New from the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
Jewish Politics in Spinoza’s Amsterdam by Anne O. Albert
January 2023, pp. 400, Hardback 9781789622294, Ebook 9781802070750, £45
This book untangles a web of ideas about politics, religion, exile, and community that emerged at a key moment in Jewish history and left a lasting mark on Jewish ideas. In the shadow of their former member Baruch Spinoza’s notoriety, and amid the aftermath of the Sabbatian messianic movement, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of seventeenth-century Amsterdam underwent a conceptual shift that led them to treat their self-governed diaspora community as a commonwealth. Preoccupied by the question of why and how Jews should rule themselves in the absence of a biblical or messianic sovereign state or king, they forged a creative synthesis of insights from early modern Christian politics and Jewish law and traditions to assess and argue over their formidable communal government. In so doing they shaped a proud new theopolitical self-understanding of their community as analogous to a Christian state.
Through readings of rarely studied sermons, commentaries, polemics, administrative records, and architecture, Anne Albert shows that a concentrated period of public Jewish political discourse among the community’s leaders and thinkers led to the formation of a strong image of itself as a totalizing, state-like entity—an image that eventually came to define its portrayal by twentieth-century historians. Her study presents a new perspective on a Jewish population that has long fascinated readers, as well as new evidence of Jewish reactions to Spinoza and Sabbatianism, and analyses the first Jewish reckoning with modern western political concepts.
At Eden’s Door: The Habsburg Jewish Life of Leon Kellner (1859-1928) by David Rechter
January 2023, pp. 212, Hardback 9781789621037, Ebook 9781802079241, £29.95
Leon Kellner was part of the intellectual and cultural elite of imperial Austria. Engaged in politics, a member of his regional parliament, and an essayist of repute, he was also a Zionist leader and confidant of Theodor Herzl. He created an institution for Jews’ cultural, educational, and social advancement modelled on London’s Toynbee Hall, which spread across east-central Europe to great effect. He was also an internationally recognized Shakespeare scholar. Yet for all this, today he is little known.
How did someone born into a lower-middle-class Orthodox Jewish family from the province of Galicia come to gain such prominence in the Habsburg empire? Kellner’s is a thoroughly Habsburg Jewish story, spanning east and west and shaped by the empire’s history, politics, and culture. He was a singular character: a Galician Jew at home in Vienna and in Czernowitz, eyes towards Zion, yet content also in London, and never more so than when absorbed in the minutiae of Shakespeare’s texts. Kellner’s world was destroyed twice over: Habsburg Austria came to an end in 1918, east-central European Jewry in 1945. This biography recovers at least part of what was lost.