Sepharad in Ashkenaz


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Sepharad in Ashkenaz

Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse


Proceedings of the Colloquium, Amsterdam, February 2002


Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen Verhandelingen, Afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, deel 189

Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep

Sepharad in Ashkenaz

Medieval Knowledge and

Eighteenth-Century Enlightened

Jewish Discourse


© 2007 Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo-copying, recording or other-wise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Preface VII

Introduction IX

Shmuel Feiner

From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History 1 David B. Ruderman

The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century: A Challenge to the Notion of the Sephardi Mystique 11

Tangible and intangible transmissions Gad Freudenthal

Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamosc, ca. 1730: The Early Years of Rabbi Israel ben Moses Halevi of Zamosc 25

Adam Shear

Judah Halevi’s Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah: A Case Study in the Transmission of Cultural Knowledge 69 Steven Harvey

The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers as Harbingers of the Renewed Interest in the Medieval Jewish Philosophers 85

‘What’s new?’ Raphael Jospe

Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist 107 Albert van der Heide

The Beˆur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet 141


Thomas Kollatz

Under the Cover of Tradition: Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz 147

Resianne Fontaine

Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit: Pinchas Hurwitz on Animals and Meteorologi-cal Phenomena 157

Transformations Warren Zev Harvey

Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge 185 Carlos Fraenkel

Maimonides, Spinoza, Solomon Maimon, and the Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy 193

Accommodation Shlomo Berger

From Philosophy to Popular Ethics: Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol’s Keter Malkhut 223

Wout van Bekkum

Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization’ of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Pre-Modern and Pre-Modern Times 235

Emile G. L. Schrijver

Saul of Berlin’s Besamim Rosh: The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge 249

Bridges Andrea Schatz

Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora 263 Irene Zwiep

Jewish Enlightenment Reconsidered: The Dutch Eighteenth Century 279 Summaries 311

List of Contributors 319 Index of Authors 323 Index of Book Titles 331



The present volume is the result of a colloquium sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and held in the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam from 18 through 21 February 2002. The sixteen contributions collected in this volume repre-sent expanded versions of the papers that were delivered during these four days of intense scholarly exchange and discussion. The colloquium’s organizers, who now act as this volume’s editors, are most grateful to Lenn Schramm (Jerusalem) for his meticulous editing of this widely varied range of articles, and to Lies Meiboom for taking care of the indices.

The editors would further like to express their deepest thanks to the Royal Nether-lands Academy of Arts and Sciences for selecting, financing and supporting their project, which enabled them to bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of experts. Steven Harvey (Bar-Ilan University) and Emile Schrijver (Univer-siteit van Amsterdam) acted as advisers in the early stages of the project’s genesis. It is a pleasure to acknowledge here their insightful comments and suggestions. Further thanks are due to the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Institut für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte (Duisburg) and the Menasseh ben Israel Instituut voor joodse sociaal-wetenschappelijke en cultuur-historische studies (Amsterdam) for their additional financial support of this highly stimulating enterprise.

Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep



I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. … I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with wood dust, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of dark-ness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood – certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation …

Walter Benjamin (1931)*

A library is not supposed to move. It defines the place where a book can be found, so it should not itself change places. And if it does – what will become of the books? For some time they will be inaccessible. They will be tucked away in boxes that are securely closed. The order that once was imposed on them is disrupted. Even though it will be restored in a new place, it will never be quite the same. The shelves are arranged in a different manner. The boxes will be opened and several books will be missing – an entire box may have disappeared, while books that were long consid-ered lost suddenly reappear among the piles of displaced volumes. A number of books will be set aside for repair. The books will be rearranged. The new place cre-ates new proximities and new distances. Books that previously were consigned to an obscure corner are now sitting proudly in the middle of the shelf, right in front of the curious reader’s eyes. Books that may have looked obsolete return to the shelves sol-idly bound and in new covers, attracting the attention of the wandering mind. The library has moved. The catalogue remains valid. Yet many changes have taken place. What has a library to do with tradition? This question has occupied a prominent place in recent research on the transformations of Jewish culture in the early modern period. In Ashkenaz, tradition as a canon and as a method of defining and transmit-ting the canon was radically refashioned with the advent of the printransmit-ting press and the dissemination of a Sephardi canon of learning and scholarship, including philosophi-cal and exegetiphilosophi-cal writings and the ShulÌan ¨arukh. Elchanan Reiner has character-ized the changes that took place in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as the result not of a struggle with a New Science, but with a ‘New Library’.1 We may * ‘Unpacking My Library', trans. Harry Zohn, in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 2.2, ed.

Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA, 1999), p. 486.

1 Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Attitude of Ashkenazi Society to the New Science in the Sixteenth Century’,


add, however, that this ‘New Library’ was not a universal library: it was not con-ceived as a comprehensive collection providing insight into the history and present state of human knowledge (from a Jewish point of view or from other perspectives).2 Rather, it constituted an alternative canon with new and contested criteria for defin-ing the fields of knowledge that it would make accessible.3 What we can observe then at the beginning of the eighteenth century may be characterized as a further shift: tradition moved from the ‘New Library’ of the Jewish early modern world to the universal library of the Jewish enlightenment.

The year 1742 is mentioned several times in the present volume, because it has assumed an almost emblematic character, encapsulating the new intellectual possi-bilities that presented themselves as the result of the complex and fruitful encounter between medieval knowledge4 and early Jewish enlightened discourse. Maimonides’ halakhic code, the Mishneh torah, had been reprinted in Jessnitz between 1739 and 1742 at the initiative of David Fraenkel, who served as rabbi of the Jewish commu-nity in nearby Dessau and was revered by his young student Moses Mendelssohn. When the new edition of the Mishneh torah was complete, another work was added to this already impressive achievement: in 1742, Maimonides’ contested philosophi-cal treatise Guide of the Perplexed was reprinted for the first time in almost two hun-dred years. At about the same time, Mendelssohn set out to study the Guide; it has often been assumed that it was the Jessnitz edition that allowed him to become ac-quainted with Maimonides’ philosophical thought. However, annotations in his hand can be found in a copy of the Sabbioneta edition of 1553 – a fact that, far from de-tracting from the importance of this particular moment in Ashkenazi cultural history, adds to its complex texture5 and allows us to study a number of features that seem to be characteristic of the encounter between medieval knowledge and enlightened dis-course in the eighteenth century.

the ‘canon’ and actual – private or semi-public – book collections deserve further attention. See, for ex-ample, Zeev Gries’ discussion of the large and varied book collections of individual scholars as well as battei midrash, which provide interesting insights in the limitations as well as the flexibility of ‘canon’, in Ha-sefer ke-sokhen tarbut ba-shanim t”s–t”rs (1700–1900) (Tel Aviv, 2002), pp. 65–77.

2 On the emergence of the idea of the ‘universal library’ that transcended confessional boundaries, see

Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford, 1992), pp. 61–88; Jonathan Israel, Radi-cal Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford, 2001), pp. 119–21. On the humanist library and its ‘centrifugal elements’ see Anthony Grafton, Commerce with the Clas-sics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor, 1997), pp. 19–35.

3 On early modern debates regarding the place of metaphysics and the sciences in Jewish learning, see

David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven, 1995), ch. 2, pp. 54–99.

4 For the purposes of this volume, we suggest a rather broad definition of ‘knowledge’ as ‘any and

every set of ideas and acts accepted by one or another social group or society of people – ideas and acts pertaining to what they accept as real for them and for others’, see E. Doyle McCarthy, Knowledge as Culture: The New Sociology of Knowledge (London and New York, 1996), p. 23. This definition em-phasizes the social embeddedness and historical fluidity of knowledge and allows us to refer to various ‘sets of ideas and acts’ without imposing hierarchical claims as to their validity.

5 This copy can be examined today in the British Library (C. 49. e. 13.). See Moses Mendelssohn,

Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe, ed. Alexander Altmann et al., 14: 271 (Hebrew text) and 20.1: LXXXIV–LXXXV.


While Ashkenazi scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were con-cerned with the selection of books that would constitute a new canon, an authorita-tive source of religious knowledge, the intellectuals of the eighteenth century had something different on their minds. They did not select books; rather, they wished to bring books together in a different place. They no longer defined tradition as a canon, but as the Jewish section of a universal library.6 Thus they were reluctant to discuss matters of exclusion and instead focused on strategies of inclusion, juxtapo-sition, and critical discernment. They printed Maimonides’ Mishneh torah along with his Guide of the Perplexed and advocated the study of the Bible as well as the study of philosophy and history. They cited Judah Halevi alongside Christian Wolf and the Talmud alongside Kant. As a glimpse at Mendelssohn’s copy of the Guide reveals, the fact that the early Jewish Enlightenment made a number of medieval works available in new editions does not imply that all of these works had previ-ously been inaccessible. However, they were certainly deemed to be less accessible than was desirable. The rabbis, scholars, and printers of the early Jewish Enlighten-ment attempted to define the outlines of a new cultural space in which more books would become available to a larger number of readers, in which new proximities and new possibilities for study and comparison would emerge, in which readings would be unpredictable, and in which tradition and critique would meet, producing innova-tive ‘uses of tradition’. For the authors of the early Jewish Enlightenment, the transi-tion to modernity was inextricably linked to this effort to establish traditransi-tion in a new place, to move a library, to unpack its volumes in a different environment, to open them in changed contexts, to cope with dust, loss, and disorder and to restore the books to visibility in a ‘mood’ of ‘anticipation’. The promise associated with this moment found perfect expression in the words of the printer of the Jessnitz edition of the Guide, Israel bar Abraham, in his preface: ‘u-vkhen eÒ ha-da¨at ha-zot eÒ Ìayyim hi la-maÌaziqim bah’.7

This volume begins by juxtaposing two contributions that reflect two widely di-verging interpretations of this transition to modernity. Together, the essays by Shmuel Feiner and David Ruderman invite us to a midrashic reading of the present volume, forcing us to make sense of the tensions that arise from the presence of tradi-tion in modernity and encouraging us to read the remaining essays with a new and less static understanding of the role of both tradition and critique in shaping the intel-lectual worlds of modern Judaism.

Elaborating upon Isaiah Berlin’s characterization of the eighteenth century as a highly complex and confused – rather than rational and harmonious – epoch, Shmuel Feiner draws our attention to the particular dynamic and turbulence of the ‘Jewish eighteenth century’. In this troubled era, when science was counterbalanced by mys-ticism and Haskalah by Hasidism, the rise of a Jewish enlightened discourse repre-6 The term ‘alternative library’ that Shmuel Feiner suggested in his description of the ‘bookshelf of the

early maskilim’ points to significant changes in the evaluation of languages, genres and books in the eighteenth century, but detracts from the underlying decisive shift in the understanding of the concept of the ‘library’ itself, which we would like to emphasize here. Cf. Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlighten-ment, trans. Chaya Naor (Philadelphia, 2004), p. 44.


sented only one revolution among many. Feiner documents this rise in terms of a lin-ear development, from a growing interest in medieval Sephardi philosophy among Ashkenazi scholars, via new and revolutionary approaches to intellectual and social issues, to the maskilic rejection of rabbinic genres and authority. Medieval Sephardi books formed part of a library where individuals developed readings of Jewish reli-gion, culture, and society that transcended the interpretative frameworks provided by the rabbinic élite. Feiner’s narrative gives prominence to struggle, rupture, and con-comitant pain; the maskilim are revealed to be the instigators of a Jewish Kultur-kampf that has lasted down to the present time

Whereas Shmuel Feiner draws our attention to the Jews’ potential for revolution, David Ruderman emphasizes the revolutionary potential of the Jewish tradition. He argues that earlier Jewish scholars, notably in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy, forged a modernity in which tradition and innovation (epitomized in Kabbalah and science) were essentially compatible. If on the surface Ruderman’s picture ap-pears to be more positive and tranquil than Feiner’s, it certainly is no less dynamic. Here, however, the dynamic is not presented as a result of the clash between tradi-tional and revolutionary forces, but as an intrinsic part of tradition per se. When re-shaping itself, Ruderman seems to imply, tradition has no need for crisis and critique. It can rely on its own originality, especially when seasoned by occasional stimuli from the outside, non-Jewish world.

The tension between these two conceptions of tradition vis-à-vis modernity is illu-minating, because it helps us perceive a diversity that usually remains hidden behind a too-rigid terminology. Thus we learn that innovation and the shaping of a new in-tellectual sphere may depend as much on the embracing of tradition as on its rejec-tion; that, in fact, tradition is not a single uniform structure, but a constellation of tra-ditions from which Jewish authors could choose, if only to challenge and subvert what they had found. Moreover, it seems to have made a difference in which section of the new library old books were unpacked: the selection of books that received par-ticular attention and the ways in which these were introduced, cited, and contextua-lized vary according to the area of knowledge that was at stake. Feiner is concerned mainly with religious and philosophical thought, while Ruderman addresses prima-rily the sciences and natural philosophy. Finally, in both accounts Sepharad appears in two different guises. Whereas Feiner identifies the contemporary Sephardi ‘port-culture’ as the chief model of the Ashkenazi cultural critique and medieval Sephardi science and philosophy as its principal source, Ruderman reduces the medieval Sephardi scholars to distant cultural icons who had once succeeded in performing an intellectual balancing act but whose work was now found wanting in the face of con-temporary scientific endeavour. Throughout this volume, we shall witness Sepharad assuming these alternative and indeed conflicting roles. Unpacking the works of me-dieval Sepharad could mean a proud presentation of a splendid history of Jewish in-volvement with philosophy and the sciences, documenting a development that led from Sepharad to the eighteenth century and implying that contemporary achieve-ments had their roots in Jewish tradition. It could also mean reflecting, with no less pride, on innovation as a step beyond the limitations of even the greatest authors of the past.


The three case studies that follow take us to the entrance doors of the library. What were the tangible and intangible processes of transmission that made it possible for medieval Sephardi books to enter the library of the Jewish Enlightenment? Israel of Zamosc, the protagonist of the first of these three studies, is a special case in the his-tory of the encounter between Sepharad and Ashkenaz; and, given the fact that he was among the early mentors of Mendelssohn and other maskilim in Berlin, a highly significant case as well. As argued by Gad Freudenthal, for Israel of Zamosc Sephardi culture was not at all remote, given the physical presence, in Zamosc’s ear-lier history, of a Sephardi community and its legacy – an unusually rich Sephardi li-brary. Freudenthal places Israel within the intellectual context of neo-Maimonidean scholarship and a ‘largely invisible scientific sub-culture’ in Jewish Poland. How-ever, Israel’s approach to the halakhic text and his subversive interpretations tran-scend the innovative, scientific readings of the Talmud that he could find elsewhere. He presents scientific knowledge as a source of authority that is superior to the halakhic text.

Adam Shear traces the transmission and representation of one particularly promi-nent Sephardi text, Judah Halevi’s Kuzari, in Ashkenaz of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Shear’s narrative shows that until well into the eighteenth century Ashkenazi scholars used the book mainly as a repository of useful information on various subjects, whereas early maskilim like Wetzlar were interested in its overall thesis about the relationship between revelation and philosophy. The maskilic com-mentaries of Zamosc and Satanow, which combine the two earlier approaches, repre-sent a true transformation of Halevi’s Kuzari into a work to be taught to others. Shear argues that it was the combination of many heterogeneous factors that led to the even-tual transformation of this Sephardi text into a maskilic vehicle for discussing new scientific theories. Its ‘availability’ rested on the image of the work and on the catego-ries in which it was interpreted as well as on the physical transmission of the book.

Steven Harvey explores the presence of medieval Sephardi texts from a slightly different angle, emphasizing the role of the Hebrew printing press and the importance of new editions, given the paucity of printed editions of philosophical works in the period following Spinoza’s challenge. Examining the introductions to the writings of Israel of Zamosc, Naphtali Hirsch Goslar, Judah Loeb Margolioth, and Pinchas Elias Hurwitz, Harvey suggests that these introductions be viewed as harbingers of a re-newed interest in the writings of medieval Jewish philosophy that was to be followed by a wider interest in these works themselves. The introductions are the more instruc-tive in that they display very different, even conflicting reports about the familiarity with the sciences among eighteenth-century Jews as well as widely divergent atti-tudes toward the medieval rationalists. The reception of the Sephardi heritage was anything but uniform, with enthusiasm, criticism, and scepticism all manifested in various degrees.

These detailed studies of the transmission of medieval Sephardi texts allow us to trace moments of innovation in the often neglected liminal spaces where new ap-proaches and concepts are about to emerge but are still articulated in an ambiguous or contradictory manner, because they still rely, in part, on previous models of thought and speech. It is not always an easy task to identify ‘what is new’ even in the work of


those scholars who are most frequently cited as symbols of innovation and renewal. Raphael Jospe portrays Mendelssohn, often perceived as the very embodiment of Ger-man Haskalah, as a ‘medieval modernist’. This appellation reflects Mendelssohn’s in-debtedness to medieval Jewish philosophers along with his attempt to reinterpret and transform their theories and apply them within contemporary political contexts. While Mendelssohn’s approach to political thought and to the separation of church and state reveals the elasticity of tradition and may serve as an example of innovative exegesis, the philosopher takes a conservative stance on core questions of biblical criticism, to the extent of ignoring the more audacious views of one of his medieval sources, Abraham Ibn Ezra. Albert van der Heide confirms the portrait of Mendelssohn as a medievalist in his case study of Mendelssohn’s commentary on Exodus 19, comparing this chapter of the Beˆur with Dubno’s commentary on Genesis 22. Rabbinic exegesis and medieval commentators, whether mentioned by name or not, take pride of place in both chapters. The medieval flavour of the Beˆur is further accentuated by the fact that Mendelssohn follows the medieval model of the topically arranged commentary instead of embracing the more discursive approach widely adopted by contemporary Christian scholars. The combination of fairly conservative readings of Sephardi texts with interpretations that led to radical innovation clearly illustrates that the new li-brary allowed for a variety of interpretative practices: some could actually be consid-ered a part of the medieval Sephardi heritage; others, like Mendelssohn’s reading strategies in Jerusalem, clearly transcended it.

Thomas Kollatz further elaborates on the often very circumspect ways in which readers moved about in the new library. Aron Gumpertz, scholar, physician, and friend of Moses Mendelssohn’s, published a revised edition of Loeseke’s compen-dium on pharmaceutics and a supercommentary on Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Five Megillot. In both works Gumpertz adopts a historicizing strategy, empha-sizing the inherent progress of science since the days of medieval authorities like Galen and Ibn Ezra. Thus, instead of openly confronting and repudiating the views of the older scholars, he takes these as a point of departure for his explanations of con-temporary achievements in the sciences, based on experiment, exploration, and new discoveries. Gumpertz decides to use revision and commentary as a writing space in which tradition and critique are not contradictory forces. The older works become accessible to the extent that they can be integrated into a dynamic history of the sci-ences and inspire the writing of supplements that reflect the best of contemporary knowledge.

In Resianne Fontaine’s contribution on Pinchas Hurwitz’s encyclopaedia Sefer ha-Berit we encounter a quite different evaluation of the Sephardi heritage. Unlike Gumpertz, Hurwitz challenges the very idea of progress. He does not hesitate to de-clare that medieval science has become obsolete in the light of modern scientific dis-coveries. However, the new concepts, too, are likely to be replaced by other notions sooner or later. Therefore, true knowledge is provided solely by rabbinic and kabba-listic sources. Incidentally, these sources happen to contain many views that are in accordance with modern theories. Thus Hurwitz presents a rather original approach to the new library. He takes books from many different crates and looks for a place for them on the shelves, while at the same time establishing criteria to contain and


control the many facets of change. In this effort, he relies on works that the authors of the Jewish Enlightenment rarely touched – medieval and early modern kabbalistic texts. Hurwitz’s work, written towards the end of the eighteenth century, clearly re-flects the turbulence of a new age and the impact of the revolution wreaked on temporary Jewry by new discoveries and experiments. Being dynamic as well as con-servative, Sefer ha-Berit can be viewed as supporting both Feiner’s and Ruderman’s perceptions of the eighteenth century. While this may sound contradictory, the pic-ture that arises from Sefer ha-Berit is that of a self-confident author who is able to formulate a meaningful answer to the challenge of his day.

We have already noted that Maimonides’ Guide occupied a particularly prominent place in the early Jewish Enlightenment. Reading his work in the context of the new library could lead to surprising and highly consequential revisions of Maimonidean as well as contemporary philosophical contentions. Warren Zev Harvey examines Moses Mendelssohn’s rejection and Salomon Maimon’s subversion of Maimonides’ classification of moral rules as ‘generally accepted opinions’. Whereas Mendelssohn builds his argument against Maimonides on Halevi, Maimon turns to Kant. Harvey captures the intensity and fluidity of readings in the new library when he outlines the dense texture within which Mendelssohn formulated his thoughts on the epistemo-logical foundations of moral rules: ‘with the help of Judah Halevi, [Mendelssohn] platonized NaÌmanides’ Augustinian version of Maimonides’ Aristotelian interpreta-tion of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’. A particularly creative reader, Maimon inscribes in Maimonides’ text notions that contradict Maimonides but are in line with Kant. Carlos Fraenkel, stressing the intellectual union between Sepharad and Ashkenaz, demonstrates that Maimon’s interest in Kantian philosophy culmi-nates in his attempt to reformulate Maimonides’ concept of the divine intellect in terms of Spinoza’s doctrine of Deus sive Natura in order to complete the Copernican revolution in Kant’s theory of knowledge. For Mendelssohn and Maimon, the philo-sophical works of Sepharad – including the writings of Maimonides, Halevi, and Spinoza – remain cornerstones of contemporary philosophical reflection. Their rel-evance does not depend on modern supplements and appendices, as is the case in the sciences. Quite the contrary: the elucidation of key issues in modern thought de-pends, according to Mendelssohn and Maimon, on a creative re-reading of the medi-eval and early modern Sephardi masters.

While philosophy and the sciences constituted fields of study that were considered to be essential for the enlightened mind, other fields that were not prominent in the Christian world but had always attracted great attention in the Jewish world remained relevant as well. Many of the most important exponents of the Jewish Enlightenment were interested in the liturgy – they edited, translated, and wrote commentaries on the prayer book. But while they admired some liturgical poetry, such as Judah Halevi’s ∑iyyon ha-lo tishˆali, which had become part of the liturgy for Tish¨ah be-av, they were reluctant to restore another genre – rhymed Ashkenazi piyyu† – to the shelves of the new library. Before the ‘literary rediscovery’ of liturgical poetry by the maskilim in Berlin, other strategies of accommodation prevailed. Shlomo Berger presents two early modern Yiddish translations of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s Keter malkhut, a poem that had become part of the Sephardi liturgy for Yom Kippur, and


traces the ways in which this philosophically inspired poem was transformed into an expression of popular ethics. Thus, a Hebrew poem from Sepharad could be accom-modated in an Ashkenazi library via translation into Yiddish and transposition into a different genre. But when Zeev Wolf Buchner, an author of the Jewish Enlighten-ment, became interested in the medieval poem, he chose to rewrite it in Hebrew, re-storing its philosophical character and adding a distinctively Jewish national perspec-tive. In contrast, the Ashkenazi piyyu†im tended to resist accommodation. Wout van Bekkum turns to the early proponents of the Science of Judaism and demonstrates that whereas the Sephardi poems could be described in the aesthetic terms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Ashkenazi piyyu†im could be analysed only in historical terms. Both the aesthetic and the historical re-evaluation of liturgi-cal poetry point to the intricate relationship between religious reform and secular-izing scholarship. As emerges from Emile Schrijver’s contribution, an opposite strat-egy of accommodation was followed by Saul of Berlin, who sought to promulgate new ideas through an ‘original’ medieval genre. Invoking the authority of the four-teenth-century Talmudic scholar Asher ben YeÌiel, his pseudo-epigraphic responsa-collection Besamim rosh (Berlin 1793) exploited the accommodative potential of the traditional she’elot u-teshuvot genre, thus introducing Ashkenaz on the Sephardi bookshelf.

In this volume ‘Sepharad’ denotes not only medieval texts that were rearranged into a modern library, but also a contemporary context that shaped the interest in the medieval books: Wetzlar points to the Sephardi community of Amsterdam as a model for Ashkenaz; Wessely wishes to be buried in the Sephardi cemetery of Altona; and Gumpertz, in his medical writings, mentions Mendez d’Acosta and Jacob de Castro Sarmento, both fellows of the Royal Society in London. Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep explore the relation between medieval and contemporary Sepharad, the impact of the latter on Jewish enlightened discourse, and the ways in which the image of Sepharad in the eighteenth century facilitated and informed the construction of ‘bridges’ between medieval and contemporary practices of Jewish reading and writing. Schatz addresses the various manifestations of ‘Sepharad’ in maskilic writings on the Hebrew language: medieval Sepharad, Christian Spain and the contemporary Sephardi communities in Europe and the Ottoman Empire were evoked not as isolated historical models, but as distinct configurations in a series of historical recurrences that reflected and supported each other and formed the multi-layered basis for the maskilic project of creating a bilingual, diasporic Jewish moder-nity. Zwiep presents the intellectual strategies and attitudes that played a role in the formation of a series of new Hebrew canons in the eighteenth-century Dutch Repub-lic. She points to the parallels and, in a number of instances, even productive dy-namic between the contemporary spheres of Sepharad and Ashkenaz and examines their different roles as catalyst, instigator, and appreciative audience. The creative interaction between Sepharad and Ashkenaz in Amsterdam stands out as yet another example of the local specificity of the processes of transition that we can observe in European Jewish communities between 1700 and 1800.8 The Jewish Enlightenment 8 See, for example, the contributions to the volume Ha-haskalah li-gevanehah: ¨iyyunim Ìadashim


in Berlin and Königsberg has to be analyzed within a diasporic network in which many paths could lead to modernity; and although most of them intersected at one point or another, not all of them may have formed part of the Jewish Enlightenment. One of the most ambitious projects of the Jewish Enlightenment in Berlin was the establishment of a Hebrew printing press under the auspices of the Jüdische Freischule. A significant fraction of the books that bear its imprint are new editions of medieval and early modern works, among them Saadia’s Emunot ve-de¨ot (1789), Alguadez’ translation of the Nicomachean Ethics as Sefer ha-Middot (1790), Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim (1791–1795), and Judah Halevi’s Kuzari (1795). Works that had already become available include BaÌya’s Îovot ha-levavot (Jessnitz 1744), Maimonides’ Millot ha-higgayon (Berlin 1765), Benjamin Mussaphia’s Zekher rav (Berlin 1765/66), Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Sefer ∑aÌot (Berlin 1769), and Isaac Israeli’s Yesod ¨olam (Berlin 1777). In addition we also find a significant number of newly edited works from Italy, such as Elijah Levita’s Sefer ha-BaÌur (1767), Moshe Îayyim Luzzato’s La-yesharim tehillah (1780), and Azariah de’ Rossi’s Meˆor ¨enayim (1793/94). These and many other volumes indicate that the maskilim – in collaboration with wealthy owners of rare manuscripts, rabbinic schol-ars who provided approbations, and a community of subscribers – wished to establish a new library in a quite literal sense. The contributions to the present volume, how-ever, make it clear that these efforts were merely the culmination of many different and contradictory trends and that they assume meaning within a much broader his-torical context. They can be traced back to Israel’s Zamosc, Goslar’s Halberstadt, Gumpertz’ Berlin, and David Franco Mendes’ Amsterdam. They emerge from a complex history of re-reading medieval and early modern scientific and philosophi-cal concepts. They articulate the desire to ground tradition in modernity and moder-nity in tradition. The effects of the changes that took place in the age of transition between 1700 and 1800 far surpassed this particular moment when the library that had moved was taking tangible shape. The proponents of the Science of Judaism ar-ticulated the fascination with both medieval Sepharad and the world of libraries in new political and cultural contexts. Like the proponents of Jewish enlightened dis-course in the eighteenth century, they heeded the advice of Judah Ibn Tibbon, who admonished his son, the translator of Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim: ‘Make thy books thy companions, let thy cases and shelves be their pleasure-grounds and gar-dens. Bask in their paradise, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and their myrrh.’9

Andrea Schatz, Irene E. Zwiep and Resianne Fontaine


Shmuel Feiner

From Renaissance to Revolution:

The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

In the old Sephardi cemetery in Altona, tombstone No. 1308, decorated with a draw-ing of a deer and inscribed with Hebrew verse, marks the grave of an Ashkenazi Jew of Ukrainian descent who was buried there in 1805. This is neither a coincidence nor a mistake. Naphtali Herz Wessely, the Hebrew poet and philologist, one of the fa-thers of the cultural renaissance of eighteenth-century Ashkenazi Jewry, spent his last years in Hamburg. There he made a surprising, unconventional request of the com-munity: he asked to be laid to rest in the Sephardi section of the cemetery, deliber-ately forgoing burial in the Ashkenazi section where he would have been interred near two of the most prominent rabbis of the previous generation – Jonathan Eybeschuetz and Jacob Emden.1 This was far more than a symbolic act. It was a two-fold statement, through which Wessely disassociated himself from the contemporary Ashkenazi culture and identified with what he considered to be the source of inspira-tion best fitted to a new direcinspira-tion in intellectual life. Wessely had already chosen the Sephardim as his cultural reference group in the formative stage of his life when, in the 1740s, he joined the circle of Amsterdam Jewish scholars who cultivated the He-brew language, the Bible, poetry, and philosophy. According to one of his biogra-phers, his identification with the Sephardim was so strong that, in his old age, the Portuguese community in London invited him to serve as its Ìakham (rabbi).2

About half a century earlier, in 1749, Isaac Wetzlar, a wealthy merchant from Celle, completed his Libes briv, a surprising and radical critique, in Yiddish, of the flaws of Ashkenazi Jewish society, in particular of the religious elite.3 His impressive knowledge of religious literature, especially medieval ethical and philosophical writ-ings, along with his experience as a broad-minded businessmen who traveled widely throughout Europe, enabled him to observe the rabbis from outside their circle and to criticize, often with sharp cynicism, their low intellectual level and moral corruption. Since this work remained in manuscript and was never published, it did not provoke any outrage at the time. It is, however, a fascinating and subversive document by one of the lesser-known figures in the early modernist awakening. For example, Wetzlar attacked the tendency to study only the Talmud and halakhah. He saw it as a deplor-able evil and linked it to dishonesty in commerce, which, he believed, was being given religious justification and was economically disastrous for the Jews: ‘Today, 1 YoÌanan Witkover, Aguddat peraÌim (Altona, 1880), pp. 303–4.


however, because of our many sins, our holy Torah is unfortunately turned into a fraud by many evil scholars. The truth is hard to find. Similarly, God have mercy, our income and livelihood are difficult and business is fraud and wealth is very unstable’. In confrontations with scholars, Wetzlar writes, he leveled grave accusations at them; for example, he decried their disgraceful inability to represent the Jewish religion properly: ‘In their relations with nobles and gentile scholars, could they defend their faith and sanctify the name of God?’ His recommended remedy is the study of phi-losophy and ethics, in particular the writings of Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, as well as BaÌya Ibn Paquda’s Îovot ha-levavot (his favourite book, which had been reprinted only a short time earlier, after a long absence from the Jewish library). He also praised the curriculum of the Sephardi communities: ‘In contrast, among the Sephardim the curriculum is as God desires. … I believe that because of this, the abundance of wealth and business have permanence among the Sephardim. … I do not want to write the truth about who is responsible for this. Let everyone decide and arrive at the truth for himself’.4

Several years after Wetzlar’s death in 1749, a most astonishing text, an anomaly in the world of Hebrew books, was published in Berlin. It was, in effect, a kind of so-phisticated secular sermon addressed to young Jewish men – students in batei midrash who were fulfilling the precept of Torah study or embarking on a rabbinical career. This secular sermon, one of the most interesting texts of the early Jewish En-lightenment, promoted two values that had been intrinsic to the European humanistic ethos since the Renaissance and to the contemporary Enlightenment culture: pleasure and the centrality of man. In the sermon, written by the young Moses Mendelssohn and published pseudonymously as the first article in the unprecedented periodical, Qohelet musar, Jews were called on to fill their lungs with the air of natural life, to notice the beauty of nature, to smell the fragrance of the blossoms, to nurture their aesthetic sense and to delight in the perfect harmony prevailing in the world, which, as Leibniz taught, is the best of all possible worlds. Autonomous man, ‘God’s finest creature’, is at the center of nature, and it is unthinkable that the Jews, of all people, should repress their human traits. This secular sermon pushes its readers out the doors of the beit midrash and lowers their gaze from the heavens earthward, to the sensual world, which, although the marvellous creation of God, is also the arena of man’s earthly activity, an inviting, exciting, seductive, thrilling world. Mendelssohn, then in his twenties, rebukes his readers, all of whom certainly belonged to the reli-gious elite: ‘In all my days on this earth, I have never seen a man pass through a pleasant field in which the buds have appeared whose eyes did not roam from its be-ginning to its end. God gave man an eye with which to see, to feast on the rich pleas-ure of the glory of all creatpleas-ures’.5

2 On Wessely, see: Moshe Pelli, The Age of Haskalah: Studies in the Hebrew Literature of the

Enlight-enment in Germany (Leiden, 1979), pp. 113–30; Edward Breuer, ‘Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cul-tural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London and Portland, Oregon, 2001), pp. 27–47.

3 The Libes briv of Isaac Wetzlar, ed. and trans. Morris M. Faierstein (Atlanta, Ga., 1996). 4 Ibid., Chapter 13.


What is the textual basis for this view? Where does he find legitimation for the experience of pleasure, observation, and hedonism, which seem to be so alien to the ethos of talmudic and halakhic study? He has two sources: the Sages who composed the blessing on trees when they bud in the spring, and, of course, Maimonides, the solid twelfth-century foundation for the workers of the eighteenth-century renais-sance: ‘Maimonides explained that everything the Almighty created, He created in the best, most perfect, and most attractive manner. … He said further that this too is a great principle. A man who contemplates all of these will know and recognize God’s benevolence to him’.6

The quotation from The Guide of the Perplexed is not entirely accurate, but the message is clear: the harmonious world view and the duty to look at nature are val-ues clearly implied in legitimate Jewish texts; hence there is nothing to prevent their adoption – especially since the pleasure Mendelssohn recommended was not merely sensual, but culminated in a philosophical experience, a coherent, analytical observa-tion, a sense of excitement at the perfection of creation as a whole.

Before returning to that secular sermon in Qohelet musar, I want to emphasize that Wessely’s burial in the Sephardi cemetery, Wetzlar’s criticism of the scholars and the Ashkenazi curriculum and preference for the Sephardi model, and Maimonides’ role in Mendelssohn’s text are only three of the many milestones on the road to the revo-lution that reshaped the cultural and social world of Ashkenazi Jewry in the modern era. It began with a Jewish renaissance, the project of recovering neglected texts and scientific, linguistic and philosophical knowledge – a task that had not been consid-ered relevant in what David Sorkin defined as ‘the Baroque culture’ of pre-modern European Jewry – and the return to the Jewish library of works such as Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim and Millot ha-higgayon, BaÌya’s Îovot ha-levavot, and Halevi’s Kuzari. In the 1740s, Wessely, Wetzlar, and Mendelssohn could read the Moreh nevukhim because it had been reprinted, for the first time in two hundred years, in Jesnitz near Dessau in 1742. Starting in the 1780s, there were signs of a revolution that gave rise to the first modern Jewish ideology, the Haskalah, created the Jewish public sphere, and also set off a Jewish Kulturkampf.

All of this took place in the fascinating, contradiction-filled eighteenth century. What didn’t happen in that century? Throughout the century, among the million to a million and a half Jews of Europe, there existed an underground Sabbatean move-ment that legitimized religious-radical permissiveness and caused frequent scandals. Study circles of scholars and kabbalists were opened under the auspices of philan-thropists. Messianic expectations and calculations of the ‘end of days’ excited mys-tics and rationalists alike. At an accelerating pace, the members of the wealthy elite were becoming acculturated, first to the lifestyle of the aristocratic Baroque culture and later to the European bourgeois ethos. And unbeknownst to the historians, Jewish deists and atheists appeared and became the target of an early Orthodox offensive. In my recent studies on the formation of the early Haskalah in the eighteenth century, which, among other things, rejected kabbalistic enthusiasm, I concluded that one can-not achieve a full understanding of a phenomenon such as the Haskalah without look-6 Ibid., p. 159.


ing at the overall historical picture, and in particular without an understanding of the power of kabbalistic groups or the strength of the Sabbatean libertine threat to the religious and social order. Everyone – Frankists, Hasidim of the Ba¨al Shem ™ov, early maskilim, community rabbis, mitnaggedim, later maskilim like Mendelssohn, the economic elite composed of successful merchants, including Italian and western Sephardi ‘Port Jews’ – played a role on the historical stage of the eighteenth century. Their interactions are often the key to understanding the special role of each group. Indeed, this was a century of great political and spiritual expectations of a religious revival, of transformation and rationalization, of divine and earthly redemption, of religious tolerance and cosmopolitanism. But it was also a century of great anxieties and an awareness of crisis. Those who view the eighteenth century as a relatively sta-ble century, the end of the Middle Ages (as Jacob Katz put it), in which processes of change began to emerge only during its last third, must, in my view, adopt a much more complex and dynamic picture, full of conflicts and schisms.

For a long time, I have been suggesting that various historical phenomena in Jew-ish history should be examined through the organizing term ‘the eighteenth century’. I believe that many conundrums of the Jews’ enormously significant transition from the old world to the modern world can be understood in a new way if scholars can take in a broad, synchronic, and polyphonal view of the entire sweep of processes experienced by the Jews in the eighteenth century. The historical research on the cen-tury is primarily thematic. Historians have divided the story of European Jews geo-graphically – Western, Central, and Eastern European Jewry – or according to key processes – the history of Ìasidim and mitnaggedim, of Sabbateanism, of the Haskalah, of the emancipation, and the roots of antisemitism. Only a few scholars have dared to suggest an overall, integrated picture. The most prominent among them is, of course, Jacob Katz, who, beginning with his Tradition and Crisis, tried to present the face of Jewish society as a whole. His less well-known article, ‘The Eighteenth Century as a Turning Point of Modern Jewish History’, is one of the few in which he tried to propose an overall thesis about the course of Jewish history in the eighteenth century. In that essay, Katz refined his ‘tradition and crisis’ model and argued that maskilic rationalism and hasidic mysticism (with their subversive social expressions in the form of maskilic groups and hasidic courts with their charismatic leaders) devastated the patterns of traditional life. The eighteenth century, in his view, was a turning point in Jewish history. The age of the traditional society passed; from then on, the Jews would voluntarily live in totally different circumstances.7

But the historian who listens to the voices of the eighteenth century, who reads the various texts and attempts to distinguish processes of renewal from desperate at-tempts to hold on to the old world can no longer be completely satisfied with the con-cepts provided by Katz’s model of modernization. The main critics of this model are Todd Endelman, Yosef Kaplan, and David Sorkin, who argue that the tradition and crisis model is not appropriate for cases such as the Jews of England or western 7 See Jacob Katz, ‘The Eighteenth Century as a Turning Point of Modern Jewish History’, in Vision

Confronts Reality: Historical Perspectives on the Contemporary Jewish Agenda, ed. David Sidorsky, Ruth Kozodoy, and Kalman Sultanik (Madison, NJ, 1989), pp. 40–55.


Sephardi Jewry, who did not need an enlightenment movement to become modern; Katz, they allege, failed to take account of their non-ideological process of accultura-tion or of the ‘Port Jew’ type.8 Indeed, Katz asserted that until the 1770s no Jew felt he was witnessing a meaningful shift.9 This problematic claim overlooks a series of turbulent political, cultural, and social events and presents too shallow a picture of the period. In particular, it fails to see the renaissance of the early Haskalah and is insensitive to the dissatisfaction and the sense of flux typical of many Jews who put their thoughts in writing. Katz’s narrative is fundamentally tragic and draws a picture of collapse, notably the collapse of the community structure and the decline of a soci-ety that, in his view, was firmly grounded on the authoritative organizational and po-litical order and on traditional values but now crumbled under a series of blows. He failed to notice the intellectual renaissance; he tried to fit the dream of moderniza-tion, with its hopes and traumas, into Weberian paradigms; and he only partially identified the power of the Haskalah revolution, a subject he dealt with rather super-ficially.

Even in the more sophisticated narrative of Jonathan Israel, the eighteenth century is presented only partially, backed up by minimal documentation and tightly linked to Katz’s framework of ‘tradition and crisis’. In his European Jewry in the Age of Mer-cantilism, Israel asserts that the golden age of European Jewry was when western Spanish Jewry flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the eighteenth century was marked by decline – both demographic and economic – and intellectual stagnation.10 Although he did point to several phenomena of revival (such as Hasidism) in the second edition of his book (1989), the concession was made grudg-ingly and with many reservations. He argued that the drift away from traditional Judaism was a mass movement even before Mendelssohn. The Haskalah, whose value he greatly understates, is viewed as a movement that repudiates tradition and moves towards assimilation. This image is at variance with that proposed by newer research and is more in keeping with the stereotype nurtured by the assimilated, on the one hand, and by the Ultraorthodox, on the other. In general, Israel makes some very sharp observations about the intellectual decadence of Jewish life that he viewed as a more or less universal phenomenon during the first half of the eighteenth cen-tury.

His conclusions also contradict the view of themselves held by many persons in the eighteenth century. For example, Wessely’s optimistic take on the last quarter of the century was that many changes were taking place in the lives of the Jews in exile, right before his eyes. They were no longer persecuted as in the past. And although still a nation of merchants, many new economic opportunities were opening up for them. With regard to culture, language, and educational patterns, Wessely drew a line 8 See: Todd Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal

Society (Ann Arbor, 1999); Yosef Kaplan, An Alternative Path to Modernity: The Sephardi Diaspora in Western Europe (Leiden, 2000); David Sorkin, ‘The Port Jew: Notes Toward a Social Type’, Journal of Jewish Studies 1 (1999): 87–97.

9 See Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages, trans. Bernard D.

Cooperman (New York, 1993), Ch. 24.

10 See Jonathan I. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 1550–1750 (Oxford, 1989), Ch. 10


to separate the Jewish communities in the Muslim East and Sephardi communities of Western Europe from Ashkenazi Jewry. Whereas the latter, especially in Poland, was backward, living in the past in isolation and according to the old norms, Sephardi and Eastern Jewry were living in the present and ready for the future. The members of these communities spoke the vernacular naturally; their commercial ties with gentiles were very strong and their manners appropriate to the norms of the surrounding soci-ety. What was needed now was a joint effort by enlightened rulers and Jews to trans-form the Ashkenazim (especially those in Poland, whose cultural situation was the worst). Thanks to education, they too would be fit to be counted as people of the present, people of the eighteenth century.11

It is true that Wessely observed the contemporary scene through rose-colored glasses. Nonetheless, his is historical testimony that cannot be overlooked. Instead of the ‘Tradition and Crisis’ model, perhaps we should interpret the Jewish eighteenth century through the lens of complex and multifaceted Jewish modernization. Straight lines of development cannot always be identified. Elements of the old and the new world intermingled and sometimes engaged in a conflict that was not resolved, even for individuals. It was a far more complex age than the label ‘century of enlighten-ment’ can depict. In fact, it was an unstable century, which can perhaps be called the ‘melting pot’ of the modern Jewish world. Everything began in it but nothing really ended. It was a fascinating century of innovations, struggles, contradictions, disputes, uncertainties, and hesitations. It included Joseph II in Vienna and the emancipation in Paris, blood libels in Poland and the Uman massacre in the Ukraine, a deist philoso-pher like Solomon Maimon and an eccentric fideistic kabbalist like Rabbi NaÌman of Bratzlav. The status of Jewish women did not change fundamentally and they did not play an active role in the public sphere. Gender differences remained as rigid as ever and women were absent from the ranks of Haskalah. But they did play a key eco-nomic role; some of them were businesswomen like Glueckel of Hameln and Esther Liebman. The library of books intended to enhance women’s knowledge of Judaism expanded – particularly in Yiddish. Thanks to private tutoring, women of the upper and middle classes in Central and Western Europe learned European languages and became more acculturated. Towards the end of the century a group of salon women emerged; some of them, such as Rahel Levin Varnhagen and Dorothea Schlegel, were also intellectuals and key figures in the cultural shift from enlightenment to ro-manticism. Ada Rapoport-Albert has recently shown how the gender boundaries be-tween men and women were broken down in the Sabbatean movement and how egalitarian trends, supported by kabbalist ideas, emerged, notably in Jacob Frank’s anarchist sect.12 As David Ruderman demonstrated about England, not all intellectu-als were affiliated with the Haskalah and the Anglo-Jewish intelligentsia was not identical to the Haskalah movement.13 But nothing that began in this century reached 11 Naphtali Herz Wessely, Divrei shalom ve-emet (Berlin, 1782).

12 See Ada Rapoport-Albert, ‘On the Position of Women in Sabbateanism’ (Heb.), pp. 143–327 in The

Sabbatean Movement and its Aftermath: Messianism, Sabbateanism and Frankism, ed. Rachel Elior, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 2001).

13 See David Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of


maturity by its end: Hasidism, the Emancipation, the question of the rabbinical lead-ership, the replacement of rabbinical hegemony by secular intellectuals, even the les-sons to be learned from Sabbateanism – none of these fully crystallized.

When we focus the historian’s spotlight on the intellectual elite, we can discern, amidst all the complex events that affected European Jewry during this century, first a renaissance, manifested by the early Haskalah, and later a revolution worked by the maskilim in its last two decades. I have already written extensively about the early Haskalah; here I will merely point to several of its major trends:

– a quasi-erotic attraction to science and philosophy felt by young men of the talmudic elite;

– an attempt to grapple with the legitimacy of this science vis-à-vis the exclusive role of religious knowledge, as principle and as precept, in the pre-modern Ashkenazi culture;

– the production of a new library, alongside the talmudic literature, containing books on science, philosophy, ethics, and the Hebrew language;

– a struggle against superstition, folly, and ignorance, and the ecstatic pietism of the Sabbateans and the enthusiastic Ìasidim, on the one hand, and against trends of skepticism and heresy on the other;

– a consciousness of intellectual inferiority to the European cultural world, accom-panied by an endeavor to redeem the neglected knowledge of science and philoso-phy at a time of crisis in Jewish culture.14

It is important to realize that the early Haskalah was far from being a united and cohesive movement. It was characterized by many internal contradictions, by uncer-tainty, and by unusual personalities. Rabbi Jacob Emden, for example, who – consid-ering his curiosity about and immense attraction to secular knowledge, his obsessive fight against Sabbatean apostasy, and his individualism – could be taken for a Jewish renaissance figure, was one of the fiercest enemies of the philosophers. In his po-lemic against philosophy, in his MitpaÌat sefarim, he stated, for example, that he simply could not believe that Maimonides had written the Guide of the Perplexed.15

Although I regard the early Haskalah as a renaissance phenomenon that wanted to restore a vanished world, it also pointed toward revolution. If we return for a moment to Qohelet musar, we should note two important features of this special text. First, it marks a dramatic shift in the description of the world and life from that of the then-popular musar literature. Whereas best-selling, widely distributed books like Qav ha-yashar by Zevi Hirsch Koidonover of Vilna and Shevet musar by Elijah ha-Kohen of Izmir depicted a demonic and threatening world and called upon the Jew to suppress his earthly passions, struggle ceaselessly against his evil instincts, and ponder the horrible punishments of Hell that await all sinners, Qohelet musar’s secular message is optimistic, inviting the Jews to experience a world of earthly pleasures and depict-ing God as desirdepict-ing the good of His creatures. Second, the secular sermon did not 14 Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2003), Ch. 1–3; idem, ‘Seductive Science

and the Emergence of the Secular Jewish Intellectual’, Science in Context, 15(1) (2002): 121–36.


have the backing of the talmudic elite, but rather of the new secular elite of writers. This fact, which marks the incipient breakdown of the former’s monopoly on knowl-edge and the public sphere, has revolutionary implications.

This revolution reached its peak in the last quarter of the century in Berlin and Königsberg in Prussia. Its well-known heroes included Isaac Euchel, Isaac Satanow, Aaron Wolfsohn, David Friedländer, Moses Mendelssohn, and Naphtali Herz Wessely. The new secular maskilic elite penetrated the public sphere, undermined the talmudic elite’s dominance of culture, knowledge, and public indoctrination, in-vented the ‘new era’ as a powerful modernist ethos, demanded the application of reli-gious tolerance to the Jews both from without (the state, with regard to civil rights) and from within (the rabbis, with regard to their coercive powers), established mod-ern educational institutions, and fought the initial battles of a Jewish Kulturkampf. I have written about the course and significance of this revolution at length in my book The Jewish Enlightenment. Here I shall cite one example of a motif that is rarely mentioned – the anticlericalism of the Haskalah.

In Aaron Wolfsohn’s radical play, SiÌah be-ereÒ ha-Ìayyim (‘A conversation in the land of the living’), published in Ha-meˆassef in the 1790s, the culture war is brought for a decision by no less an authority than the Heavenly Court, but first be-fore the medieval philosopher, Maimonides. The litigation pits Rabbi Raphael Kohen of Hamburg against Moses Mendelssohn, with Maimonides as the arbiter. The rabbi appeals for Maimonides’ approval. But as he describes the world view of the rabbinical elite that claims a monopoly on the Torah and its interpretation, on the Jewish bookshelf, and on knowledge itself, Maimonides becomes more and more repelled by him: ‘Woe to the generation whose leader you are! God’s people, how grievously you have stumbled and declined!’16 Wolfsohn scathingly criticizes the narrow-mindedness, fanaticism, and ignorance of the rabbinical elite with the aim of challenging its pretension to continued hegemony. Even in this fictional posthumous confrontation, the rabbi continues to cling to rigidly Orthodox anti-maskilic posi-tions, while Mendelssohn gains Maimonides’ full support and recognition as a kin-dred soul. The two join the great Greek philosophers in the universal world of souls. God Himself decides the Kulturkampf in favor of the maskilim, declaring: ‘My dear son, Moses [Mendelssohn] has brought to naught the counsel of the evil men of the land who do not understand the actions of the Almighty and the work of His hands’.17

At the end of the play, the rabbi is left standing alone on the stage. The message is unmistakable: the rabbinical elite will soon admit its failure and, mortified, disappear from history, in the Haskalah’s ultimate triumph.

While these trends, which ultimately led to the secularization of Jewish culture and the emergence of a secular intellectual elite, were proceeding, the hasidic revolu-tion was taking place in Poland. It developed an alluring new model of religious life and proposed an alternative leadership that captivated many hearts. The old-style rab-16 Aaron Wolfsohn-Halle, ‘SiÌah be-ereÒ ha-Ìayyim’, in Studies in Hebrew Satire, I: Hebrew Satire in

Germany (Heb.), ed. Y. Friedlander, (Tel Aviv, 1979), p. 151.


bis were rejected in favor of religious leaders who placed the religious experience at the center of life. A counter-revolution began in the early 1770s, a stormy battle waged by those we usually call ‘Mitnaggedim’. They rightly identified among the Ìasidim trends of openness to earthly life and a rejection of the intellectual religiosity of the talmudic scholars. Ultimately, though, when the early nineteenth century re-vealed that the confrontation with modernity was the crucial story of the new era in Jewish history, Hasidism proved to be the best bulwark to safeguard Orthodoxy. In the struggle against the enticements of Europe, the new knowledge and the culture of the Haskalah, mystical Hasidism evidently wielded the best weapons for waging the Orthodox battle. Its rejection of modernity was more absolute, underpinned by a reli-gious view that dismissed corporeal existence and rationalist thought. The Hasidim were among the first to adopt unyielding anti-maskilic positions. Hasidism added magic to the world at the very time when secularization was at its height in Europe and the magic of religion rapidly vanishing from it.

The eighteenth century, then, also holds the key to understanding why and how Orthodoxy took the position it did. The roots of Orthodoxy, according to the usual definition of the traditionalists’ defensive, negative counter-reaction when confronted by the threats of modernity and alternative Jewish ideologies, lie in the anti-Sabbatean and anti-maskilic struggles of the eighteenth century. That is in fact how things look retrospectively from the end of that century. During that century, several opposing revolutions took place. The revolution of religious revival, influenced by the Kabbalah, split into two: Sabbateanism and Hasidism. Both offered a promise of freedom – namely, the possibility of a direct or dialectic contribution to the ethos of modernity, to the destruction of traditional rabbinical and community authority, to autonomy and secularization. Sabbateanism, denounced as soon as its destructive potential became apparent, went underground and finally disappeared. Hasidism was persecuted at first but ultimately triumphed in Eastern Europe, where it won over the hearts of the masses and gained religious legitimacy. At the same time, the Haskalah’s revolution was proceeding, fed by the principle of religious tolerance, faith in absolutist rulers, a new reading of universal history, and above all a belief in the Enlightenment. This revolution, too, was perceived as a threat to the rabbinical elite and met by an Orthodox reaction.

The hasidic revolution did not fulfill its subversive potential and merged into Or-thodoxy, with which it turned out to have much in common: the religious leader wielded great authority and his followers were dependent on him; it isolated itself from everything modern and external; and it introduced even stricter norms of reli-gious behavior. The early Haskalah fought a two-front battle, against the extreme ra-tionalists and ecstatic kabbalistic religiosity. Similarly, the Haskalah at the end of the century fought against religious hypocrisy and clericalism, but also denounced he-donists, libertines, and assimilationists. The germ of the Kulturkampf and schisms that mark the Jewish world at the beginning of the twentieth-first century was already present beneath the surface at the end of the eighteenth century.

In his lectures in the 1960s on the roots of Romanticism, Isaiah Berlin pointed to the complexity of the eighteenth century:


[P]erhaps somewhat to the surprise of people who believe the eighteenth century to have been a harmonious, symmetrical, infinitely rational, elegant, glassy sort of century, a kind of peaceful mirror of human reason and human beauty not disturbed by anything deeper and darker, we find that never in the history of Europe had so many irrational persons wandered over its surface claiming adherence.18

Those who lived at the time knew that even better than we do. Voltaire, for exam-ple, perhaps the most fascinating figure of the eighteenth century, exposed the reli-gious fanaticism of Catholicism as manifested in France in the 1760s in the trials and barbarous executions of Jean Calas and of the Chevalier de La Barre.19 Mendelssohn was skeptical about the possibility of combating prejudice and imbuing the masses with the principle of religious tolerance. In 1784, in his ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ Immanuel Kant concluded that his was not an ‘enlightened age’. At best, he main-tained, it is an age in which there is ‘Aufklärung’.20

Even though he was more knowledgeable and cultured than many of his Jewish brethren, Naphtali Herz Wessely, with whom I began, was not acquainted with all the contradictory trends at work during his generation. He was, however, certainly aware of his own role in the cultural renaissance of the early Haskalah and believed that he himself was responsible for the breakthrough that produced the cultural shift in Ashkenazi Jewry. Nonetheless, to judge by his reactions during the 1782 Kultur-kampf he instigated with the publication of Divrei shalom ve-emet, it is doubtful that he understood the revolutionary meaning of his challenge to the rabbinical elite and of his demand for a rethinking of all aspects of the social, economic, educational, and cultural life of the Jews. In any event, his request to be buried in the Sephardi section of the Altona cemetery is a historical episode that signifies the emergence of inde-pendent, individualistic thinking, critical audacity, and openness to innovative op-tions of living. In this sense, his link to the Sephardi cultural model is emblematic of one of the most fascinating trends of the Jewish eighteenth century.

18 Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton, 1999), p. 47.

19 Voltaire, Treatise on Tolerance and Other Writings, ed. Simon Harvey, trans. Simon Harvey and

Brian Masters (Cambridge and New York, 2000).

20 Immanuel Kant, ‘Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?’ Berlinische Monatsschrift 4


David B. Ruderman

The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century: A Challenge to the Notion of the Sephardi Mystique

In one of the most dramatic introductions to an elementary manual on the natural sciences, Judah Loeb Margolioth (1747–1811) opens his Or ¨olam ¨al Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (1782) with the provocative words of a woman in black personifying the science of nature. She proclaims:

Who will listen and pay attention to me? Wait. I am the science of nature who in the past was the cornerstone but now I have become like a lost vessel and like a rejected defini-tion, abandoned and forgotten and forsaken. Canals run dry [Isa. 19:6] and there is no one on the earth who cures [or heals] from my light and my precious lights. … Why is philosophy open and uncovered, peering through the window [Judg. 5:28], saturating its plump furrows [after Ps. 65:11]… while I am estranged. … I am astonished most of all by the officer of the Torah, the author of the Guide [Maimonides], notwithstanding the wonders he accomplished for the Torah and the law and the hidden lights his hand un-covered and the philosophy he seized with violent trembling [Gen. 27:33]. For from the time he wondrously made a praiseworthy name for it [philosophy], the task became oner-ous [echoing Exod. 5:9]. What perverseness did he find in the science of nature such that he left it bereaved and abandoned, proven displeasing by the fact that he did not desig-nate her [see Exod. 21:8] because he went after philosophy whose buds are blown away like dust [Isa. 5:24].1

Margolioth’s open contempt for Maimonides’ privileging metaphysics over phys-ics might be meaningfully compared with another remarkable declaration composed some fifty years earlier by the Italian Jewish Kabbalist Solomon Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea in his Emunat Ìakhamim (1730). In this passage, Basilea describes an old sage in Mantua who had apparently accumulated much ‘old-fashioned’ learning which rendered him incapable of having any new insight other than what he had pre-viously learned. Basilea cleverly offered to perform an experiment on him using the eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose. He said to him: ‘Master, the spectacles on your nose can make people appear so that their heads are below and their feet are above; that they can extend their heads to the ground and their lower extremities toward heaven, so that when a person walks to the east, it will appear to him that he goes to 1 Judah Loeb Margolioth, Sefer Or ¨olam ¨al Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (Warsaw, 1842), pp. 3a–3b. On

Margolioth, see Shmuel Feiner, ‘The Dragon Attached to the Beehive: Y. L. Margolioth and the Para-dox of the Early Haskalah’, (Hebrew) Zion 63 (1997/98): 39–74.





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