Haskalah and History

BookHaskalah and History

Haskalah and History

The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


July 8th, 2004



Other Formats



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.


'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 [...] It is Feiner's great merit that he is able to take a fresh and lively look at materials previously studied for their ideological and cultural content or literary style, dissecting their often disjointed and even parenthetical comments on and about history, and reassembling them into a coherent and compelling narrative about the ways in which Jews since the Enlightenment have thought or, more properly, written abut their past [...] 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
'Insightful [...] Feiner's approach is highly ambitious in its scope [...] his account is always solidly based on little-know primary material, meticulously analysed; as a whole it adds up to a highly innovative picture of nineteenth-century Jewish historiography [...] This unpretentiously written study 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
'This excellent and learned book makes an important contribution to the ongoing 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 [...] Feiner has performed a crucial service in retrieving, documenting, and explicating the reams of historical claims and commentary on the part of the maskilim from eighteenth-century Berlin to nineteenth-century Berdichev [...] wonderfully erudite book, at once impassioned and dispassionate.'- Michael Stanislawski, Polin

'Meticulously researched [...] a definitive account of the Haskalah in its different manifestations.'
- David Biale, American Historical Review
'Shmuel Feiner's 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 'Makes an important and lasting contribution to the study of modern Jewish history and culture [...] excellent.' - Edward Breuer, Jewish Quarterly Review
'A pathbreaking book which surveys a key aspect of Hebrew-language Jewish enlightenment (haskalahA) 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
'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


Author Information

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).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page 4
Copyright 5
Note on Transliteration and Conventions Used in the Text12
Introduction. ‘Haskalah’ and ‘History’14
1: From Traditional History to Maskilic History in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany22
An Enlightened Avant-Garde22
The Legitimization of Traditional History24
The ‘Judgement of Reason’: Legitimizations for a New History30
Rationalistic, Realistic, and Moralistic History44
The Modern Period in the Maskilic Picture of the Past49
The Pantheon of Historical Heroes63
The Dissemination of Maskilic History in the Early Nineteenth Century73
2: The Manipulation of History in Nineteenth-Century Galicia84
The Galician Maskilim84
The Unfolding of Maskilic History92
A Natural History of Hasidism104
Nahman Krochmal: The Middle-of-the-Road Maskil128
Wissenschaft des Judentums in Galicia138
The Struggle for Freedom of Thought151
Iconoclasm: Attitudes to Religious Reform163
3: Optimism under Oppression: Maskilic History in Russia, 1825–1855170
The Idea Yearning to be Realized170
A Universal History for a Modern Era176
The Maskilic Chain of Tradition191
The Use of History in Maskilic Propaganda205
Political History and Moral History207
4: Reaching the Masses: The Dissemination of Maskilic History217
The Channels of Distribution217
Optimistic and Patriotic History224
Scientific Knowledge of the Past230
The Autobiography of the Haskalah Movement237
Abraham Mapu and the Popularization of Maskilic History242
Heroics and Sacred Memories in Popular Historical Fiction247
Improvement of the Masses: History in Yiddish254
Kalman Schulman: The First Professional Popularizer260
5: Maskilic History in Crisis287
The Radical Haskalah: A Loss of Optimism287
The Anticlerical Struggle308
The Historical Vindication of Hasidism319
From ‘Maskilic History’ to ‘National History’330
Conclusion. New Directions354