Emily KrigerPeriod CJanuary 9, 2017Unit 6 Haskalah Research PaperBeginning in Western Europe, the Jewish Enlightenment took place in the eighteenth century. Judaism had already been going through a very serious outburst of reforms and changes in the past century; the rise of the Hasidic movement contradicted with the opposing Mitnagdim, and before that, the suffering which surrounded the infamous false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi. As a result of these past historical events, the Haskalah had developed and taken shape in Europe. It was an extension of the previously implemented European Enlightenment.
Unlike the European Enlightenment, whose main focuses were on authority and legitimacy, the Haskalah was based on the shift to intellectual and rational thought in regards to Judaism. Its drastic alterations impacted the way Jews living in Eastern and Western Europe viewed secular concepts. The rapid spread of the Jewish Enlightenment positively benefited Judaism.The main goal of the maskilim was to shift the focus from Talmudic study. The Jewish people eventually benefited from their knowledge of secular information.
The new and improved secular curriculum emphasized training in specific labor, modern languages, etc. This type of education benefited the Jews as they would eventually be able to become functioning members of society through the utilization of these specialties. The stress of rational thought, common sense, and reasonableness were placed upon Jewish children. Even though the idea of secular education was strongly supported by the Maskilim, it was also forced by several absolutist rulers. For example, Joseph II forced Jews to establish normal schools and send their children to these schools.
Joseph II’s Edict of Tolerance issued in 1781 showed that change was occurring in the status of the Jews. “We permit and command the tolerated Jews, in places where they have no German schools of their own, to send their children to the Christian upper elementary schools, so that they shall learn at least reading, writing, and arithmetic, and although they have no synagogue of their own in Our capital, We yet permit them to build for their children, at their own expense, a normally equipped school, with a teaching staff of their own religion…” The fundamentals behind the Enlightenment were applied to the Jews in Joseph II’s empire. This edict positively supported the Maskilim since it gave the Jews a push to abandon their tradition and practices that made them different from the German Christian population. Marriage was not even allowed without a certificate that both the husband and wife attended a “normal” school. The first school was called “Freischule”, free school, founded in 1778 in Berlin. Rabbis were also forced to study science and the language of the country they lived in. Girls were able to be educated as well.
Daughters of wealthy families were able to tutor with private teachers. There were also schools for poorer girls and women in different areas of Germany, Russia, etc. Girls were taught ethics, math, prayer, handiwork, arts, singing, etc. which was previously unknown to women. With knowledge of such secular activities, Jewish girls were able to integrate themselves into society alongside their male counterpart.
Additionally, the Haskalah benefited the Jews as they were able to integrate into the economy of the state. In Derek Jonathan Penslar’s Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe, Penslar describes how Jews were able to become functioning citizens in society. Penslar writes that there was a time in which Jewish people did not have to worry about the economy. Prior to the Enlightenment, all European states dealt so harshly with the Jews and exempted them from justice, trade, and contribution towards general welfare. Through liberalism and humanitarian Enlightenment values, Jews were finally able to contribute to society. This was groundbreaking for the Jews since they were always financially unstable and economically unreliable. “Both the Jews’ economic success and their self-confessed determination to succeed were objects of wonder in fin-de-siecle European public discourse. Although economic antisemitism flourished throughout the nineteenth century, and indeed accelerated after 1870, in many situations Gentiles expressed unalloyed admiration for the Jews’ economic accomplishments… there was a time, from the mid-nineteenth century until the outbreak of World War I, when discussions among Jews about their economic life were more likely to be celebratory than anxious.
” Not only did the Jews want to contribute to the economy, but others wanted them to contribute to the economy as well. Economic opportunities in industries, banking, and more were finally accessible to the Jews. Moreover, women in the Haskalah were able to break their confinement to household duties. As previously mentioned, many women began to receive an education in the Haskalah which was a major turning point for all Jews. However, specifically for women, through the revival of the Hebrew language, women were able to write poetry and enlighten themselves.
In the novel Jewish Studies at the Turn of the 20th Century by Judit Targarona Borras and Angel Saenz-Badillos, the role of women in the Haskalah vastly changed from strictly household duties to other more respected activities. “Most of the women who started to break this exemption came from Eastern European Jewry during the last quarter of the 19th century… Before them, the Haskalah period, there were some women with deep, unusual Jewish education, who knew the Talmud and the earlier Jewish poetry, and even wrote in Hebrew.” As one can tell, women were finally being respected for their education. Women could read and write in the newly revived Hebrew language and they were also well learned about the Talmud.
Women in the Haskalah were no longer viewed as objects restricted to cleaning and preparing food in the household. Although that was one of the many duties of a mother in that time period, the most important point to remember was that women were no longer confined to these roles.Furthermore, there were several different Jewish reactions when the Haskalah ended.
Such reactions included many Jews joining the revolution, creating self-defense groups, and mass immigration in waves to America, Palestine, and Europe. However, the most important of these reactions was the birth of Zionism. The Haskalah was beneficial in this aspect as it served as a “push” for Jewish nationalism. The Haskalah began the process of linguistic and cultural renewal for the Jewish people. The revival of the Hebrew language in a secular environment was also a large stepping stone; the increase in growth of Jewish nationalism began.
Leon Pinsker’s Autoemancipation was written after the violent pogroms in Russia. Pinsker wrote, “The Jewish people have no fatherland of its own, though many motherlands; no center of focus or gravity, no government of its own, no official representation. They home everywhere but are nowhere at home.
The nations have never to deal with a Jewish nation but always with mere Jews. The Jews are not a nation because they lack a certain distinctive national character, inherent in all other nations, which is formed by common residence in a single state. It was clearly impossible for this national character to be developed in the Diaspora;” Pinsker sparked a sense of nationalism within the Jewish people and inspired them to move back to Israel; the Hibbat Zion movement. The Haskalah was the foundation of the ideals and beliefs that the “Modern Jew” identifies with and follows in the 21st century. Had it not been for the Haskalah, the values of the modern Jew would be completely different. Due to the Haskalah, the modern Jew values secular education such as math, history, and science, as well as Jewish history.
The modern Jew is a maskil even though he may be indistinguishable from any other 21st-century human being. The Haskalah served as a catalyst for several other Jewish movements today. Without the Haskalah’s emergence of thinkers, groundbreaking changes, and benefits it brought to the people of the time, the modern Jew could have never come to be.