Disclaimer: These are my notes. I use them to give me a sense of what I am teaching for the day
and how to divide up material. If it does not make sense to you—or you prefer an OUTLINE
fashion (but I like a narrative) – LET ME KNOW!
Week 12: Tuesday, March 31st
Assigned Reading: most important bolded
- Fishbane: Chapter 4 (pp 114-132)
- PDFs are available on CANVAS:
o The Jew in the Modern World, “A Society for the Preservation of the
Jewish People (1819),” “The Society for the Culture and Science of
the Jews Statutes (1822),” and “A Society to Further Jewish
o Selection from Mendelssohn, Jerusalem
We are taking a leap now to the Modern Period. Which for us means: 1580s1940s (or 16th-20th century).
Geographically: We are in Europe – with countries you will now recognize!
Population of Jews in Europe:
By the 1700s there are 1 million Jews (that is a low number, but the
community lost many members after the Christian Expulsion of 13th century
– we are not covering that).
By the 1930s there will be 17 million Jews
Vocabulary: Fishbane has a glossary in the back with some of this!
o Jewish Diaspora (Galut – )גלותhad to sneak in some hebrew
So now we get back to what we have been aiming toward all semester—Is Judaism
a religion (Shomer Mitzvot)? An ethnicity (birth/culture)? Both? And guess
what—YOU CAN’T ANSWER! As non-Jews we are not in a place to find or produce
an answer. Rather, as students of Judaism, our role is to understand the question
and more importantly --why it is a question! That is what we are going to do for the
next two weeks. Ready??
Our Main Question for the Day:
How can Jews living in Diaspora (spread apart all over the world, speaking
different languages, reading and being exposed to different cultures) still
maintain a SINGULAR JEWISH IDENTITY?
First things first:
What do we mean by a singular identity? Does any group have one?
Now Getting Specifically Jewish: Turn to Fishbane p. 114
The Jewish Modern world is characterized by asking this question:
1. Resist the power of tradition and commit yourself to the larger
world around you
2. Resist the new ideas of modernity as threats to traditional truths
How do we begin to deal with these questions? We ask little ones first!
Fishbane is here to help!
Little Questions: 3 total
1. Choose to either Resist or Incorporate the surrounding host countries
culture (e.g. learn the host country’s language, read their books, newspapers
2. Ask and Decide whether the other culture is even compatible with Judaism
(i.e. recall some host countries have attempted to murder Jews in the past!)
3. Can Jews read and be influenced by other texts. Can Jews move beyond the
Torah and and rabbinic literature? In other words: can you decentralize the
And ultimately one of the most complex questions according to Fishbane
Should one remain a Jew and in what way?
The above questions are going to take time to unpack. So let’s discuss!
Jewish by Culture or Religion: Use our vocabulary words to follow:
Our focus when discussing Jews in Modern Times will be mainly through the eyes of
the Ashkenazi Jews. There are two distinct types of Ashkenazi Jew. One that lives
in Central/Western Europe and the other that lives in Eastern Europe.
These two drastically different experiences are going to make up for the theme of
this class lecture. Are you Jewish as a Culture? Or are you Jewish by Religion?
If you stop practicing the tradition—are you still considered a Jew? This will be
covered extensively throughout the Modern period in many different formats.
Now this is not the first time we’ve seen the Jews adapt to a new environment. All
through the Middle Ages, empires and rulers from different regions came and went.
The Jews adapt when they lost their temple. They became a people spread around
Mesopotamia (rather than concentrated in either Egypt or Canaan – as in the time of
Abraham). How did they survive—anyone? ANYONE? Who did they look to
keep them bonded even when they were physically apart? REMEMBER NO
o Bible and Rabbi’s as the authority on the bible to keep them all on the
same page and a part of the same group.
o That kept the Jews from straying from converting etc… Remember
Adapting is not new to them. But what is new is the control the Jews now have to
either adapt or not adapt on their own terms. They are making the decision!
The difference between Ashkenazi Jews : How did this get polarized and why?
Is the difference between Tradition and Acculturation (recall difference between
acculturation and assimilation)
Let’s begin in Central/Western Europe: We are going to juxtapose two main
figures from each side. Tradition vs. Acculturation. Let’s do this by using
prominent Jewish figures and see what they have to say:
On the Side of Tradition: Rabbi Elijah Gaon
o We come to Vilna (now Vilnius) in Lithuania (Fishbane p. 115-118). Where
we meet a very famous rabbi who begins to articulate the problem of Jews in
modernity. Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon also known as Rabbi Elijah Gaon
(remember that word)—was born there in 1720. He was considered the last
great theologian of classical rabbinism. And was a profound believer in
tradition and not allow Judaism to conform or adapt to foreign surroundings.
In other words—he is old school and doesn’t want to assimilate, acculturate
or anything close. His nickname was the Gaon of Vilna
Anyone remember what you read about him?
o Low textual criticism
o High Textual criticism
One book he wrote was on: Hebrew Grammar.
Let’s remind ourselves of the various forms of Hebrew:
First Hebrew is the language of the Jews. But if you recall there is more than
one type of Hebrew
Because the Jews had to migrate and move around as much as they
did—their original language had been lost and changed over the 1,000
years of their existence. Overall we have three distinct types of
1. Biblical Hebrew: Biblical Hebrew is the earliest form. It is
the Hebrew of the Bible and most prayers. Today when a
religious Jew reads or recites a prayer they do so in Biblical
Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew uses vowels and markings to
accent words. It ceased being spoken around 200 c.e. which
is AFTER …—2nd Temple falling
2. Medieval Hebrew: Also known as Rashi Hebrew. If you
remember Rashi was the Rabbinic Scholar who wrote the
commentaries alongside the Talmud. We are in the late
12th century now—so Hebrew has not been spoken for
1,000 years. If I were to ask you what would be distinct
about Medieval Hebrew what would you say: Arabic and
Latin influence. There are differences in vowels, accents,
script. Things have changed because the surroundings have
3. Modern Hebrew: More recently, after the development of
the state of Israel. A newer form of Hebrew has come up.
Modern Hebrew or Israeli Hebrew. This is the Hebrew
spoken and read today throughout the world and in Israel.
Modern Hebrew tends to be read and written without
vowels or accents (unless it is poetry or prayer). It is the
official language of Israel, but has borrowed heavily from
European words all over the world (since most Jews
migrated to Israel from all over the world).
Example: I was taught by a man (Menachem Brinker) who used
to create new Hebrew words for modern items. He created the
Hebrew word for computer!! He was an amazing person.
So back to the Vilna of Gaon—he wrote a Hebrew Grammar book in the middle of all
this—and guess in what style? MEDIEVAL HEBREW. Why?
AND NOW on the SIDE of ACCULTURATION:
Gaon of Vilna represents a more traditional rabbinism. But if we move westward to
Berlin—we will find a more modern scholar of enormous importance:
Now do you remember how I emphases Maimonides in the medieval portion
of this class? Let me do the same for Mendelssohn—for he was a hugely important
figure in the Modern Jewish History movement. Basically, if you want to discuss the
Modern Jewish Question—it doesn’t get bigger than Moses Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn: p. 118-119
Born in 1729- 1786: He is among the most profound of Rational
Philosophers (Meaning you apply reason to all your theories and put
that above all your other senses). and he encouraged the study of nontraditional subjects for spiritual and cultural developments. In other words,
Jews did not just have to read the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud—they could read
and be affected by other non-Jewish philosophers—authors etc… THIS WAS
A PRETTY CONTROVERSAL position at a time when Judaism is attempting to
survive in Diaspora.
If we were to put it into today terms: literal use of the word NOT the political
use—HE WAS LIBERAL. It’s like saying—a good idea is a good idea no matter the
culture it was born out of. So we should read it all.
Tell me more about him:
What does he consider Judaism? A religion or ethnicity?
Does he encourage decentralization of the Torah?
AT THE SAME TIME: The Enlightenment: 1700s (18th century)
This period of Mendelssohn’s life coincided with a larger period in History called
“The Enlightenment” Does anyone know anything about this period. For the sake
of time – I am going to keep this very short—but the Enlightenment period was a
movement that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform
society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and
opposed intolerance and abuses in Church and state. Major figures of the
Enlightenment may be recognizable to you:
Kant, Spinoza, Hume, and our guy Mendelssohn who was apart of the Jewish
Enlightenment otherwise known as Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment)
And those individuals in the Jewish Enlightenment such as Mendelssohn (and
later we will talk about Spinoza are called MASKILIM (or the Enlightened
So do we have all that?
If we were to simplify the position of these two men:
Vilna of Gaon: Everything is in the Torah – it can solve even the most modern of
problems if you look at it right.
Mendelssohn: Everything is NOT in the Torah—you must use reason and
EMPIRICAL DATA. Do you know what EMPIRICAL is? It is the kind of truth
you can discover using your senses, observations, experiments. WHICH THE
TORAH IS NOT.
So for Mendelssohn what is the TORAH good for?
Let’s look at his most famous work: Jerusalem – on CANVAS
- What do you make of those pages?
- What is he saying?
- Public vs. Private matters
Week 12: Thursday, April 2nd ONLINE
Reading to be covered today:
- Fishbane: Chapter 4 (pp 114-132)
- Folder of PDFs are available on myCourses: Read and Print for class: The Jew in the
Modern World, “A Society for the Preservation of the Jewish People (1819),” “The
Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews Statutes (1822),” and “A Society to
Further Jewish Integration (1822).”
- Selection from Mendelssohn, Jerusalem
- GENESIS 12, 15, 17
- Schendlin p. 165-166
Let’s recap and summarize our goals moving forwardGoals for the week:
1. The Types of Judaism depending on Region (Ashkenazi vs Sephardic). Once we move
beyond that, we need to break down the differences among Ashkenazi (setting
Sephardic aside for now).
2. The question of Jewish Religion vs. Jewish Culture. Using the thinkers from our reading,
we will be exploring the different aspects of this question. How? By putting each thinker
through Fishbane’s large and 3 smaller questions
Understand The distinct world views of Ashkenazi Jews who settled in different regions. EAST
• East: Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797)
- Refuses to assimilate or acculturate
- Leaves a solitary
- Low/High Criticism
• Central: Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786)
- Liberal thinker
- Believes in Acculturation
- Private vs. Public Life
- State vs. Religion
Keep in mind the terms!
1. Assimilation: the process whereby a minoritized group gradually adapts to the customs
and attitudes of the prevailing culture and customs.
2. Acculturation: is the exchange of cultural features that results when groups of
individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact; the
original cultural patterns of either or both groups may be altered, but the groups remain
It is easy to confuse Assimilation with Acculturation. Often we just interchange the two. But
there is a difference, especially when discussing Jewish integration (you will find as we go on).
Some Jews in certain parts of Europe flat out assimilate. Meaning they begin to lose their
Jewishness and opt for a more European lifestyle (that would essentially make them what kind
of Jews?). This is most noticeable among Central/Western Ashkenazi Jews (i.e. Germany, France
While acculturation is not so drastic. It assumes you are affected by your environment, and
you may adopt certain things into your own traditions—but you still maintain the integrity of
your native home. This is best represented, at the moment, with Mendelssohn, who opted to
retain major parts of his Jewishness (just not in public). Here we find most Jews adopt certain
aspects of European culture just to work and survive, but mostly they maintain being Jewish by
living in only Jewish communities and praying etc… in the usual fashion.
Understanding what it means to say Judaism is Culture and/or Religion:
We are approaching this large question using Fishbane’s questions and Goal #1. Looking at
thinkers and asking Fishbane’s three little questions in order to get to the big one.
WHAT ARE THE LITTLE QUESTIONS?
WHAT IS THE BIG ONE?
For the most part, our East European thinkers will hold fast to their old world and traditions.
In a traditional worldview, Judaism has to be what? A religion/culture or …. They will not
assimilate on their own with ease—most will be done by force.
For the most part, our Central and West European thinkers will assimilate or acculturate. So
what is the worldview here. MUCH MORE COMPLICATED!! Religion? Culture? We will spend a
good amount of time unpacking this one.
Further into the question: Are you Jewish as a Culture? Or are you Jewish by Religion? If you
stop practicing the Tradition—are you still considered a Jew? This will be covered extensively
throughout the Modern period in many different formats.
Ok so that was review—Any Questions???
ASK YOURSELF NOW—IF I WERE TO ADHERE TO GENESIS 12, 15, AND 17—WHAT WOULD I
Moving on… this is going to get a little complicated. I am going to go through it now, but we will
end this section with a chart (today or tomorrow).
Sidebar: This is where I usually stop and talk about a group called the Hasidim. I think that
would be confusing now. So if it proves useful, we will double back. Otherwise, we will skip all
questions pertaining to this group moving forward.
Everything Below is in Chapter 4 of Fishbane—I am just explaining it in laypersons terms.
More terms to know:
New people we will cover:
1. Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934): Yeshiva/Zion
2. R. Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook (1865-1935) Chief Ashkenazi Leader
3. Abraham Geiger (1810-1874): Liberal-Reform Judaism
4. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888): adversary of Geiger – advocates for
“national religious consciousness”
Back to Tradition vs. Acculturation:
It’s tense, and although the Gaon of Vilna is called wretched and solemn by Mendelssohn and
followers, the traditional view is not going to go down without a fight
How do we keep each group relevant and their message out. A student of Vilna found a perfect
path—start an academy. It worked before, right!! Remember when? (Hint/answer: School of
Jamina with R. Zakki).
The Yeshiva is born. A Yeshiva is a Rabbinic Academy (still exists today). One famous
student from the Yeshiva
Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934)
• wrote poetry lamenting the fact that Jews had gotten so far off the path of the Torah.
• He advocated everyone return back to the “homeland” now named Zion (refers to
Jerusalem II Samuel 5:7) and rebuild the TEMPLE.
• He is also credited for reviving the Hebrew language and having it be the Modern
Hebrew we know today.
Oh boy! Lot’s to unpack here. Look at the word you probably know—ZION! What do you think
this will turn into? This is an incredibly smart move. If Gaon had to live in a room with no
windows and refused to interact with Europeans because that is the only way to be Religiously
and Culturally a Jew—then F- that, just go back to Jerusalem! Now it’s your duty.
Bialik moves to Israel: ALIYAH
• He eventually emigrated from Russia to Israel. He advocated that all Jews move and be
dedicated to the service and work of the state
• The term AVODAH (which used to mean shrinal ‘service’ as in temple/Scriptural work
[study]). Now is being appropriated to mean physical labor or service to the land of
• READ POEM https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poem/3351/auto/0/0/ChaimNachman-Bialik/RETURN/en/tile
Retrieval of the homeland was now in the works. Jews who emigrated to Israel were now out of
Diaspora. But oddly the move wasn’t primarily a religious one. In fact, most moved more out of
national pride. Different Jews with different points of views and reasons return.
To make sense of the different viewpoints, leadership in the Land of Israel is established:
R. Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook (1865-1935):
• Russian Born
• Named the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the land of Israel.
• He often intervened when the debate between Secularists and Orthodox Jews got heated.
Even though he was a traditionalist. Kook worked for unity—and the message he
perpetuated was that they were all there for the love of Israel, whether it be religious or
• Aim everyone toward one goal—cultivate the land and expand.
Think of a problem that would arise when you have people going back for different reasons—
Let’s take the Sabbath as an example. Or Hanukkah
Meanwhile in Germany….
Above was one train of Ashkenazi behavior debate– with an end result that had Jews (both
religious and secular) returning to Israel. Now we move in the opposite direction. We go to a
debate arguing for Jews to assimilate to their European homes and drop all references to a return
Abraham Geiger (1810-1874):
• Frankfurt am Main, GERMANY (still in the same country as Mendelssohn—but different
• Was a proponent of the movement called: Liberal-Reform Judaism
Liberal view that Judaism was an evolving religious civilization. It advocates that Jews stop
thinking Nationalistically—and start thinking of Judaism strictly as a RELIGIOUS institution.
Basically, he considers Judaism to be a religion among other religions that can live
anywhere. For example: If you are Catholic you recognize yourself as “Catholic
American” or if you lived in Italy you would be a “Catholic Italian”—while up until this
point no one EVER said “I’m a German Jew” they said “I am a Jew who happens to live
in Germany (even if I was born and raised there).” Geiger advocates being loyal to the
nation of your birth and recognizing that as your nationality. He considered himself
a German who was Jewish.
He was able to advocate for this because of Jewish Emancipation of 1871 in France and
later in Germany p. 165-166 Schendlin. If we show national pride to our European hosts
we won’t be strangers in a strange land anymore—we will be emancipated and accepted.
Does that make sense to everyone because this is pretty complicated stuff? And we can
Purchase answer to see full