Jewish studies, Philosophy, Religious studies

Course date

1 July - 21 July, 1997
15 February, 1997
Course Director(s): 

Michael Silber

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Course Faculty: 

Gyorgy Haraszti

Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary

Moshe Idel

Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Viktor Karady

Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Charles Liebman

Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel

Aniko Prepuk

Debrecen University, Hungary

Shaul Stamfer

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

From the end of the eighteenth century up until the twentieth century, traditional Jewish society was challenged by new Jewish ideologies. The Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment), religious Reform and Jewish Nationalism all prodded Jews to step "out of the ghetto" and posed alternative visions of how Jewish identity and Judaism was to be defined in the modern era. While these movements have often been analyzed, this course views them from an unconventional perspective--that of the traditional sectors of Jewish society. As such, the history of Jewish "tradition in crisis" can be seen as a case-study how modernization takes place in the context of a specific tradition. While the traditionalists response is the primary focus of the course, hopefully a better understanding of the modernizing challenge should also emerge. Both the transformation of tradition and how that tradition shaped the very contours of the challenge are examined through close textual study of primary sources (in English translation). The focus of the course on the traditional sector has a twofold aim: it provides a unique perspective on Jewish modernization and it presents the opportunity to acquaint the student with basic elements of Jewish tradition and society. The course begins with a description of traditional Jewish society just before the beginning of the modern era in the middle of the eighteenth century. Two movements posed a challenge to traditional society, one in the East, Hasidism, and one in the West, the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskala. The first third of the course will be devoted to the innovations introduced by these two movements and the response of the traditional establishment. In the process of reacting to these challenges, traditional society was itself transformed. The next meetings will be devoted to the challenge posed by the Reform movement and the responses it elicited from what can now be called the Orthodox camp-as opposed to traditional Jewry-in the period 1820-1880. Besides a mainstream Orthodoxy whose foremost champion was the Hungarian rabbi Moses Sofer, two wings developed later to the left and the right-Neo-Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy. Neo-Orthodoxy, whose most representative figure was Samson Raphael Hirsch, originated in Germany and sought a synthesis between modern secular culture and Orthodox Judaism. Ultra-Orthodoxy, which developed in Hungary in reaction to the solution proposed by Neo-Orthodoxy, urged segregation and withdrawal from the modern world. Both in Germany and Hungary, the Orthodox Jews seceded from communities which were not under their control. The response of traditional Jews to Jewish nationalism is the subject of the next sessions. Jewish nationalism arose after 1880 in Eastern Europe. Initially, it was greeted warmly by a section of traditional Jewry. But as the issue of identity and culture came to the fore in the Zionist movement, many rabbis turned vehemently against Zionism and later, the Jewish state. Despite this, there were those who early on sought to combine religion and Zionism-Mizrachi-and one present-day offshoot has been frequently in the news in the last decade and a half-Gush Emunim. The last sessions are devoted to changes within modern-day Orthodoxy. In the process of modernisation and the fight against the forces of modernity, even the most ultra-Orthodox have undergone interesting changes. They have developed new institutions such as newspapers, political parties, and have innovated in such traditional areas as the rabbinate and the yeshivot. Both Israel and the United States are analysed. Books used extensively Paul R. Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., The .Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952).