Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Haskalah and History

The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness
Shmuel Feiner
Translated from Hebrew by Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverston

'This impressive study will doubtless come to be considered one of the definitive works in the intellectual history of the Jewish Enlightenment . . . The outstanding nature of this work, its conceptual clarity, and its penetrating analysis make it an exceptional piece of historical research.'
From the Arnold Wiznitzer Prize citation

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'A pathbreaking book which surveys a key aspect of Hebrew-language Jewish enlightenment ("haskalah") thought in the modern period with authority, broad scope as well as with a deep and perceptive understanding of the leading and not-so-leading thinkers in the movement . . . breaks new ground by giving serious attention to "middle level" enlightenment writers . . . offers clear presentations of the thought of almost all the important ideologues of the movement and gives full bibliographical references. This will be a standard reference text for many years.'
Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

'This impressive study will doubtless come to be considered one of the definitive works in the intellectual history of the Jewish Enlightenment . . . The outstanding nature of this work, its conceptual clarity, and its penetrating analysis make it an exceptional piece of historical research.'
From the Arnold Wiznitzer Prize citation

'Meticulously researched . . . a definitive account of the Haskalah in its different manifestations.'
David Biale, American Historical Review

'Makes an important and lasting contribution to the study of modern Jewish history and culture . . . excellent.'
Edward Breuer, Jewish Quarterly Review

Shmuel Feiner's innovative book recreates the historical consciousness that fired the Haskalah-the Jewish Enlightenment movement. The proponents of this movement advocated that Jews should capture the spirit of the future and take their place in wider society, but as Jews-without denying their collective identity and without denying their past. Claiming historical legitimacy for their ideology and their vision of the future, they formulated an ethos of modernity that they projected on to the universal and the Jewish past alike.

What was the image of the past that the maskilim shaped? What tactics underpinned their use of history? How did their historical awareness change and develop-from the inception of the Haskalah in Germany at the time of Mendelssohn and Wessely, through the centres of Haskalah in Austria, Galicia, and Russia, to the emergence of modern nationalism in the maskilic circles in eastern Europe in the last third of the nineteenth century? These are some of the questions raised in this fascinating exploration of an ideological approach to history which throws a searching new light on the Jewish Enlightenment movement and the emergence of Jewish historical consciousness more generally.

From reviews of the Hebrew edition

'This excellent and learned book makes an important contribution to the on-going debate over the origins of modern historical thinking among the Jews . . . the first detailed analysis of the use and abuse of history in the Haskalah . . . wonderfully erudite book, at once impassioned and dispassionate.'
Michael Stanislawski, AJS Review

'Feiner's monumental work is undoubtedly one of the most important to be published in this area, and it will become a bench-mark in the research of modern Jewish history . . . a pleasure to read . . . essential for understanding the modernization of Jewish society in Europe and the emergence of Jewish nationalism, it also makes a significant contribution to the study of the nature of history and historiography and the uses to which they are put . . . the enormous breadth of this work, covering almost a century of the Jewish Enlightenment in Europe, the clarity of its conceptual framework, and its balance between fine detail and the broad overall picture combine to make it an outstanding example of innovative research and exemplary writing on historiography and the representation of the past.'
Zohar Shavit, Ha'aretz

'A highly innovative picture of nineteenth-century Jewish historiography . . . provides a wealth of new material and a fresh perspective . . . It will undoubtedly become a standard work on the desk of every serious Jewish historian.'
Michael Brenner, Journal of Jewish Studies

 

About the author

Shmuel Feiner is Professor of Modern Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University and chairman of the Jerusalem Leo Baeck Institute. He is the author of The Jewish Enlightenment (2004), Moses Mendelssohn, Sage of Modernity (2010), and The Origins of Jewish Secularization in Eighteenth-Century Europe (2011), and the co-editor (with David Sorkin) of New Perspectives on the Haskalah, also published by the Littman Library (2001).

Contents

Introduction: Haskalah and History
1 From 'Traditional History to 'Maskilic History' at the End of the Eighteenth Century
2 The Manipulation of History in Nineteenth-Century Galicia
3 Optimism under Oppression: Maskilic History in the Reign of Nicholas II of Russia
4 Expansion and Popularization: The Dissemination of Maskilic History
5 Maskilic History in Crisis
Conclusion: The Haskalah's Historical Consciousness and New Directions
Bibliography
Notes
Index

 

Reviews

'This excellent and learned book makes an important contribution to the on-going debate over the origins of modern historical thinking among the Jews . . . the first detailed analysis of the use and abuse of history in the Haskalah . . . wonderfully erudite book, at once impassioned and dispassionate.'
Michael Stanislawski, AJS Review

'Meticulously researched . . . a definitive account of the Haskalah in its different manifestations.'
David Biale, American Historical Review

'The culmination of much research and deserves the close attention of the academic and general community . . . an essential text . . . Shmuel Feiner¹s work becomes part of the mainstream of contemporary scholarship examining this aspect of European society and utilizing the paradigms of contemporary research . . . This text is essential to the scholar, particularly those dealing with Jewish thought after the Enlightenment. It is also totally relevant to our time.'
Uri Ben Alexander, European Judaism

'Feiner's monumental work is undoubtedly one of the most important to be published in this area, and it will become a bench-mark in the research of modern Jewish history . . . a pleasure to read . . . essential for understanding the modernization of Jewish society in Europe and the emergence of Jewish nationalism, it also makes a significant contribution to the study of the nature of history and historiography and the uses to which they are put . . . the enormous breadth of this work, covering almost a century of the Jewish Enlightenment in Europe, the clarity of its conceptual framework, and its balance between fine detail and the broad overall picture combine to make it an outstanding example of innovative research and exemplary writing on historiography and the representation of the past.'
Zohar Shavit, Ha'aretz

'Makes an important and lasting contribution to the study of modern Jewish history and culture . . . excellent.'
Edward Breuer, Jewish Quarterly Review

'Insightful . . . as a whole it adds up to a highly innovative picture of nineteenth-century Jewish historiography . . . provides a wealth of new material and a fresh perspective on Jewish historiography. It will undoubtedly become a standard work on the desk of every serious Jewish historian.'
Michael Brenner, Journal of Jewish Studies

'Not only does this work successfully recapture a long-forgotten mental universe of maskilic historical writings, it also demonstrates the author's conviction that the Haskalah cannot be displaced from its central, if not exclusive, position in the narrative of Jewish modernization in Europe. Feiner deserves to be regarded as the leading historian of the Haskalah movement considered in its entirety. His mastery of the relevant sources and the scholarly literature on Enlightenment is phenomenal, as is the quality and quantity of his meticulous studies of key Haskalah phenomena and figures . . . a deeply rewarding book. Its very expansiveness suits its author's ambition to understand the Haskalah in its entirety, a task to which Feiner, as much as anyone, is equal . . . a work the reader can luxuriate in . . . this study, in its highly readable translation, now provides the best single-volume treatment in English of the broad (and yes, revolutionary) ideology of the Haskalah.'
Jonathan Karp, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

'A pathbreaking book which surveys a key aspect of Hebrew-language Jewish enlightenment ("haskalah") thought in the modern period with authority, broad scope as well as with a deep and perceptive understanding of the leading and not-so-leading thinkers in the movement . . . breaks new ground by giving serious attention to "middle level" enlightenment writers as a means of penetrating the mind of the less sophisticated individuals who made up the bulk of the movement . . . offers clear presentations of the thought of almost all the important ideologues of the movement and gives full bibliographical references. This will be a standard reference text for many years . . . should be a basic book in any collection that deals seriously with modern Jewish thought as well as collections interested in religious modernizations in various cultures.'
Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

 

Prizes

Winner of the Arnold Wiznitzer Prize for Jewish History 1995