Ulrich Wyrwa. Judentum und Historismus: Zur Entstehung der jüdischen Geschichtswissenschaft in Europa. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2003. 256 S. EUR 34.90 (broschiert), ISBN 978-3-593-37283-9.
Reviewed by Nils Roemer (Parkes Institute, University of Southampton)
Published on H-German (February, 2006)
A European History of Jewish Scholarship?
In contrast to the situation of Europe's national historians, who to a large extent dictated, shaped and controlled the image of their national pasts as an element in the process of nation-building, the task of redefining Jewish history and identities has been less restricted to specific institutions and locations. Rather, it took shape within transnational spaces of communication, as Ulrich Wyrwa argues in his perceptive introduction to this edited volume. Wyrwa traces the beginning of scholarship on the Jewish tradition back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before it came to fruition in the nineteenth century. Wyrwa indicates the European dimension in the production of Jewish scholarship. He contends, for example, that the German Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz was embedded in a scientific European community, and, like his colleagues, did not succumb to the confines of national histories, but rather elucidated the Jewish past within a transnational and global geographic space.
The following essays are less overtly concerned with border crossing, transnational webs of exchange, contacts and entanglements. They add nicely to ongoing debates about Jewish integration and self-fashioning with important contributions on the evolution of historical studies, novels and family memory, most notably in Germany, England, France, Italy and Poland.
Instead of following the fashionable and very important route of transnational studies, the authors pursue their very informed investigations within more clearly defined linguistic, cultural and political orbits. Yet Jacques Ehrenfreud, Perrine Simon-Nahum, Gadi Luzzatto-Voghera and François Guesnet illustrate the commonality of questions, methods and challenges while pointing to a Jewish scientific community that existed within and beyond national and linguistic borders.
At the same time, Jacques Ehrenfreund describes Jewish scholarship in relation to historicism and German nationalism and François Guesnet places Jewish historiography in relation to the movement for Polish independence. Together, these contributions assert, therefore, the importance of national contexts for a Wissenschaft des Judentums. Yet Ehrenfreud also analyzes the difficulties in narrowing research agendas to national borders, as in Moritz Lazarus's programmatic 1894 speech "Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man jüdische Geschichte und Litteratur?" (What is and to what end do we study Jewish history and literature?). Indeed, contacts and exchanges played a major role, for example, in the creation of Jewish scholarship in France, as Perrine Simon-Nahum's essay clearly illustrates.
Mitchell Hart defends Anglo-Jewish historians against their reputation for being possessed of an alleged timidity and a pronounced apologetic streak. He describes the extent to which these historians detailed the centrality of Jewish tradition for English history. To forge the Anglo-Jewish past as co-constitutive to the emerging English histories engaged the national and imperial British society from the perspective of the Jewish universal heritage. Crossing borders and entanglements thus rested on cultural and religious vestiges that the nation states absorbed only in a very limited fashion. Yet the process of embourgeoisment, which promoted a secular break, threatened the vibrancy of these religious traditions, as Christhard Hofmann explains. Despite the secular posture of Jewish scholarship (particularly at its inception), Jacques Ehrenfreund, and, in a different fashion, Andreas Gotzmann, argue that it remained wedded to theological interpretation.
The crossing of genres and national boundaries informed the efflorescence of Jewish historical novels starting in the 1830s. Gabriele von Glasenapp outlines how Jewish novelists, who became inspired by Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, turned toward historical novels. This reorientation also occurred in the case of Heinrich Heine, who studied Jewish history during his time with the Verein für Kultur und Wissenschaft der Juden. Heine, as well as Ludwig and Phoebus Philippson, contributed to this immensely popular genre, partly out of critical distance toward Wissenschaft des Judentums. If historical thinking and remembrance could thus not fully be restricted to existing boundaries and genres, then they were equally not limited to historians and poets, but manifested themselves also in the creation of family memories. These recollections took the form of autobiographies, diaries and genealogical studies that all too often themselves described migration in terms of individual family histories. These biographical dimensions of remembrance, which Miriam Gebhardt aptly analyses, also link up with hagiographical accounts of Polish rabbinical scions and with the community histories that became fashionable not just in Germany, as Jacques Ehrenfreud illustrates, but also in Italy, according to Gadi Luzzatto-Voghera.
Together, these articles provide an instructive survey and discussion of major tenets of Jewish historical studies and memory, even if they fall short on delivering a European history of Jewish historiography and remembrance, as Wyrwa concedes in his conclusion. The collection will perhaps urge other scholars to search further for the common interests, concerns and--at times--the European dimension of Jewish historical thinking.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Nils Roemer. Review of Wyrwa, Ulrich, Judentum und Historismus: Zur Entstehung der jüdischen Geschichtswissenschaft in Europa.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.