Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century: Edited with Introductory Essays

Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century: Edited with Introductory Essays

Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century: Edited with Introductory Essays

Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century: Edited with Introductory Essays

Excerpt

Jewish thought in Russia during the last decade of the nineteenth and the first two decades of the twentieth century was dominated by the idea of Jewish nationalism. The central problems on the agenda of Russian Jewish thinkers during this period were the meaning of Jewish nationalism, the relationship of the Jewish people to its historic land, the question of language, the role of religion in Jewish culture, and the future of the Jews in the Diaspora. Rarely had Jewish life been so replete with ideas and programs as at this time. Books, essays and pamphlets as well as the poetry and belles lettres of the period reflected these concerns.

This emphasis on nationalism represented a basic change from the nature of Jewish thought in the previous century. From Moses Mendelssohn to Hermann Cohen, the major German Jewish thinkers were all concerned with the reconciliation of Judaism as a religious faith to modern culture. Their interest was in the universal aspects of Judaism, its ethical ideals, its principles of faith, and the character of the Jewish mission. To nineteenth-century liberal thinkers, systems of law and ceremony were hindrances to the expression of the unique spirit of Judaism.

In Russia, where the Haskalah (enlightenment movement) dominated Jewish thought during the 1860's and 1870's, the primary concern was with the introduction of European culture into Jewish life and the broadening of the intellectual horizons of the Jew. It is true that the novels of Abraham Mapu (1808-1867) depicted the glories of ancient Judea, and awakened thoughts of Zion, as did some of the poetry of the Haskalah period. But on the whole, Haskalah literature in the nineteenth century was practical in character, stressing scientific knowledge, European languages and the value of manual labor. It also emphasized the role of aesthetics and beauty in life, the importance of reason and social progress. During the twentieth century, however, Jewish thought in Russia turned to problems of Jewish survival and to the meaning of Jewish nationhood.

Many factors contributed to the national awakening of the Jewish people. Nationalism, as a dynamic force in Europe during the nine teenth century . . .

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