Enlightened and Emancipated

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  4. Enlightened and Emancipated
  5. Conclusion Enlightenment and Emancipation:Privilege and Its Discontents

David Sorkin demonstrated this with the two great journals of German Jewry: the maskilic Ha-Me'assef was written in Hebrew and supported the study of German; the post-maskilic Sulamith published since was written almost entirely in German, befitting its editors' agenda of linguistic assimilation. The political vision of the Haskalah was predicated on a similar approach. It opposed the reclusive community of the past but sought a maintenance of a strong Jewish framework with themselves as leaders and intercessors with the state authorities ; the Enlightened were not even fully agreeable to civic emancipation, and many of them viewed it with reserve, sometimes anxiety.

In their writings, they drew a sharp line between themselves and whom they termed "pseudo- maskilim " — those who embraced the Enlightenment values and secular knowledge but did not seek to balance these with their Jewishness, but rather strove for full assimilation. Such elements, whether the radical universalists who broke off the late Berlin Haskalah or the Russified intelligentsia in Eastern Europe a century later, were castigated and derided no less than the old rabbinic authorities which the movement confronted.

It was not uncommon for its partisans to become a conservative element, combating against further dilution of tradition: in Vilnius , Samuel Joseph Fuenn turned from a progressive into an adversary of more radical elements within a generation. In the Maghreb , the few local maskilim were more concerned with the rapid assimilation of local Jews into the colonial French culture than with the ills of traditional society.

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Likewise, those who abandoned the optimistic, liberal vision of the Jews albeit as a cohesive community integrating into wider society in favour of full-blown Jewish nationalism or radical, revolutionary ideologies which strove to uproot the established order, also broke with the movement. The national Jewish movements of Eastern Europe, founded by disillusioned maskilim , derisively regarded it — in a manner similar to other romantic-nationalist movements' understanding of the general Enlightenment — as a naive, liberal and assimilationist ideology which induced foreign cultural influences, gnawed at the Jewish national consciousness and promised false hopes of equality in exchange for spiritual enslavement.

This hostile view was promulgated by nationalist thinkers and historians, from Peretz Smolenskin , Simon Dubnow and onwards. It was once common in Israeli historiography. A major factor which always characterized the movement was its weakness and its dependence of much more powerful elements.

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Its partisans were mostly impoverished intellectuals, who eked out a living as private tutors and the like; few had a stable financial base, and they required patrons, whether affluent Jews or the state's institutions. This triplice — the authorities, the Jewish communal elite and the maskilim — was united only in the ambition of thoroughly reforming Jewish society.

The government had no interest in the visions of renaissance which the Enlightened so fervently cherished. It demanded the Jews to turn into productive, loyal subjects with rudimentary secular education, and no more. The rich Jews were sometimes open to the movement's agenda, but mostly practical, hoping for a betterment of their people that would result in emancipation and equal rights. Indeed, the great cultural transformation which occurred among the Parnassim affluent commumal wardens class — they were always more open to outside society, and had to tutor their children in secular subjects, thus inviting general Enlightenment influences — was a precondition of Haskalah.

The state and the elite required the maskilim as interlocutors and specialists in their efforts for reform, especially as educators, and the latter used this as leverage to benefit their ideology. However, the activists were much more dependent on the former than vice versa; frustration from one's inability to further the maskilic agenda and being surrounded by apathetic Jews, either conservative "fanatics" or parvenu "assimilationists", is a common theme in the movement's literature.

The term Haskalah became synonymous, among friends and foes alike and in much of early Jewish historiography, with the sweeping changes that engulfed Jewish society mostly in Europe from the late 18th Century to the late 19th Century. It was depicted by its partisans, adversaries and historians like Heinrich Graetz as a major factor in those.

Later research greatly narrowed the scope of the phenomenon and limited its importance: while Haskalah undoubtedly played a part, the contemporary historical consensus portrays it as much humbler. Other transformation agents, from state-imposed schools to new economic opportunities, were demonstrated to have rivaled or overshadowed the movement completely in propelling such processes as acculturation, secularization, religious reform from moderate to extreme, adoption of native patriotism and so forth.

In many regions the Haskalah had no effect at all. As long as the Jews lived in segregated communities, and as long as all social interaction with their Gentile neighbors was limited, the rabbi was the most influential member of the Jewish community. In addition to being a religious scholar and "clergy", a rabbi also acted as a civil judge in all cases in which both parties were Jews.

Rabbis sometimes had other important administrative powers, together with the community elders. The rabbinate was the highest aim of many Jewish boys, and the study of the Talmud was the means of obtaining that coveted position, or one of many other important communal distinctions. Haskalah followers advocated "coming out of the ghetto ", not just physically but also mentally and spiritually, in order to assimilate among Gentile nations. The example of Moses Mendelssohn —86 , a Prussian Jew, served to lead this movement, which was also shaped by Aaron Halle-Wolfssohn — and Joseph Perl — Mendelssohn's extraordinary success as a popular philosopher and man of letters revealed hitherto unsuspected possibilities of integration and acceptance of Jews among non-Jews.

Mendelssohn also provided methods for Jews to enter the general society of Germany. A good knowledge of the German language was necessary to secure entrance into cultured German circles, and an excellent means of acquiring it was provided by Mendelssohn in his German translation of the Torah. This work became a bridge over which ambitious young Jews could pass to the great world of secular knowledge.

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The Biur , or grammatical commentary, prepared under Mendelssohn's supervision, was designed to counteract the influence of traditional rabbinical methods of exegesis. Together with the translation, it became, as it were, the primer of Haskalah. Language played a key role in the haskalah movement, as Mendelssohn and others called for a revival of Hebrew and a reduction in the use of Yiddish. The result was an outpouring of new, secular literature, as well as critical studies of religious texts.

Jews also began to study and communicate in the languages of the countries in which they settled, providing another gateway for integration. Berlin is the city of origin for the movement. The capital city of Prussia and, later, the German Empire , Berlin became known as a secular, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic center, a fertile environment for conversations and radical movements. This move by the Maskilim away from religious study, into much more critical and worldly studies was made possible by this German city of modern and progressive thought.


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It was a city in which the rising middle class Jews and intellectual elites not only lived among, but were exposed to previous age of enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. Reference to Berlin in relation to the Haskalah movement is necessary because it provides context for this episode of Jewish history.

Subsequently, having left Germany and spreading across Eastern Europe, the Berlin Haskalah influenced multiple Jewish communities who were hungry for non-religious scholarly texts and insight to worlds beyond their Jewish enclaves. Haskalah did not stay restricted to Germany, however, and the movement quickly spread throughout Europe.

Poland—Lithuania was the heartland of Rabbinic Judaism, with its two streams of Misnagdic Talmudism centred in Lithuania and other regions, and Hasidic mysticism popular in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Russia. In the 19th century Haskalah sought dissemination and transformation of traditional education and inward pious life in Eastern Europe.

Isaac Baer Levinsohn — became known as the "Russian Mendelssohn". Joseph Perl 's — satire of the Hasidic movement, "Revealer of Secrets" Megalleh Temirim , is said to be the first modern novel in Hebrew. It was published in Vienna in under the pseudonym "Obadiah ben Pethahiah". The Haskalah's message of integration into non-Jewish society was subsequently counteracted by alternative secular Jewish political movements advocating Folkish, Socialist or Nationalist secular Jewish identities in Eastern Europe.

Writers of Yiddish literature variously satirised or sentimentalised Hasidic mysticism. Even as emancipation eased integration into wider society and assimilation prospered, the haskalah also resulted in the creation of secular Jewish culture , with an emphasis on Jewish history and Jewish identity , rather than religion.

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This resulted in the engagement of Jews in a variety of competing ways within the countries where they lived; these included the struggle for Jewish emancipation , involvement in new Jewish political movements , and later, in the face of continued persecutions in late nineteenth-century Europe, the development of a Jewish Nationalism. One source describes these effects as, "The emancipation of the Jews brought forth two opposed movements: the cultural assimilation, begun by Moses Mendelssohn, and Zionism , founded by Theodor Herzl in One facet of the Haskalah was a widespread cultural adaptation, as those Jews who participated in the enlightenment began in varying degrees to participate in the cultural practices of the surrounding Gentile population.

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Connected with this was the birth of the Reform movement , whose founders such as Israel Jacobson and Leopold Zunz rejected the continuing observance of those aspects of Jewish law which they classified as ritual, as opposed to moral or ethical. Even within orthodoxy the Haskalah was felt through the appearance of the Mussar Movement in Lithuania and Torah im Derech Eretz in Germany in response.

Enlightened Jews sided with Gentile governments in plans to increase secular education among the Jewish masses, bringing them into acute conflict with the orthodox who believed this threatened Jewish life. The spreading of Haskalah affected Judaism as a religion because of how much the different sects desired to be integrated, and in turn, integrate their religious traditions. The effects of the Enlightenment were already present in Jewish religious music and opinion on traditionalism versus modernization.

Groups of Reform Jews such as the Society of the Friends of Reform and the Association for the Reform of Judaism were formed because they wanted and actively advocated for a change in Jewish tradition, mainly rituals like circumcision.


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The Orthodox Jews were actively against these reformers because they viewed changing Jewish tradition was an insult to God and that fulfillment in life could be found in serving God and keeping his commandments. Another important facet of the Haskalah was its interests to non-Jewish religions. Moses Mendelssohn criticized some aspects of Christianity, but depicted Jesus as a Torah-observant rabbi, who was loyal to traditional Judaism.

Mendelssohn explicitly linked positive Jewish views of Jesus with the issues of Emancipation and Jewish-Christian reconciliation. Similar revisionist views were expressed by Rabbi Isaac Ber Levinsohn and other traditional representatives of the Haskalah movement. The Jewish Encyclopedia. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Conclusion Enlightenment and Emancipation:Privilege and Its Discontents

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