Commentary Magazine

Emancipation, Enlightenment & All That

France, who first wiped out the disgrace of Judah and broke the shackles of all the captives, she is our land of Israel; her mountainsour Zion; her rivers—our Jordan.

Samuel Halevi, Chronique de Paris,
April 3, 1792

My countrymen . . .? Which countrymen, the people of Dessau or the citizens of Jerusalem?
Moses Mendelssohn, letter to Thomas
Abbt, July 20, 1764

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.

It is instructive that Jews have been accustomed to designate their own swift entry into modernity as “the Emancipation,” linking that implicitly political movement of history with an ideological correlate, the Jewish Enlightenment. Emancipation is, of course, a loaded term. One can clearly speak of an emancipation in American history because black people in this country were in fact legally translated from a condition of mere chattel to free citizens, however tortuously compromised their technical state of freedom afterward proved to be. In the case of the Jews, on the other hand, the use of the term encourages one to assume that highly perplexing historical phenomena are self-evidently simple, for it is not altogether clear what was the condition of previous servitude from which the Jews were freed, or precisely what kinds of freedom they gained and what others they may have lost in their new life.

Salo Baron, the leading American-Jewish historian, has pointed out with characteristic lucidity that Jews before the Emancipation, at least in regard to the basic physical needs and cultural amenities, were actually better off than their average Christian contemporaries. Compared to the dire condition of the general populace in medieval and renaissance Europe, “one could contend [that] the Jews belonged to the privileged minority of every country in both legal theory and actual fact.” Against the conventional notion of pre-modern Jewry as a pariah-people, Baron observes that under the social and legal arrangements of the medieval corporate state, the Jews as a group were able to exercise an impressive degree of legally protected autonomy: “Above all, under the older corporate system Jews enjoyed a great measure of self-determination. Even more than other corporate groups, their community enjoyed full self-government not only in religious matters—and religion embraced a much wider area of life than it does today—but also in education, the judiciary, and fiscal affairs.”1 Emancipation for the Jews meant first of all the surrender of this self-determination, and implied a breakdown of communal autonomy in which they themselves were encouraged to participate as active agents. Under the older system, to be sure, individual Jews were subject to the considerable coercive pressures of their own community, and the Jewish system of self-governance—the kehillah, or executive body of the Jewish corporation—tended to be restrictively oligarchic, for all its outward show of representative electoral process. The emancipated Jew, then, might well gain a significant measure of freedom as an individual in breaking away from the authority of the kehillah and the rabbinic system of belief, but he did so at the risk of exposing himself to new orders of coercion, surely more subtle than the old and at times perhaps more profound as well. This hardly cancels out the newly gained freedoms, but it should at least suggest that we beware of conceiving the Emancipation as a simple triumphal march from the dank medieval prisons of the ghettos to a modern world of light and latitude.

Now, it has long been recognized that there is an intimate association between the Emancipation and the broad shift of the European economy from feudalism to capitalism. Useful documentation of the connection between the two has been done by the Israeli Marxist historian, Raphael Mahler, whose work has just been made available in English for the first time.2 Mahler is not always an infallible guide, because his Marxism leads him at times to facile unilinear notions of historical causation, while his ostensibly “scientific” view of the historical dialectic is in fact often strongly colored by that aggressively moralistic nationalism which commonly determines the classic Zionist cast of mind. Nevertheless, he clearly states the main terms of the economic argument, and he is particularly valuable in describing the virulent class conflicts that beset the various Jewish communities on the eve of the modern age. Mahler traces in painstaking detail the repressive measures adopted by the sundry kehillah-heads against the Jewish lower classes in everything from the right to work and the privilege of residence to modes of dress, and how the excesses of taxation and legal restriction drove some lower-class Jews, as in Cracow in 1812, to the threat of actual armed rebellion against the kehillah. Mahler thus makes a fairly plausible case for viewing the maskilim (proponents of Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment) as the intellectual spokesmen for the new Jewish middle classes, leading an insurrection against the rabbinic authorities and the very principle of kehillah autonomy because both would have impaired the freedom of economic activity of the new entrepreneurs.

As for the conditions in the surrounding society that could make the self-assertion of these new classes possible, Mahler’s view is clear and forthright, if predictable: “The economic interests of the rising bourgeoisie postulated the abolition of the legal restrictions to which Jewish capital was subjected. This was in accordance with one of the chief slogans of the new class: an unimpeded clear path for the forces of capitalism. . . . The ideas of human equality and of the natural rights of man were rightfully applicable to the Jewish problem and the status of the Jews.” This seems by and large just, though it was probably more often Jewish entrepreneurial skills rather than Jewish capital that served the interests of the rising bourgeoisie. (Jacob Katz, in his classic study, Tradition and Crisis,3 points out that the Jews, generally excluded from extensive land-owning and agriculture, unable to aspire to upper-class status or ultimate political power, forced into a strictly utilitarian attitude toward their economic environment and their own business dealings, were ideal managers and investors for the growing abundance of liquid capital.) What may need more substantive qualification in Mahler’s statement is the implication that the European Enlightenment’s ideological commitment to the rights of man was a direct function of the need to have a clear path for the free play of economic forces. One would hardly want to deny a serious connection between the two, but Marxist historiography, as Yehezkel Kaufmann argued long ago, tends to confuse necessary conditions with sufficient conditions in its notions of economic causation, thus denying ideas any momentum of their own in the significant play of historical forces.4



Historians, however, are no more disposed than other kinds of people to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. After all, one proven way of giving a momentary appearance of originality when you are devoid of originality is to restate ideas that need qualification in the most baldly unqualified way. That formula says most of what needs to be said about Ellis Rivkin’s The Shaping of Jewish History,5 though Rivkin’s insistent claims for the profound significance of his own thesis make the book thoroughly irritating as well as silly, and invite some setting-to-rights. Rivkin subtitles his book, “A Radical New Interpretation,” with a hovering ambiguity in the use of “radical,” since he would like to take advantage of the term’s current chic—his history is “hard-boiled and radical,” he says in the Introduction—but the order of the two adjectives indicates that the interpretation is radical mainly in its self-avowed newness, while the author turns out to be an apologist for capitalism of a sort that the National Association of Manufacturers would not dare to invent in its most self-indulgent fantasies.

Rivkin puts us on notice several times at the outset of his study that he has “broken new ground,” that he is proposing views which, to his knowledge, have “never been advocated previously by any other scholar.” The key to his originality is a conception of economic causation in history so simplistic that it is almost breathtaking. Others have wrestled with the unprecedented monstrosity of the Nazi program of genocide; Rivkin explains it in a quick sweep of the pen: “The economic, social, and political problem of dealing with surplus labor and surplus production makes intelligible the Nazi plan for exterminating Jews and thirty million or so Slavs.” The fate of Jews since World War II offers no greater obstacle to explanation: “The existence of the State of Israel and the freedom Jews enjoy throughout the West can be attributed to the rise and spread since 1945 of a new form of social revolutionary [sic] capitalism.” As for the resurgent Soviet anti-Semitism that has of late much exercised Kremlinologists and connoisseurs of the Russian soul, that is “the consequence of the failure of Marxist systems, when in power, to solve the problem of agricultural productivity—i.e., anti-Semitism there can be directly correlated with the failure of the food supply.”

What does such a relentlessly economic view of history make of the Emancipation? Ever the “hard-boiled” historian, Rivkin states his case in the most absolute terms: “Capitalism and capitalism alone emancipated the Jews.” He then proceeds to spell out the mechanism of causation that was implicit in Mahler’s view of the phenomenon:

The pattern of Jewish emancipation reveals as does no other that developing capitalism generates individual freedom, so that the entrepreneur will be free to test his ideas for making profit. Neither he nor anyone else can be certain in advance that his ideas will reap a profit; but he must have a climate that will be supportive to his innovating notions. Such a climate cannot be turned on and off arbitrarily. It must be built into the structure, institutions, and laws of society. Thus the freedom to pursue profit necessitates the generation of freedom for the individual. The realm of ideas is thrown open for free exploration by those who seek truth and knowledge rather than profit. Thus capitalism bred free thinkers.

This has a certain superficial plausibility, but all the connections made—those disconcertingly assured “thus” ‘s—are far too simple, and the proposed causal link between free enterprise and free thought finally explains almost nothing about Spinoza, Kant, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, the genesis of their thought and its historical impact. What is most disturbing, however, is the assumption of an automatic mechanism in “developing capitalism” that makes for ever greater freedom. Rivkin may well possess the most untroubled faith in progress of any writer since Condorcet. Developing capitalism, seen by him in the beatifying glow of a truly messianic belief, always and inevitably liberates. All of the gross obscenities perpetrated in the capitalist period can be put down to periods of “stagnation” when capitalism’s forward movement has been temporarily arrested. American foreign policy since World War II, because it is conceived as the function of a new dynamic stage of developing capitalism, is characterized as “global” rather than nationalist in its aims, “anti-imperialist,” benign in its total effect and direction, moving steadily toward a world of equitably distributed goods and universal freedom for the individual.

It may seem gratuitously cruel to summarize ideas so transparently assailable, though it would be crueler still to quote them in their author’s own formulation. The dubiety, however, of Rivkin’s analysis of contemporary events exposes the fatuousness of his whole progressivist conception of history; and that in turn suggests how any uncompromising economic system of historical explanation, whether orthodox socialist or neo-capitalist, tends to assume a great leap forward in the process of Emancipation when that is precisely what needs to be demonstrated. It should be self-evident that economic systems require political means for their implementation, so that societies seeking to make profit in a certain manner will be impelled to create the social and political conditions necessary for the achievement of that end. Some causal relation, therefore, between nascent capitalism and the granting of political rights and freedom of movement and occupation to Jews can hardly be gainsaid, though the point was made long before Rivkin, and far more judiciously, by Mahler, Baron, and, most strategically, by Jacob Katz. The gap, however, between formal and actual freedom, as Baron’s argument suggests, remains to be measured. In any case, when one moves from politics to the realm of ideas, from Emancipation to Enlightenment, the causal connection between capitalism and a movement of liberation becomes problematic, and the nature of the liberation itself proves to be highly ambiguous. That ambiguity, of course, is precisely what is most instructive about the entry of the Jews into modern Europe, and precisely what is missed by viewing Emancipation and Enlightenment under the simple aspect of Progress.



The Jewish Enlightenment, in both its German and Hebrew manifestations, often did affirm the values of the new Jewish bourgeoisie, as Mahler repeatedly contends. Again, Rivkin states the case as flatly as possible: “The Haskalah movement can be called the ideological program of those Jews saying ‘yes’ to developing capitalism.” Though the total lack of qualification here should give any reader pause, there is a good deal of evidence to be cited in support of the thesis. In the earliest Reform congregations in Berlin and elsewhere, sermons were actually preached, after the fashion of some of the English Dissenters, in praise of the earnest striving for wealth and the scrupulous employment of time in productive effort. Hebrew fiction of the Haskalah tends typically to project the values of the new burgher class: the moral model often is a character who is a productive and responsible member of modern European society, ideally with a degree in engineering or pharmacy, wearing decent Western dress, circumspect in his dealings with his fellow men, guiding his life calmly upon principles of pragmatic rationality. One can also find, especially among the German maskilim, a contempt for and dissociation from the Jewish masses, as though the newly-arrived bourgeois felt called upon to affirm repeatedly, “We are not like that rabble—our breath doesn’t stink, we are cleanshaven, we serve good German food on the best china.” Mahler argues that Moses Mendelssohn’s vehement rejection of his own native language, Yiddish—he even wondered whether its use might not contribute to “immorality”!—expressed a bourgeois snobbish contempt for the lower classes. This strikes me as too facile a judgment, since Yiddish was equally the language of Jewish indigents and of the established householders and merchants who controlled the kehillah. The rejection of Yiddish, then, would be not merely a matter of class attitudes but of self-rejection, at least insofar as the self is embedded in the matrix of the total culture where it initially develops.

This point has been aptly made by Michael A. Meyer in his carefully discriminating study of the German-Jewish Enlightenment: “Psychologically there seems to be a trace of self-hate or simple shame in Mendelssohn’s strange reasonings; ideologically the old speech represented for him the past which must be overcome and the very counterpole of the ‘culture’ which must be achieved.”6 The judiciousness of Meyer’s general analysis and the decorous literacy of his prose are especially noteworthy because he is Ellis Rivkin’s student, and he could scarcely have acquired these virtues from his teacher. One might have hoped for a broader horizon of psychological speculation in Meyer’s study, since it is meant to deal with the problem of identity, but he does a responsible job in laying out the pertinent biographical facts for the figures he discusses, and he clearly perceives the area of most abiding interest in his subject: “From the time that Mendelssohn first openly confronted the problem of being both Jew and European until the disillusion of the young Zunz, the cultural environment changed radically but the existential problem of Jewish self-definition remained constant. Again and again a mute Jewish consciousness reached out for self-explanation, but ever fell short of an adequate justification.”



Meyer seems to me to place emphasis on precisely the right terms. The first fact of consciousness for Jews emerging from the old Jewish communal structures was the need to justify their existence, a need whose urgency has not altogether abated during the course of two centuries, not even after the realization of Zionism. One understands only too well why The Trial was written by a Prague Jew, and why, moreover, that novel has become one of the paradigmatic texts for modern readers. What I am suggesting is that the Emancipation provides special illumination on the often-asserted notion that the modern Jewish experience is the general modern experience writ large. Identity becomes more of a pressing problem for everyone as the traditional frameworks of family, community, class, and confession break apart, and so the need to justify one’s existence becomes general. A new class-consciousness cannot provide the invariable key to the problem of identity precisely because class affiliation itself is now a partly-open option, one variable of identity rather than its inevitable and naturally-assumed context. The individual who finds himself in the condition of anomie endemic to the new mobile societies is likely to be considerably more anguished, and to enjoy considerably greater possibilities for personal growth, than the member of a traditional society; is likely to possess an immensely larger capacity for freedom and a concomitantly enlarged susceptibility to enslavement as the seductive way out of the pangs of self-definition. One of the greatest spiritual temptations of modern existence is to surrender one’s precarious identity to an elite group or cultural milieu, a charismatic leader, a proximate social class, or, above all, to some ideological fundamentalism; and Jews since the beginning of the Emancipation have provided abundant and painful examples of the various strategies of surrender.

The proponents of Enlightenment among German Jewry, as Meyer’s study indicates, are fascinating precisely because of their inner struggles to mediate between some sense of their own individual and group integrity and the compelling desire to be accepted by an admired host culture that would have retained grave misgivings about them no matter what they did to find favor. These vacillations issued, variously, in a theology that reduced Judaism to a “natural religion” virtually interchangeable with Christianity but for a few outward trappings; in a hollow apologetic doctrine of a Mission of Israel to the Gentiles; in an ideology of self-obliteration through conversion; in the reduction of Jewish tradition to a neutral object of scientific research by the Wissenschaft des Judentums or to a repository of aesthetic value by the Hebrew Enlightenment. Almost any of these sundry grapplings with self-definition could illustrate that ideas—indeed, even words—generate a causative momentum of their own, however simple it may seem at first to trace their origins to class-consciousness and economic needs.

The Hebrew Enlightenment is a case in point. The major Hebrew poetic text of the Berlin Haskalah is Naphtali Herz Weisel’s Songs of Glory (1789-1802), a didactic epic on the Exodus and the life of Moses. The prudential ethic of practical rationality insisted upon by Weisel in the poem could indeed be linked with the values of the new bourgeoisie, and his very imitation of Klopstock and other would-be epic poets of 18th-century Germany might be interpreted sociologically as an attempt to adapt “Oriental” Hebrew literature to the bienséances of polite letters as they were understood by contemporary European society. Nevertheless, it should be observed that the turning of poetry to an ancient pastoral setting represents not a reflection of bourgeois values but, at least in one sense, a reaction against them; and the assumption of a national theme, for all the distance from nationalism of the early Haskalah, eventually proved to be momentous. The next two generations of Hebrew writers followed Weisel in devoting attention to biblical materials, often with a more pronounced bucolic atmosphere, less didactic and more lyrical (the stylistic decision to go back from rabbinic to biblical Hebrew of course played an important role here). This literary activity in turn helped prepare the ground of consciousness for the back-to-the-soil romantic nationalism of the Lovers of Zion (Hovevei Zion)—a consummation that could scarcely have been foreseen by the German maskilim, who dreamt of transcending the old notions of Jewish nationhood in an enlightened cosmopolitan Europe.

What especially complicated the struggle for identity among emancipated European Jews was not their marginality but the stimulating, frustrating combination of marginality and centrality that characterized their location in cultural and economic life. Perhaps the most striking instance of this paradoxical phenomenon is the “salon Jewesses”—most notably, Dorothea Mendelssohn (Moses’ daughter), Henriette Herz, and Rahel Varnhagen—who were the mistresses of philosophers and poets and whose homes became the lively center of intellectual society in Berlin at the height of the Romantic period. As an early and significant stage in the so-called adventure of assimilation, the salon Jewesses are chiefly memorable for their energy of self-negation as Jews: it is sobering to note that all three of the celebrated Berlin intellectual hostesses eventually converted to Christianity. Yet they were also on occasion pricked by a positive if anxious consciousness of their residual Jewish identity, as Michael Meyer’s account makes clear. Rahel Varnhagen may well be the first modern Jew to have built the condition of being an outsider into a kind of ideology: to be a Jew meant for her to live with the awareness of ineradicable distance between oneself and one’s surroundings, and that was a destiny to be gladly assumed by the sensitive individual because it brought with it self-conscious suffering, intensity, sharpness of perception—in short, personal authenticity. Looking back on Jewish history, Rahel could contemplate “with sublime rapture . . . these, my origins and this whole web of destiny, by which the oldest memories of the human race are connected with the latest circumstances,” but in the next breath she could go on to express her identification with Mary weeping for her son on the cross. The conversions of the salon Jewesses were made out of passionate Romantic enthusiasm for Christianity, not from motives of mere social convenience. The point is worth stressing because what is finally interesting in their turning to the faith of the host culture is the moment of radical self-rejection in their personal quests for identity.

Thus Dorothea Mendelssohn, who after all grew up in the home of one of the most admired intellectual figures of Enlightenment Germany, could stigmatize her family as Philistines and, on a note of vulgar anti-Semitism, describe her brother Abraham as “an unfeeling barbarian . . . not one whit better than any Berlin Jew, except that he has even finer underwear and even coarser arrogance.” Correspondingly, in a letter to Schleiermacher, she could express her abhorrence for “the old Judaism” that stood in such gross contrast to Protestantism, “the religion of Jesus and the religion of culture.” Dorothea Mendelssohn began her personal adventure out of an impelling need to assert her independence, but she moved through the stations of subordination of self to self-effacement not only in her relationship to Christianity but also in her long affair with Friedrich Schlegel, who progressively became the great motive and end of her existence. The surrender of self would in any case have had its allure for her as a woman committed to an unconventional search for self-realization in the unyielding medium of 19th-century European society, but that allure was made almost irresistible by the fact that she was also, in the fullest problematic sense of the term, an emancipated Jew.



There is, finally, a profoundly disconcerting quality of innocence in views of the Emancipation like those of Mahler and Rivkin. One thing which the last two hundred years should have taught us all, which we are reminded of daily in vocal manifestations of contemporary political life, is that the most encompassing suppression of freedoms can be enacted in the name of—even in the sincerest affirmation of—a great ideal of freedom. The ideologues of Enlightenment, as they imagined dismantling the coercive systems of the old order, tended also to project new systems and institutions where individuals, in the rationally planned new world, would have to conform to a particular ideal of “freedom.” It is hardly accidental that the first great European revolution ended in a reign of terror, or that the 19th-century intellectual heirs to the Enlightenment provided the ideological bases upon which modern totalitarianism was built. Arthur Hertzberg, in his study of the French Enlightenment,7 has demonstrated the existence of a strong absolutist strain in Enlightenment thought, preeminently in Voltaire, and he argues persuasively that attitudes toward the Jews provide an especially sensitive measure of this underlying direction. It is predictable that the Revolutionary counsels should have heatedly debated the status of the Jews, committed on the one hand to granting equality to all citizens in the new secular state, feeling on the other hand that these aliens had to renounce much of their own distinctive past and remake themselves in the image of the new Frenchman if they were to be acceptable at all. Hertzberg’s summary of the French Revolution’s impact on the Jews nicely defines the double-edged thrust of the supposed Emancipation:

Two roads led from the Revolution. One was paved by the decrees of emancipation. In their ultimate effect in Europe as a whole, they allowed the Jews to enter into society as equal citizens before the law and as participants in the general culture. On this road there appeared a great galaxy of creative spirits who were among the makers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, a certain discomfort was inherent in their situation; it caused pain in the souls of many. This “new Jew” had been born into a society which asked him to keep proving that he was worthy of belonging to it. Unfortunately, this “new Jew” was never quite told exactly what he had to prove and before which tribunal.

In Prussia, then Germany, where political conditions prevented the Enlightenment from issuing in revolution, the lines of connection with the pre-modern past were somewhat different, but the general pattern of ambiguity in the ostensible freedom extended to the Jews was the same. Among French Enlightenment thinkers, as Hertzberg shows, a current of neo-paganism carried along with it a resurgence of the pagan variety of anti-Semitism that had been articulated in classical antiquity. In Germany, even as secularization spread, even in the new age of “developing capitalism,” the ideas and attitudes about Jews and national identity fostered by pre-capitalist Christianity exhibited an enormous momentum of their own. This persistence and rechanneling of old Christian feelings in the wake of the Emancipation have recently been illuminated with painstaking care and precision by the Israeli historian, Uriel Tal, in a study of the confrontations between Christianity and Judaism in the Second Reich.8 The subtitle of Tal’s work is “Historical Processes on the Road to Totalitarianism,” and without the slightest tendency to impose the lineaments of the Third Reich on the Second, he is utterly persuasive in tracing the shriveling of one, hopeful political idea and the growth of another, ultimately pernicious one. German Jews, many of them wanting, despite the epidemic of baptisms, to maintain some sort of distinctive identity as a group and at the same time to achieve full integration into German society, based their expectations on a rationalistic conception of the state as a secular entity that would grant equal rights to all its members, regardless of belief or ethnic origin. They assumed, in other words, the full freight of implication of the term “emancipation” as the proper definition of their own condition within the modern state.



What is most telling in Tal’s minutely documented account of the failure of this idea is the fact that even the liberal Protestants, who ostensibly shared with the Jews a rationalistic Enlightenment conception of society, actually insisted on the Christian nature of German national consciousness and hence finally on a mystique of organic national community compounded of belief and blood. Both Jews and liberal Protestants generally supported separation of church and state in these years of the Kultur-kampf and its aftermath, but for the Protestants separation meant that Christian values, Christian submission and discipline vis-à-vis the state, were now to be internalized by the individual citizen whose citizenship, after all, had profoundly religious implications because his nation was more and more conceived as the center of a movement of redemption in history. Thus, the so-called German citizen of Mosaic persuasion envisaged by the Enlightenment proved to be a contradiction in terms, and the Jew was once again, in the context of a new political theology, the archetypal figure of the man irrevocably excluded from the community of the elect.

It is easy enough to see the linear connection between anti-Semitism as a formal, pseudo-scientific ideology in the Second Reich and the horrors of the Third Reich, but Tal’s study significantly demonstrates how, in specific regard to the vexing question of the place of the Jews, large segments of German society, including some of its most progressive elements, evinced a conceptual readiness for totalitarianism at a time when ideological anti-Semitism was limited to a small, strident minority. The accelerating development of industrial capitalism in 19th-century Germany may have encouraged the affirmation of certain libertarian ideals, but at the same time, even in liberal circles, the ideological ground was prepared for the total denial of individual liberty.



Any serious contemplation of the Emancipation is bound to be sobering, though it need not be entirely discouraging. The ultimate expectation by the majority culture of a complete internalization of its values could obviously lead Jews to a total abdication of self—always with the fear that even that would be unavailing—and in contrast to such a fate the ghetto Jew might be considered to have enjoyed real inner freedom. Ahad Ha-am, writing in Odessa in 1901 with sharp irony about his “Western brethren,” pointedly characterized their condition as “slavery within freedom.” Yet the preciousness of the freedom can hardly be discounted. There are awesome risks and challenges in being exposed to a pervasive atmosphere of psychological coercion, but one is not necessarily its helpless victim, and it is in more than a superficial sense liberating to be freed of external restraints, free to participate as one wishes in civic and cultural life, to live where one chooses and do the work one wants, to determine many of the significant terms of one’s own existence. What the Emancipation opened up was not a simple vista of freedom but the opposed alternatives of slavery-within-freedom and freedom-within-freedom; and the experience of two centuries has only shown what might have been expected: how arduous it is to take the second of these paths.




1 “Newer Approaches to Jewish Emancipation,” Diogenes 29 (Spring, 1960).

2 A History of Modern Jewry: 1780-1815, Schocken, 742 pp., $15.00. This ponderous, lamentably unselective compilation of factual details is, mercifully, an abridgment of the four-volume Hebrew version that appeared in Tel Aviv in the early 50's.

3 Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages, Schocken Paperbacks, 280 pp., $2.95. (A reissue of the 1961 English translation; the Hebrew original appeared in 1958.) See especially Chapters VI and VII.

4 Kaufmann's (untranslated) critique of Marxist historiography is still worthy of attention. See Golah ve'Neikhar (Tel Aviv, 1929), vol. 1, pp. 51-107.

5 Scribner's, 256 pp., $7.95.

6 The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749-1824, Wayne State University Press, 249 pp., $8.50.

7 The French Enlightenment and the Jews, Columbia University Press, 420 pp., $12.50; this book was reviewed in COMMENTARY by Jacob Katz, October 1968.

8 Yahadut ve'Natzrut ba'Reich ha'Sheni: Tahalikhim Histori'im ba'Derekh le'Totalitariut, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 315 pp.

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