The Jew­ish Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry, Vol­ume 2: A Euro­pean Biog­ra­phy, 1750 – 1800

June 11, 2022

The sec­ond vol­ume of Shmuel Fein­er’s The Jew­ish Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry cov­ers the peri­od from 1750 to 1800, a time of even greater upheavals, ten­sions, and chal­lenges. The changes that began to emerge at the begin­ning of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry matured in the sec­ond half.

Fein­er explores how polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions of the Jew­ish minor­i­ty through­out Europe began to expand. From the Jew Bill” of 1753 in Britain, to the sur­pris­ing series of decrees issued by Joseph II of Aus­tria that expand­ed tol­er­ance in Aus­tria, to the debate over eman­ci­pa­tion in rev­o­lu­tion­ary France, the lives of the Jews of Europe became ever more inter­twined with the polit­i­cal, social, eco­nom­ic, and cul­tur­al fab­ric of the continent.

The Jew­ish Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry, Vol­ume 2: A Euro­pean Biog­ra­phy, 1750 – 1800 con­cludes Fein­er’s land­mark study of the his­to­ry of Jew­ish pop­u­la­tions in the peri­od. By com­bin­ing an exam­i­na­tion of the broad and pro­found process­es that changed the famil­iar world from the ground up with per­son­al expe­ri­ences of those who lived through them, it allows for a unique expla­na­tion of these momen­tous events.

Discussion Questions

Shmuel Fein­er and his trans­la­tor, Jef­frey M. Green, have giv­en us a gift of his­tor­i­cal schol­ar­ship about the Jew­ish peo­ple of Europe from 1750 through 1800. On page after page, Fein­er offers us unfor­get­table sto­ries from every cor­ner of Europe: sto­ries about learned Jews and ped­dlers, rab­bis and rebels, con­ser­v­a­tives and mod­ern­iz­ers, philoso­phers and char­la­tans, all strug­gling to make homes for them­selves — as Jews — in a region on the verge of wide­spread, often bloody chal­lenges to the old polit­i­cal and reli­gious orders. Fein­er’s eru­di­tion is awe-inspir­ing, but he wears it light­ly in a book that can and should be read by begin­ners, stu­dents, and his­to­ri­ans alike. There is much to savor here about Euro­pean his­to­ry, Jew­ish his­to­ry, and the polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, ide­o­log­i­cal, and philo­soph­i­cal upheavals of this Age of Enlightenment.