Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland

BookHaskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland

Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland

A History of Conflict

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

2009

August 20th, 2009

£18.95

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The conflict between Haskalah and hasidism was one of the most important forces in shaping the world of Polish Jewry for almost two centuries, but our understanding of it has long been dominated by theories based on stereotypes rather than detailed analysis of the available sources. In this award-winning study, Marcin Wodziński challenges the long-established theories about the conflict by contextualizing it, principally in the Kingdom of Poland but also with regard to other parts of eastern Europe. Covering the period from the earliest anti-hasidic polemics in the late eighteenth century through to the post-Haskalah movements of the twentieth century, it follows the development of this important conflict in its central arena. Using source materials (including many hitherto unknown documents) in Polish and five other languages, Wodziński has succeeded in reconstructing the way the conflict expressed itself. Identifying the motives, the methods, and the consequences of the conflict as it was played out in five Polish towns (Lódz, Opoczno, Piotrków, Warsaw, and Warta), he shows that it was primarily informed by non-ideological clashes at the level of local communities rather than by high-level ideological debates. Much attention is also devoted to the general characteristics of hasidism and the Haskalah, as well as to the post-Haskalah movements. Here too Wodziński challenges the ideologically charged assumptions of a generation of historians who refused to see the advocates of Jewish modernity in nineteenth-century Poland as an integral part of the Haskalah movement. Extensive consideration is given to the professional, social, institutional, and ideological characteristics of the Polish Haskalah as well as to its geographic extent, and to the changes the movement underwent in the course of the nineteenth century. Similar attention is given to the influence of the specific characteristics of Polish hasidism on the shape of the conflict, especially as regard the size of the movement and the evolution of hasidic communal involvement. In consequence the book presents a synthesis that offers both breadth and depth, contextualizing its subject matter within the broader domains of the European Enlightenment and Polish culture, hasidism and rabbinic culture, tsarist policy and Polish history, not to mention the ins and outs of the Haskalah itself across Europe. An extensive appendix presents translations of nineteen important and hitherto unknown sources of relevance to a nuanced understanding of many aspects of nineteenth-century Jewish history in Poland and eastern Europe more generally.

‘Scarcely less valuable than his closely argued and well-documented monograph are the nineteen primary sources that Wodzinski has appended (in English translation). This collection . . . affords an unmediated glimpse at the forces that Wodziński has succeeded so adroitly in understanding, organizing, and presenting.’
- Moshe Rosman, American Historical Review

‘Wodziński’s important work challenges many of the widely held views of historians about the conflict between Haskalah and Hasidism . . . Recommended.’
- J. Fischel, Choice

‘There are still few books concerning the structure, internal disputes, and ideological discussions within the Jewish community. Marcin Wodziński’s publication is one of the most significant and seminal among them . . . The great value of this book is that it illustrates relations between the Maskilim and the Hasidim from many perspectives . . . should be regarded as suitable not only for historians but also for sociologists. This publication is a very interesting and original example of the analyses of such social practices as inner-group conflicts, the process of building identity, and rules of the prejudice formation.’
- Katarzyna Sztop-Rutkowska, East European Jewish Affairs

'One of the most exciting developments in the writing of Polish Jewish history over the past two decades has been the emergence of a major centre of such scholarship within Poland itself . . . [this book] is based on an impressive amount of archival and published documentation, complemented by clear presentation and skilful analysis. A useful and expanded representative sample of archival materials translated into English rounds out this excellent volume . . . Wodziński uses to great advantage his comprehensive familiarity with the periodical press in nineteenth-century Poland, but also utilizes sources as varied as Hasidic stories and British missionary journals. The result is an innovative and highly nuanced portrayal of a conflict that has been at the heart of the historiographical agenda for a century and more . . . Wodziński makes a convincing case for a newer, wider perspective on the conflict . . . While not a full-fledged history of either Haskalah or Hasidism in Poland, the book makes a significant contribution to both . . . a discussion rich with new insights and information. [It] is a major contribution to both Polish and Jewish history. The Littman Library is to be commended for bringing this fine book to the English-speaking public.'
- Gershon Bacon, European History Quarterly

‘Can rank as one of the finest, most detailed accounts of the various “stages” of attitude concerning Hasidism that were part of the Haskalah movement’s ensemble of aims and ideology. It strives to be as historically accurate as possible without once becoming unreadable, arcane, or dull. His expert use of various primary and secondary sources, including German, English, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish documents, guarantees a profound study that is balanced in approach and well-grounded. The appendix that offers a short but valuable selection of original sources in translation will be a highly useful tool for those teaching or studying the attitude of the Maskilim, the way in which they fought against and dealt with the Hasidim, and the higher bodies they made use of in order to reach their goal . . . All in all, Wodziński has made an important contribution to research on Polish-Jewish social and religious history, and his book will surely be a reference work for many dealing with this key period that shaped European Jewry in ways still visible and perceptible today.’
- Diana Matut, European Journal of Jewish Studies

‘Marcin Wodziński’s new book not only contains a vast amount of information but also points the way to tantalizing new areas of research . . . the picture of ideological conflict among the Jews of eastern Europe that emerges totally contradicts the accepted wisdom. . . . Wodziński’s book is important because it extends the geographical and chronological boundaries of the subject, introduces new research methods, and utilizes new sources, particularly Polish archives that were long inaccessible to historians of the Jewish world . . . a thorough study of exemplary depth.’
- Uriel Gelman, Gal-Ed

‘Unquestionably one of the most important, original contributions to an understanding of the various competing trends in the culture of Polish Jewry from the end of the eighteenth century until the early twentieth century . . . of particularly great value to the new research into the Haskalah. . . Wodziński’s fascinating and important book is definitely a challenge to every scholar of the Haskalah and everyone interested in Jewish culture in eastern Europe. From now on, scholars of the Haskalah will have to re-examine themselves in the light of his new insights, and to decide to what extent the book’s questions and conclusions change the general picture.’
- Shmuel Feiner, Shofar

‘Wodziński bases his work on a broad collection of source materials ranging from administrative documents and Jewish and Polish periodicals to ephemeral texts like leaflets and pamphlets. A selection of these materials is presented in the book, which, considering their usually poor availability, is of special value for the reader. Thanks to the wide range of documents he considers and to a thorough review of the factual information they contain, Wodziński’s work offers intriguing insights into the various facets of Jewish modernizing discourses in nineteenth-century Poland.’
- Heidemarie Petersen, Slavic Review

‘The most original and important contribution to the field in many decades . . . it challenges the ideologically charged assumptions of an earlier generation of east European Jewish historians.’
- Ada Rapoport-Albert

‘A highly original analysis . . . a pioneering work that shows a mastery of the field . . . carefully thought out, well grounded and clearly formulated.’
- Shaul Stampfer

‘A wide-ranging synthesis of both breadth and detail that will make an immediate mark on the study of Jewish history in the nineteenth century and will remain standard reading for many decades to come.’
- David Sorkin

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Author Information

Marcin Wodziński is Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław. His special fields of interest are the social history of the Jews in the nineteenth century, the regional history of the Jews in Silesia, and Jewish sepulchral art. He is the author of several books, and is editor of the Bibliotheca Judaica and Makor/Źródła series. He is vice president of the Polish Association of Jewish Studies and editor in chief of its periodical, Studia Judaica. In 2011 he was awarded the Jan Karski and Pola Nirenska Prize by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.