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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Jewish History

Jews in Europe in the Modern Age: A Socio-Historical Overview by Viktor Karady (Central European University Press) Discusses the socio-historical problem areas related to the presence of Jews in major European societies from the 18th century to our days; differently from most other studies, covers the post-Shoah situation also. The approach is multi-disciplinary, mobilizing resources gained from sociology, demography and political science, based on substantial statistical information.

Presents and compares the different patterns of Jewish policies of the emerging nation states and established empires. Discusses education and socio-professional stratification of Jews. Deals with the challenges of emancipation and assimilation, the emergence of Jewish nationalism in various forms, Zionism above all, as well as antisemitic ideologies. The book ends with a scrutiny of post-Shoah situation opposing in this regard Western Europe to the Sovietised East, discussing finally strategies of dissimulation or reconstruction of Jewish identity.

This book attempts to outline some of the long term processes and structural transformations considered as essential for the interpretation of major changes seen in the European Jewish populations during, approximately, the last two centuries. The focus is laid here on Ash­kenazi Jewry, though occasional references are also made to the des­tinies of Sephardi groups in the Balkans and other Mediterranean countries. Topically, my investigations are marked in chronological order by the beginnings of the decisive diversification of Jewish identity options following the `Berlin Haskalah' (Jewish Enlightenment), the various reactions to the challenges of civil emancipation and chances of integration in emerging nation-states or multi-national empires since the French Revolution, the crises of assimilationism due to the age of political anti-Semitism in the outgoing 19th century, the rise of Nazism and the Shoah, new conditions of social accommodation of survivors since 1945.

The organization of the study, though historical by nature, ignores the criteria of a strictly chronological narrative and responds rather to the needs of an analytical discussion of developments, occurrences and events affecting sizable Jewish clusters and modifying their col­lective attitudes, their relations with given Gentile environments, par­ticularly their chances of professional self-assertion, mobility and creativity.

Thus the first chapter presents the demographic specificities of modern Jewry (notably its very early engagement in the `demographic transition'), as well as striking aspects of the professional and eco­nomic restratification of a proto-bourgeois cluster into a largely mid-

dle class social formation. This gave rise, since the late 19th century, to the spectacularly high share of Jews in entrepreneurial and modern­izing economic, professional as well as intellectual elites in Berlin, Paris, Vienna or Budapest, but also to the `abnormal' social structure of contemporary Jewry (close to the reverse of gentile societies)—much deplored by `enlightened' Jewish reformists and Zionists alike.

The second chapter is entirely dedicated to the three signal models of modern `Jewish policies' in Europe leading ultimately to legal emancipation. This was carried out by and large unconditionally in the West, inspired by the recognition of civil equality as a basic human right following social philosophies of the Enlightenment. Emancipation was much more controversial, conflictual and protracted in Cen­tral Europe where the post feudal powers that be in Germany and the Habsburg Empire tended to link it to certified assimilationist achieve­ments of those concerned. In Eastern Europe full civil emancipation was denied to Jews till the end of the first World War (1919 in Romania, the February 1917 Revolution in Russia).

The third chapter deals with the complex issues connected to the new collective identity options opening up following agendas of social integration and cultural assimilation inaugurated by Moses Men­delssohn's Haskalah movement in Berlin and the first emancipation decrees of the revolutionary National Assembly in France. The crises of assimilationism staged by the emergence of political anti-Semitism in the late 1870s and the 1880s provoked the partial reorientation of modern Jewish identity strategies towards universalistic salvation ideologies (like socialism) on the one hand, Jewish nationalism (Zionism, autonomism, Bund) on the other hand.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to the development and historical transmutations of anti-Judaism, cumulating by the outgoing 19th cen­tury in fateful formulations of the infamous modern `Aryan myth' and racist political anti-Semitism. Based on social Darwinist references this served as the direct harbinger of the Brown Plague under the Third Reich. The devastating consequences of the genocide in various countries under Nazi rule or influence, though an utterly external factor in Jewish social history and thus not a central concern of this book, are summarily evoked here.

The last chapter sums up the new social conditions of Jewish exis­tence in post-Shoah Europe, including the ambiguities of liberation in the sovietized part of the continent, the difficult return and reception of survivors in their home countries, the impact of the State of Israel on the exodus of eastern Jewry. The importance of the reference to Israel, the genocide ('people of the Shoah'), further secularization as well as religious revivalism in the reconstruction of new Jewish iden­tities is discussed in special sub-chapters. The implications and reasons of the attraction exerted by the Communist mirage, the opposition of Soviet type and Western anti-Semitism as well as renovated patterns and new chances of social integration in European societies offer the main topical perspectives for a conclusion that warns against too far fetched optimism as to the secure future of Jews in contemporary Europe.


Early Judaism and its Modern Interpreters edited by Robert A Kraft, George W.E. Nickelsburg (The Bible and its modern interpreters: Scholars Press) This volume documents the major developments in the study of "early Judaism" (ca. 330 B.C.E. to ca. 138 C.E.) from about the mid-1940s. Because this field of investigation is not as clearly defined or as well established as the areas covered in the other volumes of this trilogy (Hebrew Bible and New Testament), we have included a lengthy introduction that discusses the field itself and current interest in it, new tools and approaches, major topics and problems, and the types of study we feel are needed in the future. The introductory essay was drafted primarily by George Nickelsburg and edited into its current form by Robert Kraft.

The bulk of the volume is organized into three major sections. The first deals with "synthetic approaches" to the political, social, and religious history of the period. The original plan was to include in this opening section a major essay on problems of definition, with a focus on Judaism as religion, but that was abandoned and comments on these issues are now included in the introduction. Part 2 focuses on the recent discoveries that have stimulated and enriched the renewed study of early Judaism, from the Dead Sea documents and other written materials to archaeological and numismatic data of relevance. As the introduction points out, the sheer bulk of new materials renders many aspects of the older synthetic treat­ments obsolete and justifies the need for careful descriptive analysis at various levels before comprehensive new syntheses are attempted. Part 3 surveys work on the literature of early Judaism organized according to different types (form and/or content) of material. The concern here is pri­marily with the Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus, although some attention is also given to literary aspects of the Qumran scrolls (which are treated as such in chapter 5). The final chapter of the third part differs somewhat from the earlier ones in that it addresses the question of how the Jewish rabbinic materials, which mostly postdate the chronological limits that we have set for early Judaism, have been used or can be used responsibly in the study of early Judaism. The chapter that had been planned to begin this part, on the languages used by Jews in the Greco-Roman world, had to be omitted (see the general comments in the introduction).

Special Contents

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