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eBook Jewish History: An Essay in the Philosophy of History
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   201


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ISBN: 1-59045-133-3

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About the Book -- Jewish History: An Essay in the Philosophy of History

From Preface

Mr. Dubnow's scientific activity, first and last, is a striking refutation of the widespread opinion that identifies attractiveness of form in the work of a scholar with superficiality of content. Even his strictly scientific investigations, besides offering the scholar a wealth of new suggestions, form instructive and entertaining reading matter for the educated layman. In his critical essays, Mr. Dubnow shows himself to be possessed of keen psychologic insight. By virtue of this quality of delicate perception, he aims to assign to every historical fact its proper place in the line of development, and so establish the bond between it and the general history of mankind. This psychologic ability contributes vastly to the interest aroused by Mr. Dubnow's historical works outside of the limited circle of scholars. There is a passage in one of his books in which, in his incisive manner, he expresses his views on the limits and tasks of historical writing. As the passage bears upon the methods employed in the present essay, and, at the same time, is a characteristic specimen of our author's style, I take the liberty of quoting:

The popularization of history is by no means to be pursued to the detriment of its severely scientific treatment. What is to be guarded against is the notion that tedium is inseparable from the scientific method. I have always been of the opinion that the dulness commonly looked upon as the prerogative of scholarly inquiries, is not an inherent attribute. In most cases it is conditioned, not by the nature of the subject under investigation, but by the temper of the investigator. Often, indeed, the tediousness of a learned disquisition is intentional: it is considered one of the polite conventions of the academic guild, and by many is identified with scientific thoroughness and profound learning. If, in general, deadening, hidebound caste methods, not seldom the cover for poverty of thought and lack of cleverness, are reprehensible, they are doubly reprehensible in history. The history of a people is not a mere mental discipline, like botany or mathematics, but a living science, a magistra vit, leading straight to national self-knowledge, and acting to a certain degree upon the national character. History is a science by the people for the people, and, therefore, its place is the open forum, not the scholar's musty closet. We relate the events of the past to the people, not merely to a handful of archaeologists and numismaticians. We work for national self-knowledge, not for our own intellectual diversion.

These are the principles that have guided Mr. Dubnow in all his works, and he has been true to them in this essay, which exhibits in a remarkably striking way the author's art of making all things seem fresh and new, important and attractive. New and important his essay undoubtedly is. The author attempts, for the first time, a psychologic characterization of Jewish history. He endeavors to demonstrate the inner connection between events, and develop the ideas that underlie them, or, to use his own expression, lay bare the soul of Jewish history, which clothes itself with external events as with a bodily envelope. Jewish history has never before been considered from this philosophic point of view, certainly not in German literature. The present work, therefore, cannot fail to prove stimulating. As for the poet's other requirement, attractiveness, it is fully met by the work here translated. The qualities of Mr. Dubnow's style, as described above, are present to a marked degree. The enthusiasm flaming up in every line, coupled with his plastic, figurative style, and his scintillating conceits, which lend vivacity to his presentation, is bound to charm the reader. Yet, in spite of the racy style, even the layman will have no difficulty in discovering that it is not a clever journalist, an artificer of well-turned phrases, who is speaking to him, but a scholar by profession, whose foremost concern is with historical truth, and whose every statement rests upon accurate, scientific knowledge; not a bookworm with pale, academic blood trickling through his veins, but a man who, with unsoured mien, with fresh, buoyant delight, offers the world the results laboriously reached in his study, after all evidences of toil and moil have been carefully removed; who derives inspiration from the noble and the sublime in whatever guise it may appear, and who knows how to communicate his inspiration to others.

The translator lays this book of an accomplished and spirited historian before the German public. He does so in the hope that it will shed new light upon Jewish history even for professional scholars. He is confident that in many to whom our unexampled past of four thousand years' duration is now terra incognita, it will arouse enthusiastic interest, and even to those who, like the translator himself, differ from the author in religious views, it will furnish edifying and suggestive reading. The English translation of Mr. Dubnow's Essay is based upon the authorized German translation, which was made from the original Russian.



About the Book

Contents

PREFACE TO THE GERMAN TRANSLATION

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

I

THE RANGE OF JEWISH HISTORY

II

THE CONTENT OF JEWISH HISTORY

III

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JEWISH HISTORY

IV

THE HISTORICAL SYNTHESIS

V

THE PRIMARY OR BIBLICAL PERIOD

VI

THE SECONDARY OR SPIRITUAL-POLITICAL PERIOD 68

VII

THE TERTIARY TALMUDIC OR NATIONAL-RELIGIOUS PERIOD

VIII

THE GAONIC PERIOD, OR THE HEGEMONY OF THE ORIENTAL JEWS (500980)

IX

THE RABBINIC-PHILOSOPHICAL PERIOD, OR THE HEGEMONY OF THE SPANISH JEWS (9801492)

X

THE RABBINIC-MYSTICAL PERIOD, OR THE HEGEMONY OF THE GERMAN-POLISH JEWS (14921789)

XI

THE MODERN PERIOD OF ENLIGHTENMENT (THE NINETEENTH CENTURY)

XII

THE TEACHINGS OF JEWISH HISTORY


An Excerpt from the Book -- Jewish History: An Essay in the Philosophy of History

THE HISTORICAL SYNTHESIS

To define the scope of Jewish history, its content and its significance, or its place among scientific pursuits, disposes only of the formal part of the task we have set ourselves. The central problem is to unfold the meaning of Jewish history, to discover the principle toward which its diversified phenomena converge, to state the universal laws and philosophic inferences deducible from the peculiar course of its events. If we liken history to an organic being, then the skeleton of facts is its body, and the soul is the spiritual bond that unites the facts into a whole, that conveys the meaning, the psychologic essence, of the facts. It becomes our duty, then, to unbare the soul of Jewish history, or, in scientific parlance, to construct, on the basis of the facts, the synthesis of the whole of Jewish national life. To this end, we must pass in review, by periods and epochs, one after another, the most important groups of historical events, the most noteworthy currents in life and thought that tell off the stages in the development of Jewry and of Judaism. Exhaustive treatment of the philosophical synthesis of a history extending over three thousand years is possible only in a voluminous work. In an essay like the present it can merely be sketched in large outline, or painted in miniature. We cannot expect to do more than state a series of general principles substantiated by the most fundamental arguments. Complete demonstration of each of the principles must be sought in the annals that recount the events of Jewish history in detail.

The historical synthesis reduces itself, then, to uncovering the psychologic processes of national development. The object before us to be studied is the national spirit undergoing continuous evolution during thousands of years. Our task is to arrive at the laws underlying this growth. We shall reach our goal by imitating the procedure of the geologist, who divides the mass of the earth into its several strata or formations. In Jewish history there may be distinguished three chief stratifications answering to its first three periods, the Biblical period, the period of the Second Temple, and the Talmudic period. The later periods are nothing more than these same formations combined in various ways, with now and then the addition of new strata. Of the composite periods there are four, which arrange themselves either according to hegemonies, the countries in which at given times lay the centre of gravity of the scattered Jewish people, or according to the intellectual currents there predominant.

This, then, is our scheme:

I. The chief formations:

a) The primary or Biblical period.

b) The secondary or spiritual-political period (the period of the Second Temple, 538 B. C. E. to 70 C. E.)

c) The tertiary or national-religious period (the Talmudic period, 70500).

II. The composite formations:

a) The Gaonic period, or the hegemony of the Oriental Jews (500980).

b) The Rabbinic-philosophical period, or the hegemony of the Spanish Jews (9801492).

c) The Rabbinic-mystical period, or the hegemony of the German-Polish Jews (14921789).

d) The modern period of enlightenment (the nineteenth century).


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