The Idea of Modern Jewish Culture

The Idea of Modern Jewish Culture

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Eliezer Schweid
Translated by Leonard Levin

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781934843055(hardcover) / 9781936235094 (paper)
Pages: 292 pp.
Publication Date: July 2008

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The vast majority of intellectual, religious, and national developments in modern Judaism revolve around the central idea of “Jewish culture.” This book is the first synoptic view of these developments that organizes and relates them from this vantage point. The first Jewish modernization movements perceived culture as the defining trait of the outside alien social environment to which Jewry had to adapt. To be “cultured” was to be modern-European, as opposed to medieval-ghetto-Jewish. In short order, however, the Jewish religious legacy was redefined ospectively as a historical “culture,” with fateful consequences for the conception of Judaism as a humanly- and not only divinely-mandated regime. The conception of Judaism-as-culture took two main forms: an integrative, vernacular Jewish culture that developed in tandem with the integration of Jews into the various nations of western-central Europe and America, and a national Hebrew culture which, though open to the inputs of modern European society, sought to develop a revitalized Jewish national identity that ultimately found expression in the revival of the Jewish homeland and the State of Israel. This is a large, complex story in which the author describes the contributions of Mendelssohn, Wessely, Krochmal, Zunz, the mainstream Zionist thinkers (especially Ahad Ha-Am, Bialik, and A.D. Gordon), Kook, Kaplan, and Dubnow to the formulation of the various versions of the modern Jewish cultural ideal. 

Eliezer Schweid is professor emeritus of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published forty books in general and specific areas of Jewish thought of all periods, and has commented frequently on the relevance of the legacy of Jewish thought to contemporary issues of Jewish and universal human concern. He is the recipient of the distinguished Israel Prize and two honorary doctorates.

Leonard Levin teaches Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

Schweid’s work is a significant addition to the analysis of European Jewish thought in the modern period.
— Rabbi Josh Levy, in Manna, Fall 2009