Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Jewish Women in Enlightenment Berlin

Natalie Naimark-Goldberg

The encounter of Jews with the Enlightenment movement has so far been considered almost entirely from a masculine perspective. This highly original study, based on analysis of the correspondence and literary works of a group of educated Jewish women, demonstrates their intellectual proclivities, feminine awareness, and social activities, as well as their attitudes to marriage, traditional family frameworks, and religion. In doing so it makes a significant contribution to German Jewish history as well as to gender studies.

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The encounter of Jews with the Enlightenment has so far been considered almost entirely from a masculine perspective. In shifting the focus to a group of educated Jewish women in Berlin, this engaging study makes an important contribution to German Jewish history as well as to gender studies.

Natalie Naimark-Goldberg's study of these women's letters,literary activities, and social life reveals them as cultivated members of the European public. Their correspondence allowed them not only to demonstrate their intellectual talents but also to widen their horizons and acquire knowledge—a key concern of women seeking empowerment. Her descriptions of their involvement in the public sphere, a key feature of Enlightenment culture, offer important new insights: social gatherings in their homes served the purpose of intellectual advancement, while the newly fashionable spas gave them the opportunity to expand their contacts with men as well as with other women, and with non-Jews as well as Jews, right across Europe.

As avid readers and critical writers, these women reflected the secular world-view that was then beginning to spread among Jews. Imbued with enlightened ideas and values and a new feminine awareness, they began to seek independence and freedom, to the extent of challenging the institution of marriage and traditional family frameworks.

A final chapter discusses the relationship of the women to Judaism and to religion in general, including their attitude to conversion to Christianity—the route that so many ultimately took.

'A major contribution to German Jewish history and to gender studies . . . It becomes clear that . . . Jewish women participated in the European Enlightenment as well, although usually in a different and unique way . . . [Naimark-Goldberg] enhances our view of the history of German Jewry and Jewish women, the processes of modernization and secularization, and the cultural history of the Jews at the onset of modern times.'
Shmuel Feiner, Bar Ilan University

'This book is of great interest and significance. Dr Naimark-Goldberg's approach is part of a newer historiographical tradition in the study of women and culture. Her book takes a new angle of research and makes a significant contribution to understanding Jewish women's history and Jewish culture as a whole.'
Shulamit S. Magnus, Oberlin College


About the author

Natalie Naimark-Goldberg is Braun Chair for the History of the Jews in Prussia Research Fellow at Bar-Ilan University. She is the co-editor, with Shmuel Feiner, of Cultural Revolution in Berlin: Jews in the Age of Enlightenment (2011). Her fields of research include the history of Jewish women in the modern period, modern German Jewish history, and the history of the Jewish Enlightenment in Germany.


List of Illustrations
Note on the Translation of Sources and the Use of Names
Note on Transliteration

1          Private Letters: An Alternative Sphere for Cultural Discourse

2          Jewish Women and the Reading Public

3          Going Public: Jewish Women in the Field of Literature and Publishing

4          Sociability and Acculturation in German Spas

5          Social Gatherings in Private Homes

6          Female Emancipation

7          Between Acculturation and Conversion

8          Conclusion




'Ably demonstrates that women played a significant role within the history of enlightenment thinking and activity within the Jewish community . . . The author argues that there is more to the history of the Jewish Enlightenment than the male-dominated Haskalah. Naimark-Goldberg posits that the female-centred Enlightenment of the end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century constituted another legitimate strand of the Jewish Enlightenment, despite its difference in focus.'
David Tesler, AJL Reviews

‘Fascinating, in-depth analysis . . . important, comprehensive, and engaging.’
Yemima Chovav, Nashim