Heinrich Graetz

Amos Bitzan

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Heinrich Graetz

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Heinrich Graetz (also known as Hirsch, Hirsh, or Tsvi; b. 1817–d 1891) was the 19th century’s foremost narrative historian of the Jews. Born in a small town in the Prussian province of Posen (today, Poznań), Graetz rose from obscurity to become a major figure in 19th-century German Jewish scholarship. After studying at a traditional yeshiva in his youth, he came under the influence of Samson Raphael Hirsch (b. 1808–d 1888), the future intellectual spokesman for modern, bourgeois German Jewish Orthodoxy. Having broken with his mentor over ideological differences, Graetz enrolled at the University of Breslau in 1842. He gained public recognition for his critique of Abraham Geiger (b. 1810–d 1874), the philologist and theologian of the incipient movement of Reform Judaism. In 1846, Graetz earned his doctorate after writing a dissertation on “Gnosticism and Judaism,” which he presented to the University of Jena. In the same year, he published an essay presenting his philosophy of Jewish history, “Die Construction der jüdischen Geschichte.” After a long search, Graetz found stable employment when he was appointed to teach history and Bible at the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary, which opened in 1854. He remained there for the rest of his life. Graetz’s greatest achievement was his eleven-volume Geschichte der Juden (see Historiography). In it Graetz conceived of the history of the Jewish people in many of the terms of nationalist historiography. Ranging across time and space from ancient Israel to 19th-century Germany, Graetz crafted his narratives in an impassioned prose style that competed for the attention of a burgeoning audience of European Jewish leisure readers with its vivid and assertive reconstruction of the past. In addition to the History, Graetz published a large number of philological, exegetical, and critical articles and maintained correspondence with writers from across Europe. Graetz was named Honorary Professor at the University of Breslau in 1869. In the late 1870s, he became the subject of attacks by the historian Heinrich von Treitschke for his allegedly anti-German and anti-Christian writings and Jewish chauvinism. Graetz continued publishing until his final years, working especially hard on books of Bible criticism and exegesis. He died in 1891. The great Jewish historians of the 20th century, in particular Simon Dubnow (b. 1860–d. 1941), Ben-Zion Dinur (b. 1884–d. 1973), and Salo Baron (b. 1895–d. 1989), wrote their histories as corrections of and responses to Graetz’s work.

Article.  7228 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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