On the Threshold of
The early modern period in European Jewish history encompassed a dynamic meeting of the forces of modernity with still strong elements of traditional Jewish life. In German lands, the emergence of Absolutism helped frame the context for the establishment of hundreds of small and scattered Jewish communities. Increased toleration of Jewish settlement and enhanced economic opportunities attracted an increasing number of Jews from eastern Europe that made up a significant part of the growing Jewish population. External and internal factors alike influenced the appearance of new religious forms and structures, and the printing press dispersed knowledge to wider circles. On the other hand, religious life suffered greatly from the impact of undersized, dispersed communities, making accessibility to schools and synagogues a matter of great difficulty for many, if not most, Jews.
Both males and females played an active role in the changing occupational orientation, as the merchants' stalls and peddlers' backpacks established commerce at the core of Jewish economic life. Jews and Christians now encountered each other in numerous settings. While their respective religious traditions divided them, their lives were actually anything but separate. They lived in great proximity and traded extensively with each other. Sometimes these associations extended to simple social relations and to a few business partnerships. Still, few Jews could speak German well, and in their daily lives, the two groups constructed a relationship filled with both connecting links and separating barriers.