The German Jews Essay

“The German Jews”

I.                    What was the haskalah?

            Haskalah refers to a period of Jewish enlightenment beginning from the mid eighteenth century. According to Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (1997), haskalah represented the intellectual effort “to appraise and reconfigure Judaism according to enlightenment rationalism and naturalism” (p. 636). The haskalah movement traces its beginning from the writings of Moses Mendelssohn which aimed to accomplish the modernization of Jewish life by inducing them to adopt the culture, customs, dress, and language of the countries they lived.

 What issues did maskilim hope to address in Jewish communities?

            The Maskilim were the followers of the ideals of haskalah. The issues that the maskilim hope to address were the reformation of the Jewish traditional separatism based lifestyle. Arye Forta points out that the Jews during this time, “were very much a people apart” (Forta, A. 1955, p. 10). Forta noted that the Jews dressed differently from the people they are living with, and spoke different language. They lived a separatist life was thought to be inferior and that they were under a divine curse

What new opportunities did the new sociability of the Enlightenment open up for Jews in Germany?

            One of the most important opportunities that the new sociability of enlightenment opens up for the Jews in Germany was the possibility of assimilation into the society through the emancipation. This means that by adopting the culture and customs of the host country, they will be integrated into the society with guaranteed civil equality, under emancipation law. However, despite of the Jewish identities of being “a people very much apart” “inferior” and separatist, many of the Jews rejected the idea of assimilation by emancipation arguing that assimilation into a society dominated by protestant thought would mean loss of identity as a Jewish community.

What challenges did it pose for the maintenance of Jewish tradition and communal institutions?

            The challenges posed by the social opportunities brought about by the enlightenment were the loss of autonomy and the emergence of different Jewish denominations. These challenges triggered much debate for and against enlightenment, which according to Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey W. Bromiley: “tensions of religious self-assertion on both sides, interrupted at times by some expediement— all provoked by Jewish exclusiveness and prosperity and justified by repeated argument against Jews and Judaism” (p. 84).

            The statement corroborates to the issue at hand that emancipation and integration was threat to autonomy and Jewish denominations.

In your view, were maskilim successful in addressing these challenges?
No! It was unsuccessful due to the counter arguments against the idea of emancipation and integration that it will only lead to the loss of Jewish identity and the limited means to spread out the doctrine of the enlightenment. Furthermore, Forta noted that the Jews “remained loyal to their religion” (p. 11).

II.              Discuss the process of embourgeoisment in the first three quarters of the nineteenth century. Was this transformation solely an economic one?
The process of Jewish embourgeoisment during the first three quarter of the ninetieth century began with the emancipation which opened up new possibilities such as the opportunity to enter universities during the eighteenth century especially in the field of medicine. Robert David Anderson stressed that despite the surviving legal restrictions, “the German Jewish community underwent transformation in the early 19th century” (p. 169) from one small traders and artisans to predominantly bourgeois community. The transformation was not solely economic as it also meant acculturation and assimilation of religious practices (Anderson, p. 169).

What effects did embourgeoisment have on Jewish culture, religious practice, and gender roles?

            The effect of embourgeiosment on Jewish culture was the acculturation and the abandonment of tradition as well as of the acceptance German secular culture and the ideas of enlightenment which was the adoption of culture and customs and tradition of a particular country (Anderson, p. 168). In other words, the effect of embourgeiosment is the liberalization and the secularization of Jewish traditional culture.  The effect on Gender role was that most women abandon their role traditional role because of their contact with urban life.

While non-Jews in German lands also became “bourgeois” during this period, what particular significance did embourgeoisment have for Jews?

            The particular significance of embourgeoisment for the Jews was that it speaks of their new status, new image. They are now belonging to a society which once avoided them. It is a symbol of their freedom from traditional culture.

III.           Discuss the reemergence of Jewish life in Germany after the Holocaust.

 The reemergence of Jewish Population in Germany comprised of those who had gone underground, emigrated, or survived the camps and re-founded the Jewish institution. They were joined by an influx of Eastern European Jews who survived the Holocaust who opted to form together their community though divided on cultural, religious, and even political grounds (Geller, H. 2005, p. 2).

What conditions did Jews face in the immediate postwar years and why did so many Jews find themselves on German soil?

            The Jews faced quite a difficult situation immediately after the war brought by religious and political divisions. In view of this Geller calls the emerging Jewish community a “fractious community perhaps because of their restlessness or their differing interpretations about their experiences. Eventually however, they united themselves for the purposes of political representation (p. 2). While many of the Jews in Germany preferred to settle in Palestine after the war, a considerable minority opted to stay in Germany. Their numbers from 20,000- 40,000 regarded themselves as merely Jews living in Germany rather than German Jewry who are continuing the history and tradition of the past.

Why did some Jews choose to stay in or eventually return to West Germany after 1945?

            There was not much given reason why, they just wanted to live in Germany

 How did the postwar community differ from the prewar one?

            Jewish life may be better during the pre war compared to the post war community. Although they also had experienced oppressive laws directed at them, yet during the time of emancipation and integration or the period of enlightenment, their communities were bourgeoning and they were getting better education. The post war community on the other hand had to establish themselves again while they were reeling on the religious and political division caused by differing ideas about their experiences before, during, and after the war. It would have taken them quite a long time before they regain their former condition.

How did its relations with other parts of the Jewish diaspora, Israel and the West German state shape its identity?

            Jewish identity were helped shaped by three great Jewish reformers namely, Moses Mendelssohn (Through Jewish enlightenment) Eliyahu of Vilnus, and the Hasidim typified by Rabbi Yisrael. All these three work hard to radical changes in “what it meant to be a Jew” (Gilman. p. 9) in belief and in practice. The identity they had developed was the result of the enlightenment which made Jewish communities embourgeoining. They evolved from small traders and artisans’ people to become bourgeois and educated as a result of the enlightenment which brought their emancipation and integration towards the society.

How did this identity evolve once it became apparent that Jews in Germany would remain for the long term?

            This identity evolves through their emancipation and integration in to the society. Because of their economic advancement, they were able to re-established religious institution paving for the development of their religious identities replacing their national identity.

IV.               A central theme in defining German Jewish identity was that of the eastern Jew (Ostjude). Discuss the changing attitudes of German Jews towards eastern European Jews from the Second Empire to the Weimar Republic.

The changing attitude of the German Jews with Eastern European Jewry stemmed from the idea that the Eastern Jews were inferior or degenerate. However, this attitude was changed through the efforts Martin Buber’s positive re-evaluation of Hasidic life which eventually leads to the reversal of the “negative stereotypes of Eastern European Jewry” (Loentz, E, 2007, p. 139).

Why was it so important for German Jews to differentiate themselves from eastern Jews?

          It was first important for them to differentiate themselves from the Eastern Jews because they held that the Eastern Jews “embodied the physical, cultural and moral degeneration that was the result of the oppressive abnormality of Ghetto. German Jews had a notion that Eastern European Jews were inferior and degenerate.

What social factors shaped these perceptions? In what ways did attitudes toward the eastern Jew change during and after World War I?

          The social factors that shaped these perceptions were the works of artist, the Yiddish literature, folk songs and other philanthropic efforts depicting the positive side of Eastern European Jews.  During the World War I, most the Eastern Jews fought against the German soldiers on the Eastern front. With much effort to high light on the positive side of the Eastern Jews, the perceptions towards them of the German were eventually reversed. The criticisms and attacks coming from intellectual German Jews on the social perception of the Eastern Jews as inferior greatly helped reverse their notion of the Eastern Jews.

What insight does the ambivalent relationship of German Jews to the eastern Jew give us into German Jewish identity?

            The insights we can gain from the ambivalent relationship of German Jews to the Eastern Jews is that the German Jews were not only superior in terms of their principle as well as their courage, but they were also more advanced and economically superior. In this case, they played more important leadership role in organizing, and uniting the Jews that were remaining in Europe. Their attitude was very important as they provided the Jews the opportunity to be reunited as one community again after the dehumanizing condition they had all experienced before the war, and during the war. Perhaps this attitude was inspired by their being in the main centre of Jewish persecution.


Anderson, R. D. (2004). European Universities from Enlightenment to 1914 USA: Oxford University Press

Etkes, I. & Chipman, J. (1993) Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement USA: Jewish Publication Society

Fahlbusch, E. & Bromiley, G. W. (1999) The encyclopedia of Christianity USA: Eerdmans Publishing

Frank, D. H., Leaman, O. 91997) History of Jewish Philosophy Great Britain: Routledge

Geller, J. H. (2005) Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany, 1945-1953 USA: Cambridge University Press

Loentz, E. (2007) Let me Continue to Speak the Truth USA: Hebrew Union College Press