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Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

by Raphael Mahler

Bibliographic information

TitleHasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century
AuthorRaphael Mahler
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectHistory
Pages429


Description 

Hasidism and the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), movements that clashed in the early nineteenth century, were crucial factors in the shaping of Jewish culture. This book presents an objective, historical evaluation of these two trends, clarifying the nature of modern Jewish ideology.

Mahler’s masterful sociological study is drawn from a variety of sources, including some Polish archival material that was later destroyed by the Nazis. This classic work, originally published in both Yiddish and Hebrew, is a prime example of movements that shaped the spiritual and cultural life of modern Jewry.





About the Author 

Raphael Mahler ---

Raphael Mahler was born in Nowy Sacz, western Galicia, in 1899. He was educated at the local yeshivah, at a gymnasium, and then at a rabbinical seminary. He received his doctorate in history and philosophy from the University of Vienna in 1922. He returned to Poland, where he remained for 15 years, serving as a teacher of history in Jewish secondary schools and researching the history of Polish Jewry.

In 1937 Mahler emigrated to the United States and became a staff member of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. In 1950 he settled in the state of Israel. From 1951 to 1958 he lectured on the economic history of the Jews at the Tel Aviv School of Law and Economics and in 1959 was appointed professor of Eastern European Jewish history at the University of Tel Aviv. He was a lecturing member of Mapan, the left-wing Labor-Zionist party.

Mahler’s publications include some 600 books, scientific papers, and journal articles, covering various periods and aspects of Jewish life. In 1977, a few months before his death, he received the prestigious Israel Prize for his contribution to the field of Jewish studies.





Contents 

PREFATORY NOTE

INTRODUCTION

I GALICIA

1 THE SOCIOPOLITICAL FOUNDATIONS OF HASIDISM IN GALICIA IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

2 THE SOCIOPOLITICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE HASKALAH IN GALICIA

3 THE POLICY OF THE AUSTRIAN GOVERNMENT TOWARD HASIDISM

4 THE AUSTRIAN CENSORSHIP OF JEWISH BOOKS

5 JOSEPH PERILS STRUGGLE AGAINST HASIDISM

6 JOSEPH PERILS HEBREW ALMANACS

II POLAND

7 THE SOCIOECONOMIC AND POLITICAL STATUS OF THE JEWS IN CENTRAL POLAND

8 BROOKS OF ASSIMILATION AND BUDS OF ENLIGHTENMENT

9 TWO SCHOOLS OF HASIDISM IN POLAND

10 THE POLICY OF THE POLISH GOVERNMENT TOWARD HASIDISM

NOTES

GLOSSARY OF HEBREW AND YIDDISH TERMS

INDEX



Excerpt 

The Influence of the Galician Policies

When one considers the similarity in the economic and cultural policies of the absolute monarchies toward the Jews in both Galicia and Congress Poland, it is not surprising that the political policies toward the Hasidic movement were also quite similar. The principles of absolutism were in themselves reason enough to predispose the authorities at the outset against this developing movement in which mysticism and superstition were rife. Also, the essentially spontaneous character of this movement was in opposition to the absolutist principle of the strict supervision of every detail in the life of its subjects; it certainly would contradict the maxim of Frederick II: “Everything for the people, nothing by the people.” Hasidism particularly, with its religious fanaticism and extreme stand on national exclusiveness, was viewed as a serious obstacle to the government’s programs for the dissemination of “civilization” among and the gradual assimilation of the Jews. Nor was the government of Poland superior to its neighbor as far as its heavy, dull-witted, bureaucratic apparatus was concerned; here, too, the authorities gave credence to the initial reports of provincial officials, according to which Hasidism was a totally insignificant sectarian movement which had no influence over the general Jewish population.

The fact that decrees concerning Hasidism were issued in both countries during the very same years, 1823 and 1824, was a mere coincidence. But this is not to say that Galicia’s nullification of the decree against the Hasidim did not influence the Kingdom of Poland’s policy in this regard. The instructions of the gubernium in Galicia stating the principle of tolerance toward Hasidism and permitting Hasidim to maintain minyanim was issued on April 26, 1824;1 in the Kingdom of Poland, the viceroy’s directive to the Committee for Internal Affairs permitting the existence of Hasidic synagogues was issued on August 30, 1824. The latter decision was based on the opinion of a subcommittee of the Committee for Religions and Education which convened in June and finished its deliberations by the beginning of August. It is highly likely that this subcommittee knew of the gubernium’s directive in Galicia. It is also reasonable to assume that in their effort to nullify the decree, the Hasidim of Poland called attention to the action taken in Galicia.

This favorable turn in the attitude of the Polish authorities toward Hasidism resulted from a number of factors. Bribes, the tried and tested means used by the Jews in that era to mitigate harsh decrees and even to have them nullified, had even better results in Poland than in Galicia, for Count Novosiltzev, the pivotal figure in setting the kingdom’s policy, never rejected “gifts.” The Hasidim in Poland were also helped by the fact that the government would reach decisions in matters affecting the Jews only after asking the opinion of the Committee for the Affairs of Old Testament Believers. Since Jacob Berg-son, a representative of the Hasidim, was a member of the Advisory Chamber of the committee, the Hasidim could obtain information concerningthe activities of the government and benefit from his intercession.

The main reason for the favorable decisions toward Hasidism—in Poland as in Galicia—was the general religious policy of strengthening religion and faith as a shield against the spread of liberal ideas which would undermine the foundations of both “the royal throne and the altar.” Despite its dislike of mysticism and superstition, the government preferred them to the “harmful views” of deistic rationalism and to the utter heresy of atheism. Thus the government preferred Hasidism to the Haskalah and correctly saw the Hasidic movement as a counterbalance to the activities of the Maskilim and the “enlightened ones.” And therefore decrees were issued against the Hasidim only occasionally.

Hasidism in Poland benefited from greater tranquillity than its counterpart in Galicia. As discussed, it was the Maskilim, headed by Joseph Perl, who initiated attacks against the Hasidim; whereas in the Kingdom of Poland, the handful of Maskilim had no support within the Jewish community and therefore did not dare to mount an offensive against the Hasidim, especially since the government disapproved of the dispute between the two groups. “The enlightened” assimilationists turned their backs on both the Maskilim and the Hasidim, while the spokesman of the assimilationists, the censor Jacob Tugendhold, completely accommodated himself to the position taken by the authorities, that is, that the real danger to the regime came from rationalism and not from religious fanaticism and superstitious beliefs.

Hence it happened that in Galicia, even after 1824, inquiries and investigations concerning Hasidism were initiated, and Hasidic leaders were even persecuted sporadically, while in Poland no questions were asked about Hasidism except during discussions within the government.



Reviews 

This work is a standard in the field and until recently was not available in English. It is a highly detailed work and is not recommended for the general reader but rather for the serious student of modern Jewish life and thought. Appropriate for graduate students and upper-division undergraduates.

M. Scult,Choice

A major study of the bitter struggle between the Hasidim and the adherents of the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, during a watershed period.

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