PD Dr. Cornelia Wilhelm (Historisches Seminar, LMU München and
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ) and
Tobias Grill, M.A. (Historisches Seminar, LMU München)
The German Rabbinate Abroad: emigration and exile in the 19th and 20th centuries
Oct. 18-20, 2009
Akademie für Politische Bildung in Tutzing near Munich, Germany
In the 1830s, in wake of the Haskalah, a religious reform movement emerged within German Jewry that was to pave the way for Judaism to embrace modernity. In this context a new type of rabbi developed, one with a distinct modern identity. This new identity reflected changes within the Jewish world brought about by the so-called emancipation of the Jews and the Haskalah. It was due to the engagement of Southern German states in the professional training of the rabbis and new legislation that required a the emerging rabbinate to attend a secular university that connected it with the currents of the non-Jewish intellectual sphere. As a result, this new Jewish elite had to define itself intellectually and socially as representatives of a “modern Judaism”.
The role of the German rabbi thus began to change. He became a leadership figure within civil society, and his influence and image were widely visible outside his community, even conveying the community’s identity. Given the influence of the Christian environment, the rabbi’s professional identity was increasingly shaped by his duties as pastor and preacher. His extensive secular knowledge, usually obtained while earning a Ph.D., became a central feature. His status was closely related to the complete re-organization of rabbinical training between 1854 and 1873. This shift created new academic centers of Jewish learning that reflected the zeitgeist and were instrumental in shaping a new generation of the German rabbinate: the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and in Berlin the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums and the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary. These schools institutionalized and professionalized a modern rabbinate that embraced the “spirit of critical reason.”
With this systematic modernization of the German rabbinate, German rabbis soon became a significant emigrant group. As early as the 19th century they officiated in Denmark, Sweden, England, the USA, Italy, Russia, Galicia, and other regions. With their academic background and new thinking, they often became deeply involved in reshaping Jewish life in their new homelands, thereby restructuring Judaism and establishing a lasting intellectual and social relationship with German Jewry. This relationship often served as a link for the second large wave of emigration of German rabbis that occurred after 1933. Especially outside Europe, these refugees from Nazism did not arrive as strangers, but were often supported by individuals, congregations or seminaries with strong German-Jewish background connections abroad.
The proposed conference seeks to shed light on the activities of this sociological cohort, which was preserving a German-Jewish legacy outside Germany after 1945. We would first like to examine reasons for their migration, the process of migration, the formation of networks, and settlement in a new place of activity. Likewise, the social context of their settlement, the composition and character of the communities, as well as their professional development within their new cultural and political context is of great interest for our project. We are interested in the question of whether and/or how German rabbis helped transfer to their new communities elements from the German-Jewish model of modernity abroad.
We therefore want to deepen our understanding of how the reception and acceptance of certain elements of modernity, including new liturgies and the reform of Jewish education and charity,were implemented, accepted or rejected in the new homelands. The conference also wants to address the issue of how the new homelands affected or limited the implementation of such reforms. To what extent did the new social context cause a change in the self-awareness of this new progressive German rabbinate, and in which way did this new rabbinate helped create social networks and organizations that shaped the social process within Jewry as well as within society itself Finally, the conference aims to consider a rarely examined aspect of German-Jewish migration history by asking about the impact that the cohort and its networks abroad had on German-Jewry over the course of an almost 200year history.
We encourage interdisciplinary and trans-national approaches as well as contributions from the fields of gender studies, history of religions, and educational and social history.
Please e-mail proposals with abstract and short CV by June 1st, 2008 to:
Dr. Cornelia Wilhelm, Historisches Seminar, LMU München and The Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (Cornelia.Wilhelm@lrz.uni-muenchen.de)
Tobias Grill, M.A,, Historisches Seminar, LMU München
The conference is contingent upon securing funding.
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