The Idea of Modern Jewish Culture

The Idea of Modern Jewish Culture

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Eliezer Schweid
Translated by Amnon Hadary
Edited by Leonard Levin

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781934843055 (hardcover), 9781934843581 (paperback)
Pages: 312 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 retrospectively 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.

Eliezer Schweid is Professor Emeritus of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University. He has published 40 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, Manna, Autumn 2009

Table of Contents

Editor's Preface

1. Culture as a Concept and Culture as an Ideal
2. Tensions and Contradiction
3. Internalizing the Cultural Ideal
4. The Underlying Philosophy of Jewish Enlightenment
5. The Meaning of Being a Jewish-Hebrew Maskil
6. Crossroads: The Transition from Haskalah to the Science of Judaism
7. The Dialectic Between National Hebrew Culture and Jewish Idealistic Humanism
8. The Philosophic Historic Formation of Jewish Humanism: A Modern Guide to the Perplexed
9. The Science of Judaism - Research in Judaism as a Culture
10. The Science of Judaism, Reform Judaism and Historical Positivism
11. A Critique of the Science of Judaism and the Cultural Ideal of Enlightenment
12. Accelerated Change and Revolution
13. The Vision of Jewish Cultural Renaissance in Political Zionism
14. The Pioneering (Halutzic) Culture of the Jewish Labor Movement in Palestine
15. Polar Views on Sources of Jewish Culture
16. Alienation from Religion and Tradition
17. The Jewish Folk Culture of Eretz Israel
18. Judaism as the Totality of National Historic Culture
19. Sanctity and the Jewish National Movement
20. The Dimension of Sanctity in Pioneering Labor Zionism
21. The Orthodox Zionist Culture -- Sanctifying Modernity
22. Judaism as a Culture in the Diaspora
23. The Secular Jewish Culture of Yiddish
24. The Transition from the Hebrew Culture of Pre-state Eretz Israel to Israeli Culture