Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times

Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times

Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times

Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times

Excerpt

In the long history of the Jewish people no era has presented the Jew with greater challenges to his traditional beliefs and way of life than the modern period, which began some two centuries ago. The impact of enlightenment, emancipation, and the industrial revolution has changed the whole character of Jewish existence and made inevitable a series of fundamental adjustments.

During the Middle Ages life for the Jew in Christian Europe was often insecure and oppressive. He had to endure economic and social discrimination, the constant threat of persecution and expulsion. But though he lived in a ghetto community, isolated from many of the intellectual and social developments in the outside world, he had the benefit of the warmth and security of a stable community and of a religious orientation which gave meaning to his life. The round of Sabbath and holiday observance added beauty and dignity to an otherwise bare existence, while a universal system of education for adults as well as children gave scope to his intellectual capacities.

These cohesive forces, however, began to break down as the Jew entered the modern world at the end of the eighteenth century. Emancipation, while it brought greater political freedom and new economic opportunities, deprived him of the values of the stable medieval community. As he came in closer contact with the non- Jewish world and as his intellectual horizons widened, he began to question some of the basic doctrines of Judaism, and his traditional patterns of religious observance were weakened. Jewish learning lost ground; even the will to live as a Jew was often lost.

The ability of the Jew to meet these challenges and to adapt . . .

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