The Relations between the Haskalah and Traditional Jewish Communities

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One of the most significant phenomena which had an all-embracing impact on the religious-cultural character of European Jewry in the modern era was the Haskalah (enlightenment). Beginning in late 18th-century Berlin, Jewish intellectuals and bourgeois adopted and internalized the fundamental principles of European Enlightenment philosophy, Humanism, Rationalism, Universalism and Secularism, transforming gradually their way of life accordingly. The harbinger of this new trend was the German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), who advocated and promoted the importance of values such as modern education, openness to the general society, and loyalty to the state, to mention but a few. The very essence of this process was the transformation from a traditional conservative community, dominated by rabbinical authority and the political establishment, to a new, modern, sometimes even liberal, republic of individuals, which emphasized the centrality of the individual and his right to conduct his life according to his own interpretation of the terms of religion and tradition. This dramatic new move was best expressed by the phrase “Be a Jew at home and a Man outside”, formulated by the mid-19th century Lithuanian-Jewish poet Judah Leib Gordon (1830–1892).
In Central Europe, mainly in the German-speaking areas, this process followed a similar cultural and political change that characterized large parts of the middle-class and the political and economic elites. As a result, the internal opposition to the appearance of the “New Jew” was minimal and ineffective. In Eastern Europe, however, the situation was fundamentally different. The slow and restricted adoption principles of the enlightenment by the Russian aristocracy and political elite, as well as the conservative character of Jewish society and the focal role played by the rabbinical establishment in communal life, placed almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of the inroads of the enlightenment into the Jewish quarters of Vilnius, Minsk and Białystok
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe History of Jews in Lithuania
Subtitle of host publicationfrom the Middle Ages until the 1990s
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783657705757
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020

Publication series

NameOn the Boundary of Two Worlds
ISSN (Electronic)1570-7121

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Cultural Studies


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