Jew­ish Women in Enlight­en­ment Berlin

Natal­ie Naimark-Goldberg
  • From the Publisher
December 10, 2013

The encounter of Jews with the Enlight­en­ment has so far been con­sid­ered almost entire­ly from a mas­cu­line per­spec­tive. In shift­ing the focus to a group of edu­cat­ed Jew­ish women in Berlin, this engag­ing book makes an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to Ger­man-Jew­ish his­to­ry, as well as to gen­der stud­ies. A study of these wom­en’s let­ters, lit­er­ary activ­i­ties, and social lives reveals them as cul­ti­vat­ed mem­bers of the Euro­pean pub­lic. Their cor­re­spon­dence allowed them not only to demon­strate their intel­lec­tu­al tal­ents, but also to widen their hori­zons and acquire knowl­edge — a key con­cern of women seek­ing empow­er­ment. The descrip­tions of their involve­ment in the pub­lic sphere, a key fea­ture of Enlight­en­ment cul­ture, offer impor­tant new insights: social gath­er­ings in their homes served the pur­pose of intel­lec­tu­al advance­ment, while the new­ly fash­ion­able spas gave them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand their con­tacts with men as well as with oth­er women, and with non-Jews as well as Jews, right across Europe. As avid read­ers and crit­i­cal writ­ers, these women reflect­ed the sec­u­lar world-view that was then begin­ning to spread among Jews. Imbued with enlight­ened ideas and val­ues and a new fem­i­nine aware­ness, they began to seek inde­pen­dence and free­dom, to the extent of chal­leng­ing the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage and tra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly frame­works. A final chap­ter dis­cuss­es the rela­tion­ship of the women to Judaism and to reli­gion in gen­er­al, includ­ing their atti­tude toward con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­i­ty — the route that so many ulti­mate­ly took. 

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