Emancipation, Enlightenment & All That
THE HISTORY of European Jewry over the past two hundred years offers an intriguing perspective on the whole confusing phenomenon of modernity partly because the Jews lurched into the modern world from their protracted medieval existence with a suddenness that was bound to be unsettling for all concerned. There were, of course, certain notable exceptions to the suddenness of the change. The Jews of Italy did undergo a real renaissance at the same time as the rest of Western Europe, and the same could be said, on a more limited temporal scale, of Dutch Jewry as well. By and large, though, the crucial transition was hurtled through in a generation or two, often in a few years of a single lifetime (Moses Mendelssohn, Solomon Maimon, Leopold Zunz, M. L. Lilienblum)-a transition from a corporate Jewish existence with roots in a feudal order to a new European world ostensibly based on unprecedented economic and intellectual individualism, committed to a principle of relentless technological innovation. The very shock of transition, then, for these new and uncertain members of a transformed Europe, on occasion throws into revealing focus underlying, and problematic, aspects of the modern European experience.
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