Agents of Cultural Change: Jewish and other Responses to Modernity, ca. 1750–1900


International Conference at the German Historical Institute, Washington DC, October 8–10, 2018

Conveners: Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute, Washington DC), Zohar Shavit (Tel Aviv University), Kerstin von der Krone (German Historical Institute, Washington DC)

Deadline: November 15, 2017

Everyday language posits a dichotomy between the traditional and the new, but as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger taught us, ostensible traditions can be modern responses to new challenges. We have to be careful about easy dichotomies that assume the apparently old is really that. Educational, religious, and other cultural practices that appear to merely manifest the old can very well represent innovative adaptations of the traditional in response to new social, cultural, political, and economic challenges. This is the premise of the German–Israeli research project “Innovation through Tradition? Jewish Educational Media and Cultural Transformation in the Face of Modernity.”

Adopting the perspective of this DFG-funded project, our conference starts from the assumption that the history of Ashkenazi Jewry in German-speaking Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries can offer not only new insights into Jewish history but also an exciting point of departure for more general questions about the resilience and coping strategies that groups develop when confronted with deep-reaching, sometimes existence-threatening social change in an increasingly complex world. The conference asks how members of a distinctive socio-cultural system—characterized by a particular set of linguistic practices, cultural meanings, religious practices, and knowledge orders—transformed that system. Further, it seeks to understand how members of this system communicated and translated major changes, how they made them socially relevant and acceptable.

Exploring these questions on the basis of a variety of sources and perspectives, we are particularly interested in processes of cultural translation and knowledge production. Although Jewish history is the point of departure in our research, this conference aims at a broader perspective and will focus on entanglements and comparisons of Jewish and other responses to modernity. Thus, we encourage proposals for papers that address the full sweep of the modern religio-cultural landscape—especially in the German-speaking territories—and that offer conference participants a chance to relate Jewish historical experiences to broader aspects of cultural transfer and translation. We are particularly interested in contributions that discuss the interdependencies of education and religion and their impact on prevalent systems of knowledge and practices of knowledge production.
Continue reading

“Civilizing the other and civilizing the self” – Simone Lässig at Yale‘s Jewish History Colloquium

Simone Lässig presented her recent research on nineteenth-century German-Jewish history at Yale‘s Jewish History Colloquium on May 2nd, 2017.

Her talk “Civilizing the other and civilizing the self: Religion, social knowledge, and cultural practices in Jewish sermons of the early 19th century” looked at the work of preachers and rabbis such as Eduard Kley, Gotthold Salomon and Salomon Pleaser and highlighted the importance of sermons and religious speeches as a means of guiding and educating in times of fundamental social and cultural change.

Hamburg: Eduard Kley, Gotthold Salomon, Naftali Frankfurter.
B. A. Bendixen, crayon lithograph. Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

Two new articles by Tal Kogman

Tal Kogman published recently two articles on the role of science and scientific knowledge in eighteenth and nineteenth century Hebrew print culture. Both articles express her continued interest in Jewish scientific education and Jewish scientific culture, as also manifested in her book The ‘Maskilim’ in the Sciences: Jewish Scientific Education in the German-Speaking Sphere in Modern Times (המשכילים במדעים: חינוך יהודי למדעים במרחב דובר הגרמנית בעת החדשה) published by Magnes Press in 2013. These two articles also relate to her current research on traditional and modern values in textbooks and other educational media for Hebrew instruction.

Both articles address the novel character of Hebrew scientific literature and the significant contributions of the Haskalah movement to Jewish attitudes towards science by re-drawing the line between ‘Jewish’ and ‘foreign’ knowledge.

Tal Kogman’s contribution to Jewish Culture and History elaborates on Hebrew science literature between the last third of the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. Hebrew print culture saw significant changes in this time. The last third of the eighteenth century saw an increase in publications, in part due to efforts of the Haskalah to revive Hebrew as the cultural language of the Jews which found its expression in the establishment of a “Library of the Haskalah“.

In her contribution to the Leo Baeck Institute’s 2017 Yearbook, Tal Kogman discusses rabbinic attitudes toward Hebrew scientific literature based on a thorough examination of Haskamot, or rabbinic approbations. The approach situated Maskilic scientific publication in the broader history of Hebrew print culture and its mechanisms. Haskamot gave legitimacy to Jewish books by means of rabbinic authorities. Approaching Hebrew printing and Maskilic scientific literature through Haskamot offer a unique perspective on the attitude of eighteenth and nineteenth century rabbinic authorities toward science and on the interaction between Rabbis and Maskilic authors.

Tal Kogman, The Emergence of Scientific Literature in Hebrew for Children and Youth in the Nineteenth Century: Preliminary Directions for Research. In: Jewish Culture and History 17 (3) (2016), 249-263.

Tal Kogman, Science and the Rabbis: Haskamot, Haskalah, and the Boundaries of Jewish Knowledge in Scientific Hebrew Literature and Textbooks. In: Leo Baeck Institute Year Book (2017), 1-15.