Graetz, Heinrich

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GRAETZ, HEINRICH (Hirsch ; 1817–1891), Jewish historian and Bible scholar. Graetz was born in Xions (Ksiaz Wielkopolski), Poznan, the son of a butcher. From 1831 to 1836 he went to the yeshivah in Wolstein (now Wolsztyn) near Poznan. At the same time, Graetz taught himself French and Latin and avidly read general literature. This brought him to a spiritual crisis, but reading S.R. *Hirsch's "Nineteen Letters on Judaism" in 1836 restored his faith. He accepted Hirsch's invitation to continue his studies in the latter's home and under his guidance. Eventually their relationship cooled; he left Oldenburg in 1840 and worked as a private tutor in Ostrow. In 1842 he obtained special permission to study at Breslau University. As no Jew could obtain a Ph.D. at Breslau, Graetz presented his thesis to the University of Jena. This work was later published under the title Gnostizismus und Judenthum (1846). By then Graetz had come under the influence of Z. *Frankel, and it was he who initiated a letter of congratulations to Frankel for leaving the second *Rabbinical Conference (Frankfurt, 1845) in protest, after the majority had decided against prayers in Hebrew. Graetz now became a contributor to Frankel's Zeitschrift fuer die religioesen Interessen des Judenthums, in which, among others, he published his programmatic "Construction der juedischen Geschichte" (1846).

Graetz failed to obtain a position as rabbi and preacher because of his lack of talent as an orator. After obtaining a teaching diploma, he was appointed head teacher of the orthodox religious school of the Breslau community, and in 1850, at Hirsch's recommendation, of the Jewish school of Lundenburg, Moravia. As a result of intrigues within the local community, he left Lundenburg in 1852 for Berlin, where during the following winter he lectured on Jewish history to theological students. He then began to contribute to the *Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, which Frankel had founded in 1851 and which he later edited himself (1869–88). He also completed Volume iv (the first to be published, dealing with the talmudic period) of his Geschichte der Juden von den aeltesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart ("History of the Jews…," 1853). In 1853 Graetz was appointed lecturer in Jewish history and Bible at the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and in 1869 was made honorary professor at the University of Breslau.

The Historian and His Work

One of the major aspects of Graetz's outlook on the Jewish people and its history appear to have been laid during his association with S.R. Hirsch and under the influence of his ideas concerning the mission of the Jewish people. A second important source of his ideas can be found in his juvenile readings of Enlightenment authors as well as his studies in Breslau in philology and philosophy (the latter with Christlieb Julius Braniss (1792–1873)). In general, Graetz remained faithful to these ideas to the end of his days.

He set out his first comprehensive attempt at a concept of Jewish history in the two essays Construction der juedischen Geschichte (spring and autumn 1846; later editions as a continuous text, 1936, 2000; Heb. tr. Darkhei ha-Historyah ha-Yehudit, 1969; Engl. tr. The Structure of Jewish History, 1975). Proceeding from Hegelian ideas, he considered the basic ideas of Judaism as eternal, changing only their external forms. But as he failed to define such a basic idea, these two essays do not constitute a coherent text. In the first part, dealing with the history of the destruction of the Second Temple, the ideal form is harmony of the political and religious elements. Therefore Graetz regarded Judaism as a unique politico-religious organism, in which "the Law is the soul, the Holy Land the body." As for the second, the exilic part of Jewish history, however, Graetz agrees that theoretical-philosophical ideas have taken over: "Judaism becomes scientific scholarship," with the "talmudic system" instead of the Holy Land. He stated, however, that the process is not yet concluded and that "the task of Judaism's God-idea [seems to be] to found a religious state which is conscious of its activity, purpose, and connection with the world." Graetz's ideas on the nature of Jewish history underwent further development. In an essay titled Die Verjuengung des juedischen Stammes (in Wertheimer-Komperts' Jahrbuch fuer Israeliten, 1863; repr. with notes by Zlocisty in Juedischer Volkskalender, Brno, 1903; Eng. tr. in I. Lesser's Occident (1865), 193ff.) he rejected the belief in a personal Messiah, and maintained that the prophetic promises referred to the Jewish nation as a whole. In this period (1860s) Graetz under the influence of M. Hess' Rome and Jerusalem did not believe in the political revival of the Jews and in the possibility of the creation of a Jewish center in Ereẓ Israel (see letters to Hess and the conclusion of his pamphlet Briefwechsel einer englischen Dame ueber Judentum und Semitismus, which he published anonymously in 1883; also under the title Gedanken einer Juedin ueber das Judentum…, 1885). Both in this pamphlet and in his essay "The Significance of Judaism for the Present and the Future" (in jqr, 1–2, 1889/90), he emphasized the historical and religious significance of continuous Jewish existence. He saw the main importance of Judaism in the ethical values which it was its task to impart to the world. Judaism is the sole bearer of monotheism; it is the only rational religion. Its preservation and the propagation of the sublime ethical truths to be found in Judaism, these are the tasks of the Jews in the world and this is the importance of Judaism for human culture.

Graetz's life work is his History of the Jews and most of his other writings were merely preliminary studies or supplements to this gigantic structure. Even though attempts had been made before him by both Christians (Basnage) and Jews (Jost) to write a Jewish history, the work of Graetz was the first comprehensive attempt to write the history of the Jews as the history of a living people and from a Jewish point of view. With deep feeling, he describes the struggle of Jews and of Judaism for survival, their uniqueness, and their mission in world history. His approach has often been characterized as a history of suffering and intellectual achievement. Out of his appreciation of Judaism and his reaction against all that Christianity had perpetrated against Judaism, Graetz pointed out the failure of the Christian churches to provide a religion and ethics to serve as a basis for a healthy society. The writing of such a Jewish history in the midst of a society which in its vast majority identified itself with Christian culture was a daunting task.

After Volume 4 came out in 1853, eight further volumes of his Geschichte der Juden appeared between 1856 and 1870, leaving only the first two volumes – dealing with the biblical period and the early Second Temple period – to be completed. Volume 1 of the History of the Jews (to the death of Solomon) appeared in 1874, after Graetz had been able to travel to Palestine, and the two parts of the second volume (to the revolt of the Hasmoneans) followed in 1875–76.

From a historiographic point of view, the History of the Jews was a great and impressive achievement. Graetz made use of a vast number of hitherto neglected sources in several languages, though these were mainly literary sources; there was hardly any archival material on Jewish history available in his days. The same holds true for many social and economic aspects of history, though he recognized early the importance of coins as a historical source. In general, he adopted the philologic-critical method and succeeded in clarifying several obscure episodes in Jewish history. Having studied the works of outstanding personalities, especially those with whom he felt a spiritual affinity (such as Maimonides), Graetz succeeded in painting a series of particular figures as representatives of their respective epochs and the history of Judaism in general. His intuition as a historian was astonishing. Thus, for example, the documents discovered in the Cairo *Genizah after the death of Graetz confirmed several of his surmises concerning the development of the piyyut and the period of the geonim. But Graetz the historiographer had his weaknesses as well, among which was his excessive and rather naive rationalism. He described everything which appeared to him understandable and logical in the history of his people and emphasized the forces and the ideals which had assured its survival throughout the centuries. Thus he stressed the importance of the universalist ethics of Judaism and showed little understanding for mystical forces and movements such as *Kabbalah and *Ḥasidism, which he despised and considered malignant growths in the body of Judaism. Graetz was not acquainted with and scarcely interested in the history of the Jews of Poland, Russia, and Turkey, and in his attachment to Haskalah expressed contempt bordering on hatred for "the fossilized Polish talmudists." To Yiddish he refers as a ridiculous gibberish ("jargon").

Nevertheless, Graetz wrote in a lively and captivating though sometimes partisan, style, which secured remarkable and long-lasting success for his work. Between 1887 and 1889 an abridged edition of his great work was published in three volumes under the title Volkstuemliche Geschichte der Juden (1887–89; 10 editions to 1930; Eng. tr. 19304), which became one of the most widely read Jewish books in Central Europe. For several generations of Jews this work served as a very common bar mitzvah gift.

As to biblical research, Graetz's approach to the Pentateuch was traditional, but in his studies of Prophets and Hagiographa he occasionally adopted radical views. His commentaries on Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes (the latter written according to him in the time of Herod) were published in 1871 and his commentary to Psalms in 1882. These were generally not favorably received, though by making use of the old Bible versions and of talmudic Hebrew he was able to obtain some valuable results. Toward the end of his life it was Graetz's intention to publish a critical text on the Bible, but he left nothing more than emendations to the Prophets, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes which his student David Kaufmann published posthumously.

Critics and Legacy

Graetz's work had a tremendous effect on Jews everywhere, but he was not short of critics either. S.R. Hirsch voiced strong criticism as early as the publication of Volume 4 in the early years of his Jeschurun (1855–57), calling it "the phantasies of superficial combinations." The breach between teacher and pupil was now complete. From the opposite direction came Geiger's verdict that the work contained "stories but not history" (Juedische Zeitschrift, 4 (1866), 145ff.; cf. also Steinschneider's censure in hb, 3 (1860), 103f.; 4 (1861), 84; 6 (1863), 73ff.). Graetz replied to his contemporary critics in periodicals and in subsequent volumes of his history.

Beyond scholarly debates and throughout his life, Graetz was a pugnacious character. During his student years in Breslau, he fought ardent battles in Jewish and non-Jewish journals against Abraham *Geiger and the Reform movement. On his return from the Middle East, he published a memorandum which was highly critical of the social and educational conditions in Ereẓ Israel and of the system of *Ḥalukkah in particular. He also played a role in the new wave of antisemitic attacks. In 1879 the nationalistic Prussian historian Heinrich von *Treitschke violently attacked the 11th volume of the History of the Jews, which dealt with recent times. He accused Graetz of hatred of Christianity, Jewish nationalism, and the lack of desire for the integration of Jews within the German nation ("Unsere Aussichten," in Preussische Jahrbuecher, 1879). This led to a public debate in which both Jewish and non-Jewish writers participated. While many of them rejected Treitschke's virulent antisemitism, even Jewish writers dissociated themselves, with few exceptions, from Graetz. That he was a controversial figure became once again evident when the Union of Jewish Communities set up in 1885 a Jewish Historical Commission with the purpose of publishing the sources for the history of the Jews in Germany. Despite his merits, Graetz was not invited to serve in any way. Thus in his later years, Graetz was cautious in his involvement in public affairs. He warmly welcomed the philanthropic program of the *Kattowitz Conference (1884), but withdrew immediately when the *Ḥovevei Zion movement took a political turn and tried to use his name for its purposes.

A wider Jewish public, and the world of Jewish scholarship in particular, honored Graetz on the occasion of his 70th birthday; a jubilee volume was published to celebrate the event. Graetz was invited to deliver the opening speech at the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition in London in 1887, which was published under the title of Historic Parallels in Jewish History (translated by J. Jacobs, 1887). In 1888 he was elected honorary member of the history department of the Academy of Madrid in honor of his description of medieval Jewish history in Spain up to the expulsion in 1492.

Graetz's History became the basis and the source for the further study of Jewish history, and in some fields of research its influence is felt to this day. It was translated into many languages. The great number of editions and translations (also of single volumes: cf. Brann, in mgwj, 61 (1917), 481–91) of the Geschichte speak their own language of success. The various volumes were published in up to five editions until World War i. Several volumes of the last edition (11 vols., 1890–1909) were edited and annotated by M. Brann and others. The best known Hebrew version is an adaptation/translation by S.P. Rabinowitz (with A. Harkavy, 1890–99), which exerted much influence among the Hebrew-reading public of East European Jewry. Yiddish translations appeared in 1897–98, 1913, and 1915–17. The various English translations were influential as well: (1) without the notes and excurses, by Bella Loewy (5 vols., 1891–92), authorized and with an introduction and final retrospect by Graetz himself (1901); (2) the same with a sixth volume including P. Bloch's memoir, 1892–98; and (3) the "Popular History" (5 vols., 1919). As to French translations: volume 3 was translated by Moses *Hess under the title Sinai et Golgotha in 1867; and the whole work by M. Wogue and M. Bloch (1882–97). The work was also translated into Russian, Polish, and Hungarian.

Most of Graetz's other published work was preparatory to the main "History," and appeared in the Monatsschrift and in the Jahresberichte of the Breslau Seminary. On the occasion of Graetz's 100th birthday anniversary the Monatsschrift (vol. 61 (1917), 321ff.) and the Neue Juedische Monatshefte (vol. 2, nos. 3–4, 1917–18) issued a series of memoirs and first biographical sketches on the life and works of the historian. A number of Graetz's essays and personal writings have been published in Hebrew (Darkhei ha-Historyah ha-Yehudit (1969), tr. by J. Tolkes), and an extensive selection of his diaries and letters was published by R. Michael (Heinrich Graetz. Tagebuch und Briefe (1977)). In more recent times, a few comprehensive studies of the life and work of Graetz have been finished.


Kaufmann, Schriften, 1 (1908), 212–82; I. Abrahams, in: jqr, 4 (1892), 165–203; L. Graetz, in: Ost und West, 4 (1904), 755–64; P. Bloch, in Graetz, Hist, 6 (1949), 1–86; German original in: mgwj, 48 (1904), 33–42, 87–97, 161–77, 22–241, 300–15, 346–60, 491–503; G. Deutsch, in: Central Conference of American Rabbis Yearbook, 27 (1917), 338–64; J. Meisl, Heinrich Graetz… zu seinem 100. Geburtstage (1917); M. Brann (ed.), Heinrich Graetz: Abhandlhungen zu seinem 100. Geburtstage (1917); idem, in: mgwj, 62 (1918), 231–69; ibid., 61 (1917), 212–5, 321–491 (various contributions, incl. bibls.); S. Baron, History and Jewish Historians (1964), 263–75 and 446–49; H. Liebeschuetz, Das Judentum im deutschen Geschichtsbild (1967), 132–56; S. Ettinger, in: Darkhei ha-Historyah ha-Yehudit (1969), 7–36. add. bibliography: I. Schorsch, in: The Structure of Jewish History (1975), 1–62; R. Michael, Heinrich Graetz (Hebrew, 2003); J. Blutinger, "Heinrich Graetz"(Ph.D. dissertation; ucla, 2004); M. Pyka, in: Klaus Hoedl (ed.), Historisches Bewusstsein (2004), 109–18; M. Pyka, "Juedische Identitaet bei Heinrich Graetz" (Ph.D. dissertation, Munich, 2005).

[Shmuel Ettinger /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]