Secularism & Its Discontents

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Secularism & Its Discontents

Rethinking an organizing principle of modern Jewish life
An Online Exhibition from the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced
Judaic Studies 2009-2010 Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Libraries
 Shtraymels under the railroad bridge in Antwerp; Photograph by Dan Zollman, March 2006

Photograph by and courtesy of Dan Zollman, March 2006 [Antwerp, Belgium]: "Twee Fietsen onder een Brug (Two Bicycles under a Bridge)"

Introduction

Has religion disappeared or been banished from the public sphere, as some adepts of classic secularization theory once thought it might? Both anecdotal and empirical evidence point quite decisively to the opposite conclusion. Indeed, religion appears to be more resurgent and present in the public square today than at any time in the modern age. And yet, to deny that religion has not been transformed by its encounter with the modern public sphere, state, and economic order would be foolhardy.

The Fellows of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies during the 2009-10 year devoted themselves to studying the complex interplay and often permeable boundary between the religious and the secular in modern Jewish history. Projects ranged from excavating the hidden theological-political motifs of self-consciously secular texts to the attempted imposition of a secular agenda by the modern centralized state on the ironically modern (and arguably secular) phenomenon of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. The combined effect of the Fellows' diverse and probing research projects was to introduce a new degree of theoretical and comparative sophistication to the idea (and practice) of the secular in the Jewish experience.

David N. Myers

Joseph Ergas: Sefer Shomer Emunim, Amsterdam, 1737

In the first half of the 18th century, the Tuscan port city of Livorno was a center of Jewish urban and intellectual life in the Mediterranean and had the largest Sefardi community in Europe, with Amsterdam second. Joseph Ergas (1685-1730), a descendant of a converso family, was an erudite, well known rabbi and kabbalist in Livorno. That's where he wrote his last book, the Sefer Shomer Emunim, a comprehensive description of Lurianic Kabbalah in a popular dialogical form. The book was edited by his sons and printed posthumously in 1737 in Amsterdam. The haskamah is signed by a number of other Livorno rabbis. Ergas' book is important for understanding the place of the doctrine of tsimtsum in European intellectual history, because Ergas submits one of the most refined arguments for a purely metaphorical understanding of the tsimtsum (the contraction of G''d before the creation of the world), as opposed to the literal reading of it by the disciples of Chajim Vital and by the sabbatianists.

Of special interest is the engraved baroque title page of the Sefer Shomer Emunim (i.e."Guardian of the Faithful") which above the title of the book in the center shows Moses, rabbenu hakadosh, with the tablets of the Law, indicating pious Torah observance, but surrounded by two baroque putti, rather characteristic for catholic art. The engraving in the center under the title of the book depicts a male scholar teaching a group of men of mixed ages in a public square, showing a baroque church and palace in the background. Although the book was printed in Amsterdam, this allegory hints to Livorno or Italy (there were no such churches and palaces in Amsterdam), with Jews claiming and having their place in the public sphere in the early 18th century. Furthermore, this allegory can be interpreted as Kabbalah going exoteric, by public teaching and by print in a deliciously equipped book.

The Bible, Women and Secularism: Perspectives from London and Philadelphia

What would it mean for Jews to read the Bible in the political and cultural contexts of secularism? Among the first to raise this question were the maskilim and their conservative opponents in the 1780s. The controversy over Mendelssohn's edition of the Pentateuch unfolded against the background of Protestant and Orientalist attempts to define the Bible as an "original" document that could be dissociated from the tangled exegetical web of "tradition" and studied as the core text of a religion that was compatible with reason and secularism.

More than half a century later, the question of how modern Jews should read the Bible was still relevant. It received a new twist, when Grace Aguilar, the first successful Anglo-Jewish woman writer, and Isaac Leeser, renowned rabbi, editor and Bible translator in Philadelphia, addressed it on the pages of Aguilar's The Spirit of Judaism (1842). Aguilar insisted on making the Bible universally accessible: it should be dissociated from the "obscurities" of tradition and disseminated among the entire "Hebrew nation," including, emphatically, women and the poor. Leeser responded to this project with considerable anxiety. He supported Aguilar's inclusive definition of the Hebrew nation, but identified the Christian subtexts of a universalist approach that was predicated on the rejection of "the trammels of tradition": "How else are we to read Scripture, unless it be in accordance with the views of our predecessors? What else forms the distinction between us and Christians?" (100). Perhaps one of Aguilar's answers to these questions can be found in her use of Hebrew letters whenever she discusses the Shma’ Yisra’el: in Jewish contexts, the religious, national and universal meanings of the Bible and its language converge, rendering the text unique and clearly distinct from Christian, secular and cultural Bibles.

Civil Code and Halakha: The Question of Mixed Marriages between Christians and Jews

This book is an extraordinary and unique document that reveals the ways Prussia tried to prevent Christian-Jewish marriages on the basis of its Civil Code. In 1846 a Jewish doctor from Königsberg, Ferdinand Falkson, and his Protestant bride, Friederike Möller, were wedded in Hull, England, after they had unsuccessfully attempted to marry in Königsberg without one partner's converting. Back in Königsberg the couple was sued by a court, which finally declared their marriage as "nichtig" [invalid] and sentenced the couple to pay for the costs of the process. Falkson himself published in 1845 and 1847 a collection of papers of importance to their case under the title Gemischte Ehen zwischen Juden und Christen. Dokumente [Mixed Marriages between Jews and Christians. Documents].

The legal aspects of the question whether Christian-Jewish marriage was at all possible were determined by the Allgemeines Landrecht fC [General Laws for the Prussian StatesALR] from 1794. The ALR states that a "Christian cannot enter into marriage with such persons who, according to the tenets of their religion, are hindered from subjecting themselves to the Christian laws of marriage" (ALR, II.1, section one, §36).

Falkson's small book shows the different and contradictory arguments about the commensurability of Christian and Jewish marriage laws, ceremonies and contents. While the state attorney did not hesitate to quote antisemitic sources, such as Eisenmenger's Entdecktes Judentum [Judaism Unmasked], to prove the incommensurability, the Jewish authorities were divided. In his radical reform position Rabbi Samuel Holdheim saw no obstacle against Christian-Jewish marriages.

The conservative Rabbi Jacob Oettinger, on the other hand, declared Christian-Jewish marriages as invalid according to the Bible. At the same time, he tried to prove that marriage according to Judaism fulfils the same bourgeois moral values as according to Christianity. The pages scanned for the exhibition show a part of the expert report that Oettinger was asked to submit to court.

Civil Code and Halakha: The Question of Mixed Marriages between Christians and Jews

This book is an extraordinary and unique document that reveals the ways Prussia tried to prevent Christian-Jewish marriages on the basis of its Civil Code. In 1846 a Jewish doctor from Königsberg, Ferdinand Falkson, and his Protestant bride, Friederike Möller, were wedded in Hull, England, after they had unsuccessfully attempted to marry in Königsberg without one partner's converting. Back in Königsberg the couple was sued by a court, which finally declared their marriage as "nichtig" [invalid] and sentenced the couple to pay for the costs of the process. Falkson himself published in 1845 and 1847 a collection of papers of importance to their case under the title Gemischte Ehen zwischen Juden und Christen. Dokumente [Mixed Marriages between Jews and Christians. Documents].

The legal aspects of the question whether Christian-Jewish marriage was at all possible were determined by the Allgemeines Landrecht fC [General Laws for the Prussian StatesALR] from 1794. The ALR states that a "Christian cannot enter into marriage with such persons who, according to the tenets of their religion, are hindered from subjecting themselves to the Christian laws of marriage" (ALR, II.1, section one, §36).

Falkson's small book shows the different and contradictory arguments about the commensurability of Christian and Jewish marriage laws, ceremonies and contents. While the state attorney did not hesitate to quote antisemitic sources, such as Eisenmenger's Entdecktes Judentum [Judaism Unmasked], to prove the incommensurability, the Jewish authorities were divided. In his radical reform position Rabbi Samuel Holdheim saw no obstacle against Christian-Jewish marriages.

The conservative Rabbi Jacob Oettinger, on the other hand, declared Christian-Jewish marriages as invalid according to the Bible. At the same time, he tried to prove that marriage according to Judaism fulfils the same bourgeois moral values as according to Christianity. The pages scanned for the exhibition show a part of the expert report that Oettinger was asked to submit to court.

Apologetics in an Age of Secular-Catholic Conflicts

Lion Wolff, Handel, Schacher und Wucher der Juden im Kalender für Zeit und Ewigkeit von Alban Stolz: ein Wort der Verwahrung und zur Abwehr (Karlsruhe: Macklot, 1874).

In many respects, Lion Wolff's small pamphlet can be read as a typical apologetic piece of the nineteenth century. Wolff was a Jewish teacher in a small village in a predominantly Catholic part of Baden (Germany), who reacted to an antisemitic treatise that was highly successful in his environment: Alban Stolz's Kalender für Zeit und Ewigkeit. In this calendar for the Catholic population, Stolz had attacked Jews as enemies of the simple farmer, as treacherous petty merchants, and usurers. Following the example of earlier apologetic pieces against antisemites, Wolff was not merely defensive but sought to write a sharp, witty, and popular rebuttal.

What did it mean to write poignant apologetics? It implied that one could draw on a generally intelligible language to discredit one's enemy, and no language was as effective during this period as anti-Catholicism. Starting with conflicts in the 1840s and peaking during the so-called Kulturkampf of the 1870s, anti-Catholicism had become an identifying marker of liberal patriotism in Germany. At the time that Wolff wrote his pamphlet, debates on the compatibility of particular religions with good citizenship had focused not on Jews but on Catholics, and Wolff was skillful at exploiting this fact.

Wolff, for example, countered the claim that Jews were taking advantage of the drinking habits of the peasantry with the following argument: The peasants' tendency to get inebriated with brandy was in truth the result of the Catholic clergy's pernicious activities. The priests preached the dogma of papal infallibility to women, who naturally accepted it. They then went home and demanded of their husbands that they follow them in this beliefsomething the men refused to do. Irritated by the domestic strife that ensued, these Catholic husbands spent their nights in the pub, drinking to forget.

As in other cases we should not read this anti-Catholicism purely as a strategy. It was rather an attempt to defend the Jews with stereotypes that the author might have well internalized. Nor did Wolff rely only on anti-Catholicism; much of the pamphlet is involved in a more traditional attempt to discredit the various accusations Stolz had made against the Jews. Wolff's successhis pamphlet was published in three editions within several monthswas nevertheless difficult to imagine without the references to particular popular themes of the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf. Handel, Schacher und Wucher is remarkable because it reminds us how much Jewish apologetics were shaped by the intensive conflicts between liberal secularists and Catholics.

The First Hebrew Translation of Spinoza's Ethics

B. d. Spinoza, Heker ’Elohah ‘im torat ha-’adam [An Investigation of God with the Science of Man], translated by S. Rubin (Vienna: G. Brag, 1885).

The Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza (1632-1677) has undergone something of a renaissance in the last decades. The current revival is as striking for the variety of fields and genres represented as for its essentially similar bottom line: the idea of the rationalist thinker, pioneering biblical critic, and legendary conflater of God and Nature, as an originator of philosophical modernity, or perhaps we should say modernities, given the diverse and often contradictory intellectual legacies from the seventeenth century onward laid at his doorstep. One such legacy, Jonathan Israel has famously argued, was the so-called "Radical Enlightenment," which was distinguished from the moderate mainstream within the larger Enlightenment movement by its revolutionary esprit, its refusal to accommodate itself to religion, tradition, and the past, and its open commitment to the modern and secular as such. "Spinoza and Spinozism," Israel argues, were the " intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere, not only in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Scandinavia but also Britain and Ireland."

And, we might add, in Jewish East Central Europe. Excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his "horrible heresies" and "monstrous deeds," Spinoza would remain a persona non grata in Judaism for nearly two centuries thereafter. Yet in the 1840s and 1850s, the Haskalahwhich had migrated from Berlin to Austrian Galicia and the Russian Empire earlier in the nineteenth centurybecame increasingly polarized between moderates committed to keeping the Jewish Enlightenment moored in rabbinic law and culture and militants intent on a no-holds-barred critique of tradition. These radical maskilimlike the European radical enlighteners of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriesturned to Spinoza and his ideas for inspiration and guidance. It was in this moment and milieu that the Amsterdam philosopher emerged, in the words of Y.H. Yerushalmi, as "the first great culture-hero of modern, secular Jews."

By far, the most zealous champion of Spinoza in the campaign to reclaim him for Hebrew literature and culture was Salomon Rubin (1823-1910), a Hebraist maskil from Galicia. In 1856, Rubin wrote Moreh nevukhim he-hadash, or The New Guide to the Perplexed, his first of what would be many works over the next fifty years of his life dedicated to Spinoza. This was a two-volume apologia for an audacious venturea proposal to translate Spinoza's two most notable works, the Ethics (1677) and the Theological-Political Treatise (1677), into Hebrew. Yet the justification for this scheme was in fact already inherent in Rubin's title, which framed Spinoza as the second coming of Maimonides.

Nearly thirty years later, in 1885, Rubin finally came out with his long awaited translation of the Ethics. (He never finished translating the Theological-Political Treatise, which would have to wait until 1961 for a complete Hebrew rendering.) The Hebrew name he gave his translation, however, was not the literal Hebrew equivalent for the Ethics of Sefer ha-middot (as Jacob Klatzkin would later title his 1924 translation) but rather Heker ’Elohah ‘im torat ha-’adam, or An Investigation of God with the Science of Man. The change was significant. Rubin's Spinoza was no atheist. His systemfor all its trailblazing character in philosophy and science and its rejection of religious orthodoxywas thoroughly "God-intoxicated." Its concept of divinity, moreover, had ample precedent within medieval Jewish philosophical and mystical literature; what Spinoza had done, in essence, was to transpose a hidden history of Jewish pantheism into the clear and distinct idiom of rationalism. All this led Rubin to conclude that "Spinozism was Jewish from beginning to end."

Rubin's translation of the Ethics is today reduced to a footnote of Jewish history and Hebrew literature. Though it played an important role in introducing many fin-de-siC(cle Hebrew rebels to Spinozaincluding David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) and Mikhah Yosef Berdichevsky (1865-1921)it has long since been surpassed by Klatzkin's version, which even with subsequent translations remains the standard-bearer. Yet Rubin's Investigation of Godstill has much to tell us about the resonance of Spinoza in Jewish formations of the secular. The Radical Enlightenment celebrated Spinoza as a nonbeliever, revolutionary, and cosmopolitan. The maskilim in the Jewish version of Radical Enlightenment also heralded the Amsterdam heretic as a symbol of modernity. Yet they appropriated him somewhat differently: as a pantheist and even panentheist rather than atheist, as a revealer of the secrets of the Jewish past rather than a proponent of total rupture from tradition, and as a "Jewish" rather than strictly universal thinker and hero.

The First Hebrew Translation of Spinoza's Ethics

B. d. Spinoza, Heker ’Elohah ‘im torat ha-’adam [An Investigation of God with the Science of Man], translated by S. Rubin (Vienna: G. Brag, 1885).

The Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza (1632-1677) has undergone something of a renaissance in the last decades. The current revival is as striking for the variety of fields and genres represented as for its essentially similar bottom line: the idea of the rationalist thinker, pioneering biblical critic, and legendary conflater of God and Nature, as an originator of philosophical modernity, or perhaps we should say modernities, given the diverse and often contradictory intellectual legacies from the seventeenth century onward laid at his doorstep. One such legacy, Jonathan Israel has famously argued, was the so-called "Radical Enlightenment," which was distinguished from the moderate mainstream within the larger Enlightenment movement by its revolutionary esprit, its refusal to accommodate itself to religion, tradition, and the past, and its open commitment to the modern and secular as such. "Spinoza and Spinozism," Israel argues, were the " intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere, not only in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Scandinavia but also Britain and Ireland."

And, we might add, in Jewish East Central Europe. Excommunicated by the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam in 1656 for his "horrible heresies" and "monstrous deeds," Spinoza would remain a persona non grata in Judaism for nearly two centuries thereafter. Yet in the 1840s and 1850s, the Haskalahwhich had migrated from Berlin to Austrian Galicia and the Russian Empire earlier in the nineteenth centurybecame increasingly polarized between moderates committed to keeping the Jewish Enlightenment moored in rabbinic law and culture and militants intent on a no-holds-barred critique of tradition. These radical maskilimlike the European radical enlighteners of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriesturned to Spinoza and his ideas for inspiration and guidance. It was in this moment and milieu that the Amsterdam philosopher emerged, in the words of Y.H. Yerushalmi, as "the first great culture-hero of modern, secular Jews."

By far, the most zealous champion of Spinoza in the campaign to reclaim him for Hebrew literature and culture was Salomon Rubin (1823-1910), a Hebraist maskil from Galicia. In 1856, Rubin wrote Moreh nevukhim he-hadash, or The New Guide to the Perplexed, his first of what would be many works over the next fifty years of his life dedicated to Spinoza. This was a two-volume apologia for an audacious venturea proposal to translate Spinoza's two most notable works, the Ethics (1677) and the Theological-Political Treatise (1677), into Hebrew. Yet the justification for this scheme was in fact already inherent in Rubin's title, which framed Spinoza as the second coming of Maimonides.

Nearly thirty years later, in 1885, Rubin finally came out with his long awaited translation of the Ethics. (He never finished translating the Theological-Political Treatise, which would have to wait until 1961 for a complete Hebrew rendering.) The Hebrew name he gave his translation, however, was not the literal Hebrew equivalent for the Ethics of Sefer ha-middot (as Jacob Klatzkin would later title his 1924 translation) but rather Heker ’Elohah ‘im torat ha-’adam, or An Investigation of God with the Science of Man. The change was significant. Rubin's Spinoza was no atheist. His systemfor all its trailblazing character in philosophy and science and its rejection of religious orthodoxywas thoroughly "God-intoxicated." Its concept of divinity, moreover, had ample precedent within medieval Jewish philosophical and mystical literature; what Spinoza had done, in essence, was to transpose a hidden history of Jewish pantheism into the clear and distinct idiom of rationalism. All this led Rubin to conclude that "Spinozism was Jewish from beginning to end."

Rubin's translation of the Ethics is today reduced to a footnote of Jewish history and Hebrew literature. Though it played an important role in introducing many fin-de-siC(cle Hebrew rebels to Spinozaincluding David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) and Mikhah Yosef Berdichevsky (1865-1921)it has long since been surpassed by Klatzkin's version, which even with subsequent translations remains the standard-bearer. Yet Rubin's Investigation of Godstill has much to tell us about the resonance of Spinoza in Jewish formations of the secular. The Radical Enlightenment celebrated Spinoza as a nonbeliever, revolutionary, and cosmopolitan. The maskilim in the Jewish version of Radical Enlightenment also heralded the Amsterdam heretic as a symbol of modernity. Yet they appropriated him somewhat differently: as a pantheist and even panentheist rather than atheist, as a revealer of the secrets of the Jewish past rather than a proponent of total rupture from tradition, and as a "Jewish" rather than strictly universal thinker and hero.

Milhemet mitsvah (Commanded War). Sighet, 1888

Displayed here is the title page of a book of rabbinic opinions, Milhemet mitsvah, published in Sighet, Hungary (later Romania) in 1888. The book emerges out of the intense and contentious religious environment of the Hungarian Unterland, a region of Northern Transylvania that served as the incubator for a new current of Orthodox Jewry that came to be known as haredi and was fiercely resistant to "modernizers" of any sort. The book's title, "Commanded War," reflects the pervasive sense of peril and need for battle of the "Kehal ha-Ortodoksen" (the "Orthodox Community" in Sighet), which was summoned to resist "those who would rise up to destroy and deny all the regulations"in this case, another group of observant Jews who established their own community several years earlier.

The top portion of the left page is an opinion issued by the late R. Yekutiel Yehudah Teitelbaum (1808-1883), known as the Yetev Lev, enjoining all Jews from eating meat slaughtered under the supervision of the less stringently observant Status Quo community. The Yetev Lev was the grandfather of R. Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), the founding rabbi of the Satmar Hasidic movement.

Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

Underwood and Underwood's Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope (New York and London, 1900) is one of the most ingenious series of Holy Land stereographic tour guides.

The three-dimensional effect of the stereoscope promised viewers an authentic tour of the holy sites in their very home. Instead of traveling to the Holy Land, they could now visit the Mount of Olives or the Holy Sepulchre with the stereoscope as their "personal" guide.

The ability of stereographs to represent biblical geography with a new sense of space and depth was construed as a new way of approaching scripture, far more compatible with modern sensibilities.

Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

Underwood and Underwood's Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope (New York and London, 1900) is one of the most ingenious series of Holy Land stereographic tour guides.

The three-dimensional effect of the stereoscope promised viewers an authentic tour of the holy sites in their very home. Instead of traveling to the Holy Land, they could now visit the Mount of Olives or the Holy Sepulchre with the stereoscope as their "personal" guide.

The ability of stereographs to represent biblical geography with a new sense of space and depth was construed as a new way of approaching scripture, far more compatible with modern sensibilities.

Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

Underwood and Underwood's Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope (New York and London, 1900) is one of the most ingenious series of Holy Land stereographic tour guides.

The three-dimensional effect of the stereoscope promised viewers an authentic tour of the holy sites in their very home. Instead of traveling to the Holy Land, they could now visit the Mount of Olives or the Holy Sepulchre with the stereoscope as their "personal" guide.

The ability of stereographs to represent biblical geography with a new sense of space and depth was construed as a new way of approaching scripture, far more compatible with modern sensibilities.

Jerusalem - Historical or Sacred?

The city of Jerusalem stubbornly defies conventional binaries and as an always-extreme case study highlights the problems and deficiencies inherent in standard modes of categorization. This is certainly so as regards 'secularism' and the division between 'religious' and 'secular.' A city of great religious significance to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jerusalem at the same time became the symbol for nationalisms that defined themselves as definitively secular. In the Late Ottoman periodcaptured here in a photograph of the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, ca. 1900 (from the Lenkin Family Collection at CAJSL)Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together and interacted with one another on a daily basis, though there was a sense, at least among intellectuals, that tensions were rising.

If these were purely 'secular' tensions of modern nationalisms, the language of the encounter maintained a distinctly religious tone. "I had experience with many dragomans during my sojourn in the East," writes Albert Payson Terhune in Syria from the Saddle (1897), and nearly all were "phonographic machines (frequently out of order) with truly civilized proficiency in the arts of laziness and petty theft." Two of the exceptions were the Christian men whose services were advertised on the wall of the Jaffa Gate plaza in this photograph: "Demitrius Domian of Jerusalem, andhead and shoulders above all othersDavid Jamal." What distinguished Jamal, according to Terhune, was his thorough knowledge of the Bible "in connection with the geography of his own country." Jamal "not only familiarized himself with every mile of ground, but learned every historical or sacred episode connected with it." 'Historical or sacred,' Jerusalem's complexities and contradictions persist.

Zionist Images & Ancient Revivals in the Secular National Hebrew Culture

This segment of a studio image of the clandestine group Hashomer [The Guard, (above left)] highlights the duality of secularizing orientations among European Zionist "olim" [new immigrants] in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century: The transformation of the traditional "exilic Jew" into a modern European followed the ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment, and is represented by Israel Schohat on the right; and the transformation of the European Jew into a native of the Middle East and the Land of Israel is represented by his friend, Menachem Portugali, on the left. Hashomer's hybrid clothes represented the desire to reconnect with the ancient Hebrew identity by borrowing clothes items from the neighboring Arabs and by imitating them.

Dance performances drawing on biblical images provided another creative venue for displaying the symbolic continuity between the ancient and the modern Hebrew identity (below left). Interpreting the Bible as the foundation of the national canon of Jewish texts, it inspired members of the Zionist Jewish society in Palestine to connect with their national past and to embrace ancient forms as part of the renewal of the Hebrew culture.

Zionist Images & Ancient Revivals in the Secular National Hebrew Culture

This segment of a studio image of the clandestine group Hashomer [The Guard, (above left)] highlights the duality of secularizing orientations among European Zionist "olim" [new immigrants] in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century: The transformation of the traditional "exilic Jew" into a modern European followed the ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment, and is represented by Israel Schohat on the right; and the transformation of the European Jew into a native of the Middle East and the Land of Israel is represented by his friend, Menachem Portugali, on the left. Hashomer's hybrid clothes represented the desire to reconnect with the ancient Hebrew identity by borrowing clothes items from the neighboring Arabs and by imitating them.

Dance performances drawing on biblical images provided another creative venue for displaying the symbolic continuity between the ancient and the modern Hebrew identity (below left). Interpreting the Bible as the foundation of the national canon of Jewish texts, it inspired members of the Zionist Jewish society in Palestine to connect with their national past and to embrace ancient forms as part of the renewal of the Hebrew culture.

The Jewish Public Sphere in Fin de Siècle Warsaw

The rapid growth of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century and a series of new government regulations produced an array of cultural and political activities for many of the city's 300,000 Jewish residents in the early twentieth-century. While many of these modernizing projects advocated secular platforms, many of them were also imbued with key aspects of traditional Jewish society, culture and religion.

One of the more prominent figures in the new Jewish cultural sphere was the journalist, folklorist, and political leader Noah Prylucki. In addition to publishing the immensely popular Warsaw Yiddish dailies Der veg and later Der moment, Prylucki was repeatedly drawn to "the people." As part of his interest in "the Jewish folk," Prylucki headed a folklore and ethnographic group in Warsaw. The group's activities led to the publication of the two-volume collection Yiddish Folk Songs, the first of which was dedicated to "Religious and Holiday Songs" (Figure #1, Prylucki's Yidishe folkslider, volume 1).

This tension between a secularizing agenda and the very folk that these projects were determined to rehabilitate was one of the central themes of the Yiddish play, Der inteligent (The Intellectual) which was written by Peretz Hirschbein and published in Warsaw in 1907. Like other members of the Jewish intelligentsia, Hirschbein enjoyed many aspects of the new Jewish culturelike Yiddish theaterand was simultaneously attracted to parts of traditional Jewish society. Hirschbein would later describe the central theme of Der inteligent as: "The inner tragedy of an intellectual who did not win the trust of the masses, and for whom the psychology of the simple worker was truly foreign" (Fig. #2, Der inteligent).

Yehezkel Kotik was another Jewish resident of Warsaw who found himself drawn to the modern city while yearning for more traditional communities. Kotik, who vividly recalled his experiences in his memoirs Mayne zikhroynes,ran a coffee house in the heart of Warsaw's Jewish neighborhood. Like the Jewish newspaper and the Yiddish theater, Kotik's coffee house provided a new, ostensibly secular space where Jewish urbanites could partake in new cultural activities while still maintaining many traditional modes of socialization, interaction and culture (Figure #3, cover page ofMayne zikhroynes).

Thus, while all three casesPrilutski's newspaper, Hirschbein's theater and Kotik's caféwere distinctly secular institutions that helped form the Jewish public sphere, all three projects were also deeply imbued with the spirit, culture and language of traditional Jewish society.

The Jewish Public Sphere in Fin de Siècle Warsaw

The rapid growth of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century and a series of new government regulations produced an array of cultural and political activities for many of the city's 300,000 Jewish residents in the early twentieth-century. While many of these modernizing projects advocated secular platforms, many of them were also imbued with key aspects of traditional Jewish society, culture and religion.

One of the more prominent figures in the new Jewish cultural sphere was the journalist, folklorist, and political leader Noah Prylucki. In addition to publishing the immensely popular Warsaw Yiddish dailies Der veg and later Der moment, Prylucki was repeatedly drawn to "the people." As part of his interest in "the Jewish folk," Prylucki headed a folklore and ethnographic group in Warsaw. The group's activities led to the publication of the two-volume collection Yiddish Folk Songs, the first of which was dedicated to "Religious and Holiday Songs" (Figure #1, Prylucki's Yidishe folkslider, volume 1).

This tension between a secularizing agenda and the very folk that these projects were determined to rehabilitate was one of the central themes of the Yiddish play, Der inteligent (The Intellectual) which was written by Peretz Hirschbein and published in Warsaw in 1907. Like other members of the Jewish intelligentsia, Hirschbein enjoyed many aspects of the new Jewish culturelike Yiddish theaterand was simultaneously attracted to parts of traditional Jewish society. Hirschbein would later describe the central theme of Der inteligent as: "The inner tragedy of an intellectual who did not win the trust of the masses, and for whom the psychology of the simple worker was truly foreign" (Fig. #2, Der inteligent).

Yehezkel Kotik was another Jewish resident of Warsaw who found himself drawn to the modern city while yearning for more traditional communities. Kotik, who vividly recalled his experiences in his memoirs Mayne zikhroynes,ran a coffee house in the heart of Warsaw's Jewish neighborhood. Like the Jewish newspaper and the Yiddish theater, Kotik's coffee house provided a new, ostensibly secular space where Jewish urbanites could partake in new cultural activities while still maintaining many traditional modes of socialization, interaction and culture (Figure #3, cover page ofMayne zikhroynes).

Thus, while all three casesPrilutski's newspaper, Hirschbein's theater and Kotik's caféwere distinctly secular institutions that helped form the Jewish public sphere, all three projects were also deeply imbued with the spirit, culture and language of traditional Jewish society.

The Jewish Public Sphere in Fin de Siècle Warsaw

The rapid growth of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century and a series of new government regulations produced an array of cultural and political activities for many of the city's 300,000 Jewish residents in the early twentieth-century. While many of these modernizing projects advocated secular platforms, many of them were also imbued with key aspects of traditional Jewish society, culture and religion.

One of the more prominent figures in the new Jewish cultural sphere was the journalist, folklorist, and political leader Noah Prylucki. In addition to publishing the immensely popular Warsaw Yiddish dailies Der veg and later Der moment, Prylucki was repeatedly drawn to "the people." As part of his interest in "the Jewish folk," Prylucki headed a folklore and ethnographic group in Warsaw. The group's activities led to the publication of the two-volume collection Yiddish Folk Songs, the first of which was dedicated to "Religious and Holiday Songs" (Figure #1, Prylucki's Yidishe folkslider, volume 1).

This tension between a secularizing agenda and the very folk that these projects were determined to rehabilitate was one of the central themes of the Yiddish play, Der inteligent (The Intellectual) which was written by Peretz Hirschbein and published in Warsaw in 1907. Like other members of the Jewish intelligentsia, Hirschbein enjoyed many aspects of the new Jewish culturelike Yiddish theaterand was simultaneously attracted to parts of traditional Jewish society. Hirschbein would later describe the central theme of Der inteligent as: "The inner tragedy of an intellectual who did not win the trust of the masses, and for whom the psychology of the simple worker was truly foreign" (Fig. #2, Der inteligent).

Yehezkel Kotik was another Jewish resident of Warsaw who found himself drawn to the modern city while yearning for more traditional communities. Kotik, who vividly recalled his experiences in his memoirs Mayne zikhroynes,ran a coffee house in the heart of Warsaw's Jewish neighborhood. Like the Jewish newspaper and the Yiddish theater, Kotik's coffee house provided a new, ostensibly secular space where Jewish urbanites could partake in new cultural activities while still maintaining many traditional modes of socialization, interaction and culture (Figure #3, cover page ofMayne zikhroynes).

Thus, while all three casesPrilutski's newspaper, Hirschbein's theater and Kotik's caféwere distinctly secular institutions that helped form the Jewish public sphere, all three projects were also deeply imbued with the spirit, culture and language of traditional Jewish society.

Gershom Scholem, The German Translation of Sefer Ha-Bahir (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1933)

The image shown here reproduces the title page of the 1933 edition of Gershom Scholem's translation of and commentary on Sefer Ha-Bahirthe oldest book of Jewish Kabbalah in Europe. Scholem's translation, which was submitted as part of his Ph.D. project to the University of Berlin, was first published in 1923. Scholem's translation was not only a milestone in his early career as a Kabbalah researcher, but also marked the beginning of a new field of research in Jewish Studies. However, the translation of Sefer Ha-Bahir into German carries additional implications: it marks the "return of the sacred" and the dialectic of secularism in German-Jewish modernism. Scholem's translation, besides its academic significance, hints also at the paradox of the German-Jewish "dialogue"namely, the acknowledgment of the ambivalent aspects of Jewish being and creation in German culture. Efforts by Jews to engage in this dialogue were significant and essentially productive and original, but also became associated with self-denial, anti-Semitic rejection and finally with political violence. Scholem himself later argued against these efforts. The date and the place of this later publication of Scholem's translation by Schocken VerlagBerlin/1933, the same year and place that Hitler came to powermark the impossibility, the uncanny prospect of the German-Jewish cultural project, the modernist creation of German Jews in the fields of philosophy, art, literature and politics, which carries the signature of progress and horror.

Emmanuel Levinas, Carnets de captivité, suivis de Ecrits sur la captivité, et Notes philosophiques diverses (Paris: Editions Grasset/IMEC, 2009)

This is the first in a series of three volumes intended to make available Levinas's unpublished writings. As its title indicates, the bulk of its contents are the notes Levinas kept while a prisoner in a German forced labor camp from 1940-1945. He was captured as a soldier in the French army and, since the Germans abided by the Geneva conventions with those countries that were signatories, he was not sent to a death camp. The Jewish soldiers were separated from the rest of the French prisoners but suffered more or less the same harsh treatment as they did. As he was often to put it, the French uniform saved his life.

It is clear from the content of this book that he had access to a library and to at least some paper and writing implements while incarcerated. Although he worked cutting wood from morning until night, he still had some moments of leisure. The notes we find here are often very short, a sentence, a paragraph, quotations copied whole from whatever he was reading. Very little of it is about the daily life in the camp. His thoughts seem either to grapple with long standing philosophical questions or with literary topoi. This is not to say they had nothing to do with the war experience but their connection to it is not made explicit in most cases.

The excellent scholarly introduction to this volume, by Rodolphe Colin and Catherine Chalier, provides guidance into the central themes. In many respects,though, Levinas's own jottings are useful primarily to people who are already familiar with his thought. It is surprising to notice both ideas and language that occur much later in his work. It is also surprising to see the extent of his literary interest, and, sometimes, in figures one would not think would draw his attention, like the Catholic writers Leon Bloy and Georges Benanos, whose work expressed a peculiar and highly suspect attitude toward Jews, which Levinas ignores in favor of some other aspect of their thought. It is also highly instructive to see how Levinas addresses Judaism in the period before he was introduced to Talmudic studies.

The sections following the war writings proper (as a matter of fact, the jottings date from before the war—1937—and conclude after the war—1950.) are more of a piece. The first is a series of short essays that he wrote in 1945-1946, describing the Jewish experience of captivity, meant for a Jewish audience, with the addition of a short reflection about the philosopher Bergson's death. The last section consists of philosophical musings of greater breadth, some of which are a rough draft for what will be his first philosophical publication after the war, De l'existence a l'existant (1947).

Since much of what appears in this volume had been originally handwritten on bad quality paper, and in pencil to boot, and preserved for an average of sixty-five years, the editors had to fill in some letters and hunt down many references. Their scholarly reconstruction is indicated both in footnotes marking the changes they introduce to the text and in endnotes in which the bibliographical and historical material they unearthed is made available.

Dialectics of modern Jewish Aesthetics: Secular Music and Sacred Sources

In an essay on Arnold Schoenberg, Theodor W. Adorno called the German Jewish composer 'Musikant,' thus alluding to traditions of Jewish music mainly known in Eastern Europe. The difference between 'Musikant' and 'Musiker' that echoes with Adorno's linguist decision, reveals a fascinating correspondence and a whole set of tensions—and transformations—between the sacred and the secular, the modern and the ancient, invention and tradition, innovation and repetition. This is demonstrated in a work by Marc Chagall, who shaped the image of the ancient musician, King David, according to the model of an Eastern European Musikant. Chagall's work serves as the cover of Anthology of Jewish Music: Sacred and Volk Songs of the East European Jews, edited by N. Vinaver (New York, E. B. Marks 1955) that includes Schoenberg's "Psalm 130 for Mixed Chorus," op. 50B. The cover image reproduced here comes from a copy in the collection of the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

Careful study of Arnold Schoenberg's opera Moses und Aron reveals how modernist techniques of the New Music translated, re-defined, and gave a radical interpretation to concepts and ideas from the realm of Jewish tradition such as prophecy, revelation, the Mosaic Law, and prayer. When we look at how religious figures are transformed into art, and particularly how the question of monotheism and the image prohibition (i.e., the law that prohibits the making of the image of God) is elaborated in innovative musical textures, it becomes evident that Jewish secularism is not merely a process of "overcoming religion," but rather a complex transformation of theological elements and traditions into new and ambiguous forms of aesthetic representation.

Also translated and employed in the realm of secular poetics is the configuration of the violin in modern Jewish and Hebrew literature. The secular adaptations of musical images are embedded in religious traditions and loaded with biblical connotations which generate contradictory categories: lamentation which resonates with a promise of redemption, destruction that reverberates with national revival, exile that echoes with the homeland. Transformed into modernist and contemporary works of literature, they play a role in the poetic rebirth of a Zionist body, the narration of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the shape of a memory poetics after the holocaust. We see, thus, how the violin becomes a medium of identification and negation, imagination and documentation within which old and new identities are revealed, but also challenged. This transformation of musical figures exposes, however, the dissonances of secularism—namely, the dialectic relationship and tensions, the discontents and limits of secular cultures.

Religious Relations in a Secular State: Jews and Muslims in France, circa 1968

For two days in early June 1968, rioting erupted between Jews and Muslims living in Belleville, a diverse immigrant neighborhood in Paris. The riots began with a disputed card game between a Jew and a Muslim, an illustration of the generally peaceful daily co-existence of the two groups in the neighborhood. Indeed, the large, mostly Tunisian Jewish and the sizable, mostly Algerian Muslim populations of Belleville had long lived in inter-ethnic harmony. Hallal and kosher restaurants and butcheries existed side-by-side, and Jews and Muslims often felt a shared sense of Maghrebian culture, sometimes exchanging pastries around each others' holidays or life cycle events, as they had in North Africa. In these daily interactions, one can detect two forces, at once competing and complementary. The first is the tradition of secular French republican nationalism that privileged public unity and confined ethnic or religious identities to the private sphere. The second is Jewish and Muslim traditions from North Africa, wherein harmonious coexistence depended on related and often shared ethnic and religious traditions that did not start and stop at the door of one's home or place of worship.

The riots, soon linked by commentators and community members to their coincidence with the first anniversary of Israel's victory in the Six Day War, illustrated the at once explosive and harmonious potential of such a mixture. On the one hand, violence between neighbors, whose real roots lie, in significant part, in social and economic discontent, quickly gave way to a battle framed both by participants and by the media as inter-ethnic and inter-religious. Such a framework violated the terms of the secular republican pact through the simultaneous self-identification and stigmatization of individuals and groups based not on relationship to the French state, but rather on those to transnational or religious communities. On the other hand, attempts by leaders to quell the riot took two forms: a verbal insistence on the shared responsibilities of Jews and Muslims as neighbors and fellow residents of France; and a public demonstration by a pair of important Jewish and Muslim figures of inter-personal warmth and calm, as models for their communities.

The latter gesture, captured in this photograph of Belleville Rabbi Emmanuel Chouchena, originally from Algeria, and Tunisian ambassador Mohamed Masmoudi, played a key role in restoring Belleville and its inter-ethnic relations to normal. The leaders' action at once insisted on the need to uphold publicly secular French identity, and reflected a more complex reality in which minority ethnic and religious groups were becoming increasingly visible in their culture and politics. Indeed, this moment, a signal one in post-colonial France, revealed the very tensions -- between the insistently unified and secular nature of French nationalism, and assertive ethnic and religious group identities -- that continue to plague the Fifth Republic today.

Selected bibliography

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  • Blumenberg, Hans The legitimacy of the modern age translated by Robert M. Wallace English. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1983
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  • Joskowicz, Alexander Liberal Judaism and Confessional Politics of Difference in the German Kulturkampf Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 50 (January 2005), 177 - 197
  • Katz, Ethan Jews and Muslims in the shadow of Marianne: Conflicting identites and Republican culture in France (1914--1975) Ph.D. diss., The University of Wisconsin – Madison (2009)
  • Lezzi, Eva Zerstörte Kindheit : literarische Autobiographien zur Shoah Köln : Böhlau, 2001
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Contributors

Christoph Schulte - University of Potsdam / Ruth Meltzer Fellowship
Joseph Ergas
Andrea Schatz - King's College London / Ella Darivoff Fellowship
Perspectives
Eva Lezzi - University of Potsdam / Primo Levi Fellowship
Civil Code and Halak
Ari Joskowicz - Vanderbilt University / Albert J. Wood Fellowship
Apologetics
Daniel Schwartz - George Washington University / Louis & Bessie Stein Fellowship
Spinoza's Ethics
David Myers - University of California, Los Angeles / Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship
Milhemet mitsvah
Ilana Pardes - Hebrew University / Golub Family Fellowship
Traveling
Jonathan Gribetz - Columbia University / Maurice Amado Foundation Fellowship
Historical or Sacred
Yael Zerubavel - Rutgers University / Dalck & Rose Feith Family Fellowship
Zionist Images
Scott Ury - Tel-Aviv University / Nancy S. & Laurence E. Glick Teaching Fellowship, Weiner Family Fellowship
Fin de Siècle Warsaw
Galili Shahar - University of Florida / Ruth Meltzer Fellowship
Gershom Scholem
Annette Aronowicz - Franklin and Marshall College / Martin Gruss Fellowship, Rose & Henry Zifkin Teaching Fellowship
Emmanuel Levinas
Michal Ben-Horin - University of Florida / Louis Apfelbaum and Hortense Braunstein Apfelbaum Fellowship
Dialectics
Ethan Katz - University of Cincinnati / Ivan & Nina Ross Family Fellowship
Religious Relations

Special thanks

to the staff of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, including David McKnight for permitting the reproduction of materials in the RBML collection, to Dennis Mullen, Chris Lippa, John Pollack and the digitization team at SCETI, to Josef Gulka for scanning materials on site at the Library at the Katz Center. Leslie Vallhonrat deserves special recognition and thanks for her beautiful webdesign, her organizational prowess, her attention to detail, and for her patience and good humor. Thank you Leslie!