Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out of the Ghetto by Jacob Katz

The renowned historian of Hebrew University, Jacob Katz wrote a volume concerning the emancipation of the Jewish people during the narrow period of the Enlightenment.  He came to some interesting conclusions after discussing those who championed Jewish rights to full citizenship.  In discussing Moses Mendelssohn and his disciples, Katz explained the subtle nuances and slow inevitable changes that occurred to the Jewish community.

The demand for integration into the Non Jewish world that was advocated by Jewish and non Jewish activists like Mendelssohn and Von Dohm never really fructified.  Only a minimal amount of wealthy Jews were ever integrated.  Although the Christian expectation of conversion also began, it never gained great prominence because the Jewish people retained a certain integrity: not necessarily out of loyalty to Judaism but rather out of refraining from committing a sham conversion.

The thought that giving the Jewish people full citizenship and freedom to choose domicile and so called honorable professions would encourage the Jewish people to leave their lowly status, however, they remained peddlers, traders and money lenders.  The Jewish people continued to seek entrepreneurial opportunities.

The old Jewish world crumbled.  Freedom affected the Orthodox world and it had to contend with Reform.  Judaism was no longer the insulated and isolated community unaffected by the outside. It was no longer directed only by rabbinic leadership.  The old rabbinic ban was not as effective since freedom from Emancipation facilitated splinter groups and break-a-ways.  The Orthodox world had to adjust and rely on measures of persuasion to retain followers.

A new type of Jew emerged devoid of traditional practice hoping to join the outside world. Assimilated to his surroundings, yet, he never integrated. The irony of Emancipation was that although the Jewish community changed its make up, it nevertheless remained separate from the gentile society.  Jews sought out Jews.  Christian Europe never really accepted the Jewish people into its bosom.  As a matter of fact, Jew hatred showed up not too much later.  The era of Emancipation was a short window of hope that did not live up to the grand expectations of its advocates.

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