This work of Graetz was the first comprehensive attempt to write the history of the Jews as the history of a living people and from a Jewish point of view. With deep feeling, he describes the struggle of Jews and of Judaism for survival, their uniqueness, the sufferings of the Exile, and the courage of the martyrs, and in contrast, the cruelty of the enemies of Israel and its persecutors throughout the ages. The writing of such a Jewish history in German for a public which in its vast majority identified itself with German nationalism and Christian culture was a heroic achievement.
English readers, to whom the forefathers of the Jews of today—the patriarchs, heroes, and men of God—are familiar characters, will the better understand the miracle which is exhibited in the history of the Jews during three thousand years. The continuance of the Jewish race until the present day is a marvel not to be overlooked even by those who deny the existence of miracles, and who only see in the most astounding events, both natural and preternatural, the logical results of cause and effect. Here we observe a phenomenon, which has developed and asserted itself in spite of all laws of nature, and we behold a culture which, notwithstanding unspeakable hostility against its exponents, has nevertheless profoundly modified the organism of nations.
It is the heartfelt aspiration of the author that “The History of the Jews, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day,” in its English garb, may attain its object by putting an end to the hostile bearing against the Jewish race, so that it may no longer be begrudged the peculiar sphere whereto it has been predestined through the events and sorrows of thousands of years, and that it may be permitted to fulfill its appointed mission without molestation.
This translation, in five volumes, is not a mere excerpt of the “Geschichte der Juden” (like the author's “Volksthümliche Geschichte der Juden”), but a condensed reproduction of the entire eleven volumes. But the foot-notes have been omitted, so as to render the present work less voluminous for the general reader. Historical students are usually acquainted with the German language, and can read the notes in the original.
In this English edition the “History of the Present Day” is brought down to 1870, while the original only goes as far as the memorable events of 1848. The last volume will contain a survey of the entire history of the Jewish nation, together with a comprehensive index of names and events.
The fifth volume covers the period from the Chmielnicki Persecution of the Jews in Poland (1648 C.E.) to the Present Time (1870 C.E.).
Jewish historian and Bible scholar. Graetz was born in Xions (Ksiaz), Poznan, the son of a butcher. From 1831 to 1836 he pursued rabbinic studies in Wolstein (now Wolsztyn) near Poznan. There Graetz taught himself French and Latin and avidly read general literature. This brought him to a spiritual crisis, but reading S. R. Hirsch`s "Nineteen Letters on Judaism" in 1836 restored his faith. He accepted Hirsch`s invitation to continue his studies in the latter`s home and under his guidance. Eventually their relationship cooled; he left Oldenburg in 1840 and worked as a private tutor in Ostrow. In 1842 he obtained special permission to study at Breslau University. As no Jew could obtain a Ph.D. at Breslau, Graetz presented his thesis to the University of Jena. This work was later published under the title Gnostizismus und Judentum (1846). By then Graetz had come under the influence of Z. Frankel, and it was he who initiated a letter of congratulations to Frankel for leaving the second Rabbinical Conference (Frankfort, 1845) in protest, after the majority had decided against prayers in Hebrew. Graetz now became a contributor to Frankel`s Zeitschrift fuer die religioesen Interessen des Judentums, in which, among others, he published his programmatic "Konstruktion der juedischen Geschichte" (1846).
Graetz failed to obtain a position as rabbi and preacher because of his lack of talent as an orator. After obtaining a teaching diploma, he was appointed head teacher of the orthodox religious school of the Breslau community, and in 1850, at Hirsch`s recommendation, of the Jewish school of Lundenburg, Moravia. As a result of intrigues within the local community, he left Lundenburg in 1852 for Berlin, where during the following winter he lectured on Jewish history to theological students. He then began to contribute to the Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, which Frankel had founded in 1851 and which he later edited himself (1869–88). He also completed the fourth volume (dealing with the talmudic period and the first to be published) of his Geschichte der Juden von den aeltesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart ("History of the Jews...," 1853). In 1853 Graetz was appointed lecturer in Jewish history and Bible at the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and in 1869 was made honorary professor at the University of Breslau.
CHMIELNICKI AND THE PERSECUTION OF THE JEWS OF POLAND BY THE COSSACKS. (1648–1656 C. E.)
SETTLEMENT OF THE JEWS IN ENGLAND AND MANASSEH BEN ISRAEL. (1655–1657 C. E.)
THE SCEPTICS. (1620–1660 C. E.)
SPINOZA AND SABBATAÏ ZEVI. (1656–1677 C. E.)
LIGHT AND SHADE. (1669–1700 C. E.)
GENERAL DEMORALIZATION OF JUDAISM. (1700–1725 C. E.)
THE AGE OF LUZZATTO, EIBESCHÜTZ, AND FRANK. (1727–1760 C. E.)
THE MENDELSSOHN EPOCH. (1750–1786 C. E.)
THE NEW CHASSIDISM. (1750–1786 C. E.)
THE MEASFIM AND THE JUDÆO-CHRISTIAN SALON. (1786–1791 C. E.)
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND THE EMANCIPATION OF THE JEWS. (1791–1805 C. E.)
THE JEWISH-FRENCH SYNHEDRION AND THE JEWISH CONSISTORIES. (1806–1813 C. E.)
THE REACTION AND TEUTOMANIA. (1813–1818 C. E.)
BÖRNE AND HEINE. (1819–1830 C. E.)
REFORM AND YOUNG ISRAEL. (1818–1830 C. E.)
AWAKENING OF INDEPENDENCE AND THE SCIENCE OF JUDAISM. (1830–1840 C. E.)
THE YEAR1840 AND THE BLOOD ACCUSATION AT DAMASCUS. (1840 C. E.)
EVENTS PRECEDING THE REVOLUTIONS OF FEBRUARY AND MARCH,1848, AND THE SUBSEQUENT SOCIAL ADVANCE OF THE JEWS. (1840–1870 C. E.)
If for a moment fancy is allowed full play, one can imagine, not only that the houses, utensils, and pictures excavated from the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii were renewed, but also that the entombed men were suddenly aroused from their sleep of centuries, and enabled to collect their thoughts. If these resurrected Romans could recall their condition when the catastrophe befell them, could conjure up before their mind's eye the splendor of their greatness, remember the mighty institutions which they and their ancestors called into existence, realize the heroic power which the Roman people developed, and if they felt the same power still stirring within them, a not altogether unjustifiable self-esteem would seize them. His supposition is no fantastic idea: a nation actually did arise from the darkness of the tomb, the only example chronicled in the annals of man. This resuscitated people, the Jewish race, endeavored at its resurrection to collect its thoughts and memories, and recall a vision of its glorious past; feeling itself to be at once old and young, rich in memories and lacking in experience, chained to hoary antiquity by a perfect sequence of events, yet seeming as if of yesterday. The Jews first examined the monuments of their intellect, which had influenced the history of nations, and had brought forth a wealth of peculiar products. They served as signposts in the labyrinth of Jewish history. That is the science of Judaism—a vivid realization of its great history, and its peculiar doctrines. This effort of memory is not merely an amusing game, a pleasant pastime, the satisfaction of a desire for knowledge akin to curiosity, but an irresistible impulse of self-examination. It aroused the dormant strength in the breast of the inquirer, and inspired him with self-confidence to act in the future as in the past. Self-consciousness—the consciousness of being the people of God—was awakened in this old, resuscitated nation, and it at once entered into competition with the young nations, to assert its peculiar powers.
But history has not yet gone so far: it only shows that self-respect was awakened; that the Jews no longer blush for their origin and confession; no longer hesitate when questioned about them; no longer, from false shame and their own evil plight, take a false step, pretending belief in a faith certainly more distasteful to them than to those born therein. As if this feeling of self-esteem were to be particularly favored by the generative force of history, there arose from the midst of the Jewish nation artists of great ability—artists in tone and color, and poets of the first rank, who by their steadfastness secured public recognition for their race. This self-respect of the Jews was the outcome of political maturity, the latter in turn being due to the wonderful inventions and the increase of general intelligence during the last decades, but it has chiefly been awakened, strengthened, and fostered by the science of Judaism and the achievements of talented Jews in connection therewith.
Although the history of this period is still in progression—at many points touches the fleeting present—and its results cannot be summed up like those of bygone days, yet the fact cannot be denied that the aim of Jewish life has been the attainment of those two precious acquirements—self-reliance and self-knowledge. These qualities are intimately connected, the one completing and promoting the other. Knowledge of their own experiences and of history enabled the Jews to make a careful, unprejudiced study of the origin and growth of their nationality, and of the peculiarity of their teaching, and to hide and ignore nothing. Insight into their own doctrines increased their self-reliance, and induced them to remove the burdens assumed by the generations that had lived under oppression. The struggles in which the Jews had just been engaged to secure civil, political, and social equality and to bring about the reformation and refinement of Judaism, stand in closest connection with these two qualities—on the one hand, with the better appreciation of their own nature, on the other, with their growing self-reliance—influencing them, or being influenced by them.
Step by step the mountain heaps of obstructive rubbish had to be cleared away, an open space cut out, new building materials procured or collected, before it was possible, to think, not of putting the crowning stone to the edifice, but of erecting the frame of the structure. Unconsciously the entire generation, many members of which are still active, set to work upon this gigantic task, which had not been dreamed of fifty years before, still less considered in any way practicable. Deep but almost unconscious attachment to Judaism on the part of enthusiastic spirits enabled them to attain a goal which must be regarded as a marvel by posterity, even though it has itself advanced beyond it. Jewish science by laborious research and investigations has developed three important points: the course of Jewish history in its long chain of events and its significance, the precious basis of Jewish teaching in all its bearings, and, finally, the enduring faculty of the Jewish race, which defied so many persecutions, rendered certain qualities hereditary, accomplished such wondrous miracles of history, and was the means of bringing salvation to the world. These three aspects, the comprehension of history, of the tenets of Judaism, and of peculiar nationality, were developed one after the other. Each of these branches of knowledge had to be pursued from its commencement, and followed through a long course, and if not brought to a conclusion, it at least reached a state in which it could be clearly grasped and understood.
All nations desirous of asserting their independence and vitality seek to prove their age: they interest themselves in remembrances of the past, and bring to light their ancestral portraits and their armorial bearings, to demonstrate that they have passed through the vicissitudes of fortune and misfortune, the alternations of strength and weakness, victory and defeat, that they have given evidence of intellectual capacity, and therefore may lay claim to continued existence and development. The Jewish people had no need to make search for their famous exploits or the monuments of their intellectual powers; even in their apparently servile condition these were not wanting. Each century proclaimed this fact to the next, and it was only needful to give ear to, or not wholly to disregard this voice amid a crowd of selfish interests. The history of the Jews naturally bore most eloquent testimony to the people's greatness; but it was not easy to present it in its brilliancy. The history of the Jewish nation had been distorted by the thousand unjust prejudices of the ages. Under the cruel persecutions of their tormentors, the Jews could not retain the accumulated reminiscences of their great past; they knew them only in distorted fragments. Christian scholars, attracted by the grandeur of the theme, had indeed formed these disjointed fragments into a picture; but it could not be a true one, seeing that many component parts were wanting. The bright colors had faded, and there was a preponderance of shadow, perhaps intentionally placed there. Even to well-disposed defenders of the Jews, like Dohm and Grégoire, who had zealously studied the annals of Jewish history, they did not give a clear idea of its course. More than a century had elapsed since the worthy French Protestant clergyman, Basnage, after diligently studying Jewish history, had given to the world his somewhat fragmentary researches, when the wife of an American clergyman, Hannah Adams, of Boston, struck by the marvelous fate of the Jewish nation, delineated their history from the time of the return from Babylon to recent days. For many reasons she was not qualified to give an intelligible outline of Jewish history, but could only string together a number of rough sketches without connection or sequence. This crude work, nevertheless, was good enough for the purposes of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, which besides made several alterations in the book in order to serve its ends. Fidelity to history and truth were entirely disregarded in the changes.
It was high time for Jews to take away the historian's pen from the hands of Christians who only trifled with it. However feeble might be their first attempts, and inadequate though their conception of the peculiarity of Jewish history was, yet it was meritorious to remove the Christian seal, impressed upon it by unconscious forgers, in order to claim it as the property of the Church. The first Jew who bore in his heart the great characteristics of the history of his race, and in part published it, deserves a place of honor. He was a talented youth whose early death was due to insanity, so often the mark of a true poet. Solomon Löwisohn (born in Moor, Hungary, 1789, died 1822) had succeeded under most unfavorable circumstances in acquiring secular culture, and thereby had qualified himself to appreciate the value of his nation's treasures. Löwisohn had a much truer comprehension of the beauty and sweetness of Hebrew poetry, of its sublimity and simplicity, than Herder, because he was better acquainted with it. He regarded the history of his people from the standpoint of poetry, as from that of faith. In his “Lectures upon the Modern History of the Jews,” from their dispersion till the present day, he succeeded in unrolling a charming picture. He also distinguished certain important points, and correctly showed the lines to be followed, to avoid losing oneself in this apparent chaos.
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