Homage to Jacob Katz
The fox, Isaiah Berlin reminds us, knows many things, while the hedgehog knows one big thing. As a historian, Jacob Katz, the distinguished Jerusalem scholar now in his 86th year, is both a fox and a hedgehog. Katz’s writings on Jewish history exhibit an extraordinary sweep, in terms both of the periods he covers—from the Middle Ages (Tradition and Crisis) down to the Nazi era (From Prejudice to Destruction)—and of the subjects he deals with—Jewish-Christian relations (Exclusiveness and Tolerance), Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism (The Darker Side of Genius), the interaction between Jewish law and mysticism (Halakhah and Kabbalah), the ideological foundations of Zionism (Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation). Yet for all their range and diversity, Katz’s writings speak to a unified conception or, better, methodology.
Katz is prominently identified with the “Jerusalem School” of Jewish historiography, centered at the Hebrew University, whose leading spokesman was the late Gershom Scholem. While the founding members of this school explored a great many areas and made use of a range of methodologies, they shared a number of basic assumptions about the nature of the Jewish historiographical enterprise. Most crucially, they believed that Zionism and, especially, the establishment of a Jewish state would pave the way for a “normalized” study of the Jewish past, by which they meant that Jewish historiography would be freed of its apologetic strain. This position was set forth by Scholem in a 1945 essay, “Reflections on the Science of Judaism,” and again in a 1960 lecture, “The Science of Judaism—Then and Now.”
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