Haskalah: The Roman­tic Move­ment in Judaism

Olga Lit­vak
  • Review
By – September 30, 2013

Pro­fes­sor Olga Lit­vak argues that the com­mon­ly held belief that Haskalah is the Jew­ish Enlight­en­ment” is wrong. Based on co­pious research, she con­cludes that rather than being of eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry West­ern ori­gin, Haskalah is actu­al­ly a prod­uct of nine­teenth cen­tu­ry East­ern Euro­pean Romanticism.

To prove her case, she cites works of Kant, Rousseau, and oth­er thinkers of the time as well as count­less schol­ars, both his­toric and con­tem­po­rary. As might be expect­ed, she focus­es con­sid­er­able atten­tion on Moses Mendelssohn and his life, pro­vid­ing some fas­ci­nat­ing insights into both Jew­ish and gen­tile soci­ety in Berlin and oth­er major north Ger­man cities and com­par­ing these to the cen­ters of Jew­ish life in East­ern Europe, specif­i­cal­ly Poland, Rus­sia, Ukraine, and Lithu­ania. She also dis­cuss­es a num­ber of major move­ments which impact­ed on Jew­ish life includ­ing Hasidism, Zion­ism, and the con­cept of exile.

Because she con­sid­ers the Haskalah primar­ily as a lit­er­ary move­ment, Lit­vak not only exam­ines tra­di­tion­al works of his­tor­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal schol­ar­ship, but also devotes an entire sec­tion of her book to works of fic­tion that nor­mal­ly do not make it into his­to­ries of the Haskalah.”

Haskalah is one in a series of books designed for stu­dents and schol­ars of Jew­ish Stud­ies. Pro­fes­sor Lit­vak, the Lef­fell Chair in Mod­ern Jew­ish His­to­ry at Clark Uni­ver­si­ty, has writ­ten a seri­ous book for seri­ous stu­dents of one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing and con­tro­ver­sial move­ments in mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry. Notes.

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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