Jüdische Wissenschaft

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‘Jewish Science’, the German name for the historical–critical school which arose in the first half of the nineteenth century and whose main practitioners were Zunz, Geiger, and Frankel in Germany; Luzzatto in Italy; Krochmal and Rapoport in Galicia (see HASKALAH and HISTORY). Jüdische Wissenschaft was not a consciously organized movement. Rather, a number of traditionally educated Jews who became familiar with the languages of Western European culture resolved independently, though in close communication with one another, to investigate by these new methods the classical sources of Judaism. The aim of Jüdische Wissenschaft was to demonstrate how the Jewish religion, literature, and philosophy had developed in response to the different civilizations with which Jews had come into contact through the ages. A prior aim of the movement was to establish correct texts by comparing current texts with those found in libraries open to Jews for the first time. Instead of the piecemeal treatment typical of the older approach, texts were studied as a whole and set in their proper period. The Greek and Latin classics were studied for comparative purposes in order to shed light on the Talmudic sources; Arabic and Islamic thought for the better understanding of the medieval Jewish works; the ancient Semitic tongues for a keener appreciation of the Bible and its background; and, above all, world history for the purpose of showing how Jewish history formed part of general historical trends. Indeed, the whole movement called attention to the fact that Judaism, like all human institutions, has had a history and did not simply drop down from heaven to be transmitted without change from generation to generation. New questions were asked. What does the text really mean? Why does it say what it says and why just at that particular time? Does the text represent normative Jewish thinking or is it peripheral or contradicted by other texts and if so, what has caused the difference?

The movement had in part an apologetic aim, as the Wissenschaft scholars sought to show that Judaism, too, is normal and ‘respectable’ in having a history, a literature, and a philosophy like other cultures and that the great men of the Jewish past were not mere cyphers or irrational isolationists but creatures of flesh and blood responsive to the world around them. Yet the followers of the movement did try to study their sources as objectively as possible, paving the way for the use of the new methodology in higher institutions of Jewish learning and in learned journals in which articles of impeccable scholarship appeared.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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