Between 1780 and 1850 a revolution took place in the educational profile of German Jewry. In place of traditional schools, increasing numbers of Jewish children attended government schools or entered a new kind of Jewish school that taught secular subjects in the German language. New institutions did not displace the old system overnight. During most of the early nineteenth century, private tutors, old-fashioned hadarim (one-room traditional schools), new-style Jewish schools, and general "Christian" schools competed for Jewish pupils.
In 1780 the vast majority of Jews in Germany could not read or write German script.1 Until about age 13, most boys studied only Jewish texts, which they read in Hebrew and Aramaic and translated into the vernacular Western Yiddish. A small number continued to study during their teenage years at a more advanced yeshivah. Traditional education took place either in private schools, usually at the home of the teacher (hadarim in Hebrew, pejoratively referred to as Winkelschulen "petty schools" in government documents) or through private tutors. Girls, though not totally excluded from elementary education, were generally taught texts (never Talmud) in Yiddish adaptations rather than in the Hebrew original and often attended school for fewer years than boys.2
Despite its limitations, the level of education of most Jews at the beginning of the nineteenth century compared favorably with that of much of the German population, especially in rural areas. Literacy rates of men and women, urban and rural Jews differed sharply. Eighty-five percent of Jewish men, but only 14 percent of women, in the area around Trier in 1808 could sign in some manner. In the city of Trier 63 percent of the men signed in German and 29 percent in Hebrew letters, while in the villages only 29 percent of the men signed in German and 54 percent in Hebrew. Women signed mainly in