Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Jonathan Frankel (1935-2008) in Memoriam

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Jonathan Frankel (1935-2008) in Memoriam

Article excerpt

On Wednesday, May 7, 2008, Israel's sixtieth Memorial Day, Jonathan Frankel, the British Israeli scholar of Russian and Jewish histories, passed away after a long and courageous battle with prostate cancer. A full two years later, the void left in Israeli and Jewish academia remains gaping. This essay offers a few preliminary thoughts regarding Frankel's career as a brilliant scholar, inspirational teacher, dedicated mentor, trusted friend, and exemplary human being.

Born in London in 1935, Frankel was educated at Cambridge at the height of the Cold War, where he studied with the legendary historian of Russia and the Soviet Union E. H. Carr. Soon after completing his doctorate in 1961, Frankel moved to Israel, where he became a central figure in what will one day be defined as the third generation of Jerusalem scholars, those who, for the most part, were born outside of Eastern Europe, who came of age in the shadow of World War II, and whose work and careers paralleled critical transformations in Israeli society in the aftermath of the war that changed everything and nothing, the Six Day War. In addition to his pivotal role in a number of key institutions and circles in Israeli academia, Frankel was also a central figure in the post- World War II school of Jewish studies that helped bridge the intellectual gap between earlier generations of European-born scholars like Abramsky, Baron, Dinur, Ettinger, Goitein, Halperin, Mosse, Shmeruk, Slutsky, Talmon and Weinreich (and in the field of Russian and East European histories Deák, Haimson, Lewin, Pipes, Raeff, Riasanovsky and Wandycz) and a later generation of scholars who were very often born in America or Israel, came of age in eras of relative stability, and begin to mature and flourish in the last quarter of the twentieth century across the globe from Palo Alto to Petersburg.

Frankel's first book is an often overlooked analysis of the Russian political theoretician Vladimir Akimov (Vladimir Akimov on the Dilemmas of Russian Marxism, 1895-1903, 1969). Written as part of a postdoctoral project undertaken at Columbia University's Russian Institute (today the Harriman Institute), this study reflects much of what would characterize his academic work: close readings of political texts, with particular attention to ideological debates, an agile and sharp pen (a testimony to the fine art of writing in pencil?), a firm belief in the power of ideas, and an unwavering faith in the role of the individual.

Frankel's analysis of the early theoretician Akimov helped him solidify his position at the Hebrew University, where he helped establish the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies and contributed to the newly founded Institute of Contemporary Jewry. His arrival in Jerusalem in 1964 with his new wife, the scholar of Russian literature and culture Edith Rogovin Frankel, marked the true beginning of his academic career. It was in Jerusalem that Frankel would flourish as a central figure in both Jewish and Russian studies. More than anything else, his joint appointment in Jerusalem in Russian and Jewish studies offered Frankel the opportunity to pursue his true passion: the intersection of European, Russian, and Jewish histories. It was here that he rewrote his Cambridge dissertation into the mammoth masterpiece, Prophecy and Politica: Socialism, Nationalism and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917, completed and published The Damascus Affair: "Ritual Murder, "Politica and the Jewj in 1840, served as one of the cofounders and coeditore of the annual Studie*) in Contemporary Jewry, edited or coedited twelve volumes on various aspects of Jewish and Russian histories, and penned at least forty-five articles in English, German, Hebrew, Italian, and Russian.

For many scholars ol modern Jewish studies, Prophecy and Politics was one of the first books that they read on modern Jewish history, and in the eyes of many, it remains one of the finest books of Jewish history ever written. …

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