Twelfth EAJS Summer Colloquium
Wissenschaft des Judentums in Europe: Comparative Perspectives
23-26 July, 2012, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (OCHJS), Yarnton Manor, Oxford
Convenor: Christian Wiese (Frankfurt am Main)
The Twelfth Summer Colloquium of the European Association of Jewish Studies (EAJS) was held at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (OCHJS) at Yarnton Manor from 23 to 26 July 2012. The colloquium aimed at bringing together scholars from different fields in Jewish Studies as well as archivists to discuss new trends in the historiography on Wissenschaft des Judentums/Jewish Studies in Europe and to re-think and partly re-write its history in a collective, interdisciplinary endeavour. The colloquium was attended by twenty-one scholars from several European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK) as well as from Israel.
Whilst today Jewish Studies in Europe is an integral part of academia, the history of the discipline throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century is that of a young field of research that was never really accepted at European universities before the Holocaust. Despite its discrimination, the tradition of Wissenschaft des Judentums developed in Germany after the Enlightenment spread throughout most of the European Jewish communities, creating its own institutions and producing an impressive record of research on Jewish history, religion, literature and culture. Apart from its scholarly endeavours, Wissenschaft des Judentums had important cultural and political functions: the discipline played a vital role in the Jewish minority’s struggle for political and cultural emancipation, especially in its fight against anti-Semitism and its attempt to demonstrate that Judaism was a religion that was compatible with Enlightenment and modern European culture, capable of being modernized and of contributing important cultural, religious and ethical values.
Much of the research done in recent decades focuses strongly on Germany or analyses the history of Jewish Studies along national lines without providing systematic comparative perspectives. This is especially problematic since Jewish Studies was clearly a transnational European endeavour characterized by a network of scholars originating from the important rabbinical seminaries in Padua, Breslau, Budapest, Berlin or Vienna, and spreading to other European countries, including Britain, France, England, the Netherlands as well as parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the situation of Jewish Studies, the needs and strategies of the discipline, its political and cultural function varied in different countries and political contexts. The role of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Germany an instrument of combat against anti-Semitism and of the struggle for emancipation differed, for instance, from England or France where the Jewish minority was much more integrated and less affected by anti-Jewish sentiments.
Twenty years after the publication of Julius Carlebach’s edited volume on Wissenschaft des Judentums: Anfänge der Judaistik in Europa (1992), the purpose of the colloquium was to revisit the history of Jewish Studies in Europe before the Holocaust in a comprehensive systematic manner as well as to devote attention to new thematic and methodological approaches regarding the comparative and transnational dimension of Wissenschaft des Judentums, particularly in less-known centers of Jewish Studies such as Italy, Hungary, Austria and Eastern Europe. The programme included three keynote lectures and eighteen presentations. It provided a detailed discussion of the transnational Jewish scholarly networks in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and the specific circumstances such as the political context, the degree of cultural integration, the challenges by anti-Jewish sentiments and organizations, the religious identity of Jews, their patterns of communal and political activity as well as the various thematic perspectives of Jewish Studies in different European countries.
After a warm welcome by the EAJS administrator GARTH GILMOUR (Oxford), CHRISTIAN WIESE (Frankfurt am Main) reflected upon the purpose of the colloquium, emphasizing that, since Carlebach’s volume, much had changed in research on Wissenschaft des Judentums. In recent years, Wiese pointed out, a new generation of scholars has entered the field of Jewish Studies, developing new perspectives and methodological approaches from different disciplines, including cultural studies; furthermore, the opening of the archives in Eastern Europe provided rich material for a re-assessment of previous research results.
The first panel on the “Beginnings of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Italy” started with CRISTIANA FACCHINI (Bologna), who analyzed the conditions under which Wissenschaft des Judentums developed in a Catholic surrounding and the impact of different religious and ideological systems on the Italian-Jewish communities. Exploring the life and works of main figures of the Italian Wissenschaft such as Samuel D. Luzzatto, Elija Benamozegh and David Castelli, the paper pointed to the specific character of Jewish Studies in the Italian context. ASHER SALAH (Jerusalem) dedicated his talk to another outstanding Italian scholar, Marco Mortara. As a prolific and meticulous correspondent, Mortara established contact with most of the key figures in German speaking Wissenschaft des Judentums, including Moritz Steinschneider and David Kaufmann. Thus Salah emphasized the crucial role of the written correspondence of Jewish scholars for future research. CHIARA ADORISIO (Rome) then went on to portray the relationship between the Parisian librarian Salomon Munk and the Italian Jewish scholar Samuel D. Luzzatto, thus presenting another illuminating scholarly correspondence. Containing the philosophical dialogue between both correspondents, their letters written between 1850 and 1864 highlight the strong influence exerted by German Wissenschaft des Judentums on its Italian counterpart. The three presentations of this panel demonstrated quite clearly that – despite the influential rabbinical seminary in Padua – Wissenschaft des Judentums in Italy rested mainly on the activities of individual scholars and their (correspondence) networks.
In his keynote lecture delivered at the end of the first day of the colloquium, ANDREAS GOTZMANN (Erfurt) discussed the challenging impact the new paradigms of history and historiography developed by Jewish scholars had on the identity of Jewish communities in nineteenth-century Europe. He identified two main pathways that emerged in the face of the prevailing historical system of interpretation: Whilst one group of more progressive Jews followed the academic standards in defining a society, people or religious and cultural tradition via historical thinking rather than in terms of categories of revelation, an alternative was to stand aside and continue transmitting Jewish knowledge in a traditional manner. Eventually, history and scholarship (in the German sense of Wissenschaft) became the driving forces of Jewish modernization in the era of emancipation and acculturation. Subsequently, the acceptance or denial of the scientific ideal was also a reason for the – partly schismatic – division of Judaism into a Reform, an Orthodox and a Conservative current.
The second day started with a session on “Wissenschaft des Judentums in Eastern Europe”. In his keynote address, FRANÇOIS GUESNET (London) discussed the epistemological shift occurring in modern Jewish scholarship and the new definition of the Jewish scholar that emerged during this period. Guesnet emphasized that, for the sake of a better understanding of the impact of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Eastern Europe, future research should take a closer look at individual scholars such as Salomon Buber and Leopold Löw, at institutions such as the rabbinical seminaries in Russia and Hungary as well as at Jewish historiography in Poland, Lithuania or Moravia. In the following, MICHAL GALAS (Kraków) characterized the activities of influential scholars such as Markus M. Jastrow, Samuel A. Poznanski, Izaak Cylkow and Moses Schorr (who were associated with the Great Synagogue in Warsaw) and highlighted the link that existed between synagogue/religion and Wissenschaft des Judentums in the Polish context. KERSTIN ARMBORST-WEIHS (Mainz) analyzed the development of Jewish scholarship in the Russian Empire at the turn of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even though Simon Dubnow had called for the establishment of an historical institute already in 1891, it took more than a decade until the Jewish Society for History and Ethnography (JSHE) was eventually founded in 1905 and started to operate in 1908. The JSHE succeeded in publishing a Russian quarterly, organized public lectures and brought together a large collection of artifacts reflecting Jewish life of Jews and Judaism, which was dispersed throughout the Soviet Union after the forced dissolution of the JSHE in 1929.
In the third panel devoted to the “Wissenschaft des Judentums in the Habsburg Empire”, BJOERN SIEGEL (Hamburg) discussed the role of the Viennese rabbi Adolf Jellinek in the Austro-Hungarian capital. Jellinek took various approaches to introduce the ideas of Wissenschaft des Judentums to the local Jewish community, for instance by establishing a Bet ha-Midrash. One of the outcomes was an intensification of the ongoing debates regarding the necessities of modern Jewish education and the ethos of modern Jewish scholarship. MIRJAM THULIN (Frankfurt am Main) examined the establishment of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Hungary by looking at the long lasting controversies over the rabbinical seminary in Budapest. As Thulin pointed out, it took almost seventy years until the so-called Landes-Rabbinerschule, the Budapest rabbinical seminary, was opened in 1877 and the institution developed into one of the main centers of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Central and Eastern Europe. As FERENC L. LACZÓ (Jena) showed, new literary and historical societies continued and supported modern Jewish scholarship in Hungary in the course of the twentieth century. Focusing on the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society (IMIT Évkönyvek), a major institution of Jewish scholarship in the Horthy era, Laczó emphasized that, apart from containing information about a Bible translation project, the articles of the IMIT yearbooks allow a profound insight into contemporary discussions on the nature of Jewish(-Hungarian) identity.
The fourth panel on “Visions and Values in Wissenschaft des Judentums” centered around the emphasis Jewish scholarship in early and mid-nineteenth-century Germany put on the tension between Jewish tradition, contemporary historical experience and the concepts and values embraced by the modernizing trends of Jewish scholarship. As a start, CÉLINE TRAUTMANN-WALLER (Paris) introduced the autobiography of the founder of the Wissenschaft des Judentums – Leopold Zunz. The “Buch Zunz,” a scrap book the famous scholar began to write only in the 1850s, combined personal memories with interesting data of contemporary and historical events. This idiosyncratic document demonstrates Zunz’s passion for numbers and his interpretation of the link between personal experience, Jewish history, and historical events in the surrounding world. GEORGE Y. KOHLER (Beer Sheva) then discussed the reception of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism by the representatives of Wissenschaft des Judentums. In contrast to Gershom Scholem’s famous statement according to which Kabbalah and mysticism had been neglected or even eclipsed by contemporary Jewish scholarship, Kohler was able to show that scholars such as Leopold Löw and Abraham Geiger were far from underestimating the significance of Kabbalah for the understanding of historical and contemporary Judaism. Already in 1835 Geiger pointed out that Kabbalah was “the true jewel of our science” and called for a systematic research on this element of Jewish tradition.
A further element that is essential for the understanding of the history of modern Jewish scholarship is the currently much-discussed relationship between Wissenschaft des Judentums and Oriental Studies. In his paper presented during the fifth panel on “The Intersection of Wissenschaft des Judentums and Islamic Studies,” DIRK HARTWIG (Berlin) analysed the development of Oriental Studies in Germany up to 1900 and the contribution of Jewish scholars to the creation and growth of academic Islamic Studies in Europe. OTTFRIED FRAISSE (Frankfurt am Main) focused on the prominent Hungarian scholar Ignác Goldziher and his motivation to research Islamic theology by carefully examining the latter’s lecture on the “Essence and Evolution of Judaism” delivered in 1887. Fraisse showed that, by adapting Darwin’s theory regarding evolution and by following Maimonides’ reasons of law, Goldziher had developed a distinctive model of scientific evolution of tradition that both combined and represented his (Jewish) religious and academic motivation for scholarly research.
The sixth panel of the colloquium addressed the “Wissenschaft des Judentums in the Early Twentieth century” and drew the attention to the various developments within Jewish scholarship around one hundred years after the emergence of the Verein für die Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden in 1819. In her presentation, KERSTIN VON DER KRONE (Berlin) gave an account of the new institutions, projects and methodological approaches characterizing Wissenschaft des Judentums after World War I. At that time, a new programmatic debate about the nature of Jewish scholarship unfolded in Germany, inspired by scholars such as Ismar Elbogen, among others, who for the first time called for a critical reflection on the history of modern Jewish scholarship. NICOLAS BERG (Leipzig/London) focused on a crucial external element that became increasingly relevant for the discipline around 1900, namely the challenging variant of anti-Semitism that tended to argue in academic – historical, theological, social and economic – terms. By examining the reception of Werner Sombart’s “Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben” (published in 1911), Berg illustrated the complex reception of this classic of anti-Semitic literature among Jewish as well as non-Jewish intellectuals and showed how Sombarts book made use the contents of the writings and ideas of Wissenschaft des Judentums, transforming it into an anti-Semitic argument.
In the seventh panel, the colloquium looked at the “Material Cultures of Wissenschaft des Judentums”. EVA MARIA JANSSON (Copenhagen) introduced the David Simonsen Archives in Copenhagen, which is today part of the local Royal Library and one of the biggest collections of an individual scholar of Wissenschaft des Judentums. As Jansson pointed out, Simonson was in contact with at least 50 percent of the European Wissenschaft scholars. The archive preserves nearly 29.000 letters and is currently being digitalized (http://www.kb.dk/en/nb/samling/js/dsa/index.html). ZSUZSANNA TORONYI (Budapest) presented the complex history of the Hungarian-Jewish Archives in Budapest, sited in the building of the Dohanyi Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. Toronyi explored the evolution of the Judaica and archival collections in the museum within the context of the development of Jewish ethnography and art. By introducing the Aron Freimann and the Judaica Collection named after the former librarian of the city library in Frankfurt am Main, RACHEL HEUBERGER (Frankfurt am Main) drew the attention to another essential archive and book collection, today located in the main library of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. The digitalization projects of the Hebraica and Judaica Division of the University library such as “Compact Memory” and “Judaica Europeana” have become most useful tools for research in many disciplines of Jewish Studies (http://www.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/ssg/judaica.html). The databases provide users with an easy access not only to the journals linked to the Wissenschaft des Judentums but also to an abundance of further collections located in Frankfurt.
The last day of the colloquium opened with the eighth and last colloquium panel on “Wissenschaft des Judentums and Identity”. In his keynote lecture, CHRISTIAN WIESE (Frankfurt am Main) explored the mutual perceptions and debates characterizing the encounter between Wissenschaft des Judentums and the emerging Jewish nationalist (and later Zionist) movement in Europe from the end of the nineteenth century to the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Beyond the well-known Jewish national and Zionist statements, according to which Wissenschaft des Judentums was the gravedigger of Judaism and an obstacle for its national and spiritual survival, Wiese described the increasing ambivalence inherent in the relationship between Jewish nationalism/Zionism and Wissenschaft des Judentums; this relationship allowed anything from polemical dissociation and cautious rapprochement to enthusiastic identification. The question regarding Jewish identity was also the main topic of the presentation of TALLY GUR (Haifa), who spoke about Jewish Studies in Germany between 1967 and 1989. Gur emphasized the complex and difficult relationship between the tradition of Wissenschaft des Judentums and the emergence of Jewish Studies in Germany in post-war Germany, addressing the phenomenon that Jewish Studies during the analyzed period has been mainly taught and represented by non-Jewish scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds.
In his concluding remarks, CHRISTIAN WIESE summarized topics that had been debated during the colloquium as well as perspectives that should be considered in future research. One of the desiderata he identified is a Gesamtgeschichte of Wissenschaft des Judentums in Europe that may well be only possible as a long-term collaborative undertaking of specialist in different areas of Jewish intellectual history, based on further in-depth research on different traditions, institutions and representatives of Jewish Studies in differing European cultural contexts, including their interdependenca and interaction. Under-researched areas such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland or the UK still need detailed individual and comparative studies. The following discussion centered around the transnational element inherent in networks of Jewish scholarship, the need to further explore and ensure the accessibility of archival collections of correspondence as well as the future task, on the one hand, to come to a more precise analysis of the way Wissenschaft des Judentums was embedded in differing European cultures that prompted varying religious and historical interpretations, and, on the other hand, to better assess the overarching themes dominating modern Jewish scholarly discourse during the last two centuries. The publication that is planned as an outcome of the colloquium promises to be at least one step towards this ambitious research agenda.
Christian Wiese (Frankfurt am Main)
Mirjam Thulin (Frankfurt am Main)