Aspects of Jewish Economic History

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But this learning, which aims at the elucidation and reconciliation of texts as the expression of God's law, is to be distinguished from the study of Jews and Judaism without at least in principle any objective beyond a search for the truth. Not that a totally objective approach to Jewish culture has ever been possible. The earliest students of Jewish literature in European universities were Christian professors of classical Hebrew in the medieval period whose concern was to discover the true meaning of the text of the Old Testament.

Christian Hebraists in the Renaissance hoped to find in the Jewish mystical texts esoteric insights to match those of the pagan and Christian Neoplatonists of late antiquity. Much of the best scholarship on Jewish history and literature in the Second Temple period has been, since the nineteenth century, the work of Christian theologians primarily interested in the background to the New Testament.

Similarly, the first foray by German Jews, p. The efforts of the creators of the Wissenschaft des Judentums still underpin contemporary study of some aspects of Jewish culture.

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But in some respects these pioneers may be deemed to have failed for most of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, in contrast to advocates of other national cultures such as English or German studies whose promotion in universities alongside classics was strikingly successful. Attempts to encourage European universities to establish posts to teach Jewish culture outside the context of Christian theology were only sporadically successful before the mid-twentieth century.

Those few attracted into the field were almost exclusively Jews; the lecturers and professors in rabbinics and Jewish studies in places like Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, Paris, Harvard, and Columbia were all Jews before the late twentieth century, whereas teachers of Arabic were rarely Arabs, and teachers of Chinese were not Chinese. Most of what was written was the product of Jewish institutions, rabbinic academies which tried to combine yeshiva learning with the methods of scientific scholarship.

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Much was defensive, with aspects of Jewish culture singled out for special praise and the history of the Jews described as far as possible on the model of a national state rather than a dispersed religious minority. The non-Jewish world, both within and outside the universities, paid little attention to what was written, and in much of Europe even such modest advances as had been made were brought to an end either by the upheavals of the s or by restrictions within the communist bloc during the Cold War.

Where the Wissenschaft des Judentums took hold most firmly was in the national homeland. In the s the Hebrew University, with its Institute of Jewish Studies, was established on the European, and especially the German, model as a university for the Jewish people, with the task both of researching the nature of Judaism and of describing a living Jewish culture for the Jewish people. With the establishment of the State of Israel in this educative role became a major task as the new nation strove to create an appropriate collective consciousness out of a necessarily selective evocation of the Jewish past.

In North America, by contrast, Jewish studies took off in the last quarter of the twentieth century in an entirely different direction. A general liberal awareness, particularly in the United States, of the sometimes arbitrary and oppressive concentration of traditional scholarship on the achievements of the wealthy and powerful led in the s to encouragement of minority studies, such as women's studies and black studies.

Jewish studies have flourished in many universities under the same general rubric, but with a rather firmer intellectual base precisely because of the p. The claim to intellectual respectability has often been bolstered by describing the subject as Judaic studies or by sheltering not altogether satisfactorily under the rubric of Hebrew studies.

These developments have been, of course, only partly the product of the wider social changes just described, since something at least must also be due to the efforts and inclinations of the scholars themselves. Thus discoveries of new evidence such as the Cairo genizah, the Dead Sea scrolls or, more recently, documents about Jews in the state archives of the former Soviet Union, have stimulated whole new fields of research.

Aspects of Jewish economic history

Types of scholarship which were previously the preserve of the dedicated few have been opened up through the availability of resources such as the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in the National and University Library in Jerusalem, or the publication on CD-ROM of rabbinic texts e. Bar-Ilan's Judaic Library , talmudic manuscript readings Lieberman Institute , and computer-enhanced photographs of the Qumran scrolls Alexander and Lim The institutions in which Jewish studies are based in the early twenty-first century reflect this history of the development of the subject.

Thus much is achieved by a coterie of university-based institutions dedicated to the subject, both teaching departments and research centres, but most of these are quite small and of recent foundation. Much the most influential has been the oldest, the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University set up in , but more recent years have also seen numerous important publications by other Israeli research centres, notably the at Rosenberg school at Tel Aviv University, and in Bar-Ilan University, but also in the many more specialized institutes such as for example the Ben-Gurion Research Centre in Beer-Sheva and the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Outside Israel, there are also a few specialized institutions, such as YIVO in New York and the research centre at the University of Pennsylvania which, metamorphosed from Dropsie College and the Annenberg Center into a full part of the university, has become a powerhouse for scholarship through a well-developed and well-funded programme of research seminars for visiting scholars. But these centres are the exception rather than the rule. Thus much important scholarship is still done by enthusiastic amateurs outside the university world, particularly in such fields as genealogy and local history, and much is achieved also within the confines of religious institutions.

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The Jewish theological academies, pre-eminently the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Hebrew Union College, retain great influence, although less than their counterparts in Central and Western Europe before the Holocaust. In contrast, there is now very little contact between academic Jewish Studies and the yeshiva world, a reflection of the polarization of the religious world which has also created difficulties for universities such as Yeshiva University in New York and Bar-Ilan University in Israel, which was set up in the s precisely to give to orthodox Jewish students the best of both worlds.

Similarly, much of Jewish studies is still done under the aegis of Christian faculties of theology, particularly in Europe and in parts of Latin America. But the bulk of Jewish studies scholars work in quite disparate faculties, in which their interest in Jewish matters constitutes only a small element in their intellectual identity. Thus the academic addresses of most members who attend and speak at the World Congress of Jewish Studies will be faculties of history, sociology, religious studies, oriental languages, politics, and so on—that is, almost any faculty in the humanities and social sciences—and it will be to those disciplines, rather than to their Jewish material, that these scholars may feel their primary allegiance.

Jewish studies have thus developed in a fragmented and amorphous fashion, with concomitant problems. In essence, the subject is not really a specific discipline in its own right. It certainly does not conform to the norms of a classic historical or literary discipline based upon either a specific place or a specific language: Jewish languages are multifarious and the countries Jews have inhabited all too many.

Martin Goodman

All too often it is impossible to understand aspects of Jewish culture without a detailed knowledge also of the surrounding non-Jewish world, so that a total mastery of Jewish studies requires almost encyclopaedic knowledge. Against this background it is fruitless to expect consistent methods across the whole field. Most of the journals devoted to Jewish studies specialize in particular parts of the subject, either openly as official editorial policy or in practice through the preferences of editors or the growth of traditions. Hebrew Union College Annual published since has p. Tarbiz , in Hebrew, still covers a broad chronological span.

Sefarad , founded in Spain by non-Jewish scholars in and published in Spanish since , has a wide remit in Hebrew topics, with a special interest in Sephardic studies. As will emerge from the brief paragraphs of suggested reading at the end of each chapter of the Handbook, many journals have sprung up in recent years devoted exclusively to what might appear to be small corners of the subject when Jewish culture is viewed as a whole—thus for example there are two journals for the Dead Sea Scrolls Revue de Qumran and Dead Sea Discoveries , and a flourishing annual for Polish Jewish studies Polin This proliferation of specialist publications encourages the intellectual disintegration of the subject as a whole.

For many scholars in the field, their main intellectual allegiance is to their primary discipline and their concern is as much to bring a Jewish dimension to the attention of their colleagues in these disciplines as it is to use the methods of those disciplines to enlighten students interested in other aspects of Jewish culture.

Few boundaries can be clearly set. Some scholars, including some who have made important contributions to knowledge of Jewish history and culture, are so impressed by these problems that they refuse to accept that Jewish studies is a field at all, but I think it is unnecessary to despair over such issues of definition and organization. Almost all humanities subjects raise some questions of this kind, although Jewish studies may raise more than most. This is an extension of an apologetic tendency which, despite pretensions to academic objectivity, Jewish studies has found it difficult to shed, not least because funding for teaching the subject in diaspora universities has often come from donors who see such encouragement as a means to reinforce local Jewish communal identity. The solutions to these theoretical and practical problems have been different in the different parts of the world where Jewish studies are to be found, not least because sources of funding vary.

Regardless of any protestation by both donor and recipient, it would be naive to expect the wishes of the paymaster to have no effect p. Thus in Israel the study of Jewish culture is financed primarily by the state, and historically has played an important role in defining and questioning national identity in the new state through the creation and demolition of national myths such as the heroic defence of Masada, the ambiguous role of Bar Kochba, and the contribution of archaeology to Jewish claims to the land.

In some parts of the field orthodoxies laid down by the giants of the early generations at the Hebrew University were for years only slowly challenged, not least because, in a small country with a culture traditionally respectful towards teachers, many Israeli academics were the direct intellectual descendants of these pioneers, but again, this attitude of deference was never universal, and in the current generation younger scholars sometimes make a virtue of radical departures from the consensus.

Perhaps for similar reasons Israeli academics within Jewish studies did not always welcome forays into Jewish topics by their colleagues in other departments, and some areas of Jewish studies, particularly the study of rabbinic texts, have been in danger of becoming too esoteric for those outside the field to venture to use such texts at all. It does not help that the academic study of rabbinics within Jewish studies is also in some danger for a different reason, the current sharp divide between the religious and the secular in Israel.

For much of the twentieth century the great figures in this area were scholars who had come to academic study only after a deep yeshiva education. People interested in combining yeshiva learning with an academic approach to rabbinic literature are not now common. In the United States the quite different pressures on the local Jewish population have encouraged widespread adoption of the model of interdepartmental programmes of Jewish studies, not least because many American Jewish students are attracted by the prospect of including an element of Jewish studies within their modular courses as part of a search to establish their identity.

The needs of such students have been pre-eminent for many of the private benefactors responsible for the establishment of Jewish studies posts, often combined with a hope that the incumbent of the post may also play a role within the local Jewish community. The interests of such benefactors in promoting specific aspects of Jewish studies, such as research into the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism, reflect to a large degree the concerns of North American Jews as a whole.

The result has been some odd imbalances. Two examples may illustrate. First, many courses are taught to Jewish students using sources from within the Jewish tradition, but because the students concerned lack time or inclination to learn the Jewish languages in which these texts were written, much is done in translation. One effect of this is that few students who graduate in Jewish studies are qualified without further training to p. Second, a desire to maintain academic independence from theological pressures, perhaps a reflection of the divide between the religious and the secular in the American constitution, remains strong.

It led to a debate when the Association for Jewish Studies was inaugurated as to whether rabbis should even be allowed to join; they were, but when classic rabbinic texts are taught in America universities it is often in departments of religion, where many of the students are not Jews but enthusiastic Christians seeking to understand the background to Christianity.

Elsewhere in the world the pattern of development of Jewish studies has generally followed a similar route to that in the United States so in Canada, South Africa, and Australia ; thus the efflorescence of Jewish studies in Russia has mostly been fuelled by the desire of Russian Jews to explore their identity and by the willingness of American and Israeli institutions to fund and advise them.

The position in Western and Central Europe is rather more varied. In some countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and elsewhere there has been much scholarship on the history of the local Jewish populations, partly perhaps in an effort to assert the rightful place of Jews within the history of each nation. The large Jewish population in France, many of North African origin, has encouraged an expansion in Sephardic studies, and in many universities Jewish studies are taught by Jews to Jews.

Edited by Martin Goodman

By contrast, most teachers and students in Germany are non-Jews, although in recent years there have been more Jewish students in Germany of Russian origin. In the United Kingdom the field is neatly divided between the mostly Jewish staff and students in places such as the Hebrew and Jewish Studies department at University College London, and the mostly non-Jewish teachers and students in other universities where Jewish studies are more fragmented and still often an offshoot of Christian theology—it is not accidental that for the first ten years or so after its inauguration in , the British Association for Jewish Studies timed its annual meeting always to follow on after the meeting of the Society for Old Testament Study.

Regional variety is most clearly expressed in the different trends to be found in the historiography of local diaspora communities.

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There has been room in the Handbook to discuss in some detail the historiography of Jews in America, but it would have needed a separate chapter on each diaspora country to include an account of all the roughly parallel developments elsewhere over the past century and a half, such as the sterling work on Anglo-Jewish history carried out since by the Jewish Historical Society of England, and the highly productive efforts in examining German-Jewish history made by for example the S.

In many countries the agenda for such study was long driven by enthusiastic, often exceptionally expert, local Jewish amateurs, and the subject has only recently been adopted by professional scholars based in universities. Specialists in such local Jewish history often feel, not without justification, that their discoveries receive less attention than they deserve from colleagues p. Where should the subject go in the future?

A search for total unity and generally accepted norms, either for methods or for a common curricular core of Jewish studies, seems futile.