadah in 1898 along with the recovery of a Jewish tradition of manuscript illumination, the formation of Jewish art societies and collections, the publication in 1916 of Antike Synagogen in Galilaea by Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger of the first study of Galilean synagogues, and, above all, the plethora of folk art unearthed in the wooden synagogues of Russia. For artists projecting a secular Jewish culture, historians were supplying the resources of an indigenous past. In the beautiful pages of Rimon, a lavish magazine of Jewish arts and letters published in Berlin after the war in both a Hebrew and Yiddish edition, the artistic and historical dimensions converged symbiotically.


From Jewish folklore to sociology was but a small step, for the interest remained primarily nonelitist. The impetus for this expansion of Jewish scholarship came directly from the nascent Zionist movement. Although Zunz had clearly foreshadowed the sociological study of the Jews in a programmatic essay in 1823, Grundlinien zu einen künftigen Statistik der Juden, it took the Zionist indictment of assimilation with all its putatively alarming consequences for Jewish survival to effect a scholarly shift to the present. At the fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, Max Nordau, who annually treated the delegates to a foreboding assessment of the Jewish situation, called for the systematic assemblage of data to confirm the Zionist consensus. The proposal took institutional form three years later in Berlin in the Bureau für Jüdische Statistik, manned by a small staff of unpaid Zionists, which for the next eighteen years would publish an invaluable journal for Jewish demography and statistics. Its first editor, till he went to Israel in 1908 to head the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization, was Arthur Ruppin, who in 1904 had produced in his Die Juden der Gegenwart the first work of Jewish sociology. Not surprisingly, the first generation of scholars was drawn largely from the ranks of Zionists. By 1930 Ruppin's own research had grown into a sweeping two-volume Soziologie der Juden (19301931), and in 1938 he was the natural candidate for the Hebrew University's first professor of Jewish sociology.

Early Twentieth-Century Scholarship

The first century of Jewish studies ends where it began, in Berlin, with the formation of another association of young scholars still in rebellion against rabbinic ascendancy. In 1919 Eugen Täubler, this time with substantial Jewish backing, founded the Akademie für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. The idea was the outgrowth of a cri du coeur in 1917 by Franz Rosenzweig to German Jewry to revitalize its scholarly forces against the onslaught on ancient Judaism by the ever more confident scholarship of liberal Protestantism. Judaism's exclusion from the university remained unaltered, its incorporation into German society riddled with problems, and its laity unequipped for adversity. In final form, the academy, stripped of any polemical or educational intent, came to represent German Jewry's last attempt to bring Wissenschaft des Judentums out of its academic isolation and thereby to set its course for the twentieth century. In Täubler the academy had a classicist trained by Theodor Mommsen yet fully conversant with Jewish sources, a historical thinker of great conceptual power, and a proven administrator, who some years before had organized a national Jewish archive as the central repository for Jewish communal records.

As enunciated by Täubler, the mission of the academy was to end jüdische Wissenschaft' s obsession with anti-Semitism and reliance on practicing rabbis and to reunite it with the highest standards of modern scholarship. This meant specialization, systematic use of non-Jewish archival sources, philological analysis broadly conceived, and contextual and comparative research. Talmudic research in particular still suffered from the absence of a firm philological basis. Täubler dreamed of creating eventually a library of critical editions of all Jewish texts prior to the eighteenth century. In the meantime, he divided the field of Jewish studies into nine distinct specialities, delineated the nature of ancillary instruments of resources, and funded the research of young scholars like Chanoch Albeck, Yitzhak Baer, David H. Baneth, Arthur Spanier, and Selma Stern.

Three years after Täubler died in 1950 in Cincinnati, he was eulogized in Jerusalem by Baer, Moshe Schwabe, and Ben Zion Dinur, three men whose lives he touched deeply. But the tribute signified more than personal indebtedness. The very conceptualization, ethos, and instruments of Jewish studies as they came to be embodied in the Hebrew University after 1924 were conceived by Täubler in Berlin. The professionalization of Jewish scholarship was under way, though communal concerns would continue to influence research agendas.


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Revised Bibliography

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Jewish Studies: Jewish Studies from 1818 to 1919

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