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The notion of cultural history and cultural studies in general, as usually employed in contemporary academic discourse, is derived from social anthropology. The culturalhistorian reads texts and other historical sources and studies artifacts, not so much asdiscursive expositions. Rather, like an anthropologist studying live behavior, thehistorian seeks both to discover the ways people in the society in question construedmeaning and to develop a catalogue of the fundamental concepts that mediatedinterpretation of reality and ordered experience for them. Cultural history might besummed up as “a history of meaning and feelings broadly defined, as embedded inexpressive practices widely observed.”1 In this way cultural history differs from social history which emphasizes institutions: their structure, their social functions and their effects.2 Contemporarycultural history is also distinct from a different type of “cultural history,” namely thehistory of creative production; whether elite, popular or material: literature, art, tools, * With particular reference to the case of the history of the Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the early modern period. Virtually all examples will be drawn from this instance.
While I am attracted to this case because it is my own research interest, I believe that the issues raised here are generally applicable, at least through early modern times.
** Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University.
1 The quote is from J. C. Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theatre in Anglo-American Thought 1550–1750 (Cambridge, 1986), p. xii. For a survey of approaches to cultural history today, see Lynn Hunt, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley, 1989). For examples of essays in cultural history, see Roger Chartier, Cultural History (Ithaca, 1988). For models of contemporary Jewish cultural historiography, see the many studies by Elliott Horowitz; for example, “The Early Eighteenth Century Confronts the Beard: Kabbalah and Jewish Self-Fashioning,” Jewish History 8 (1994), pp. 115; “The Rite to Be Reckless: On the Perpetration and Interpretation of Purim Violence,” Poetics Today 15 2 An example of social historiography in the context of Polish-Jewish history is Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis, B. D. Cooperman, trans. and ed. (New York, 1993); originally published in Hebrew in Jerusalem in 1958 and translated without the notes and with many inaccuracies in 1961. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History architecture, scholarship, philosophy, food, etc.3 The new cultural history does studythe products of creativity, but not to trace the process of their creation or to summarizetheir contents per se. The current goal is to determine the meaning that these productsencode. The description must therefore be “thick” and the interpretation “deep”;famous terms, now more than a generation old, that connote the need to placeindividual cultural phenomena within a fully articulated cultural-social context and tounderstand the meanings that adhere to them.4 Cultural history should, in my view, also include a psychological perspective; but one that has been developed only relatively recently. Jerome Bruner5 has attempted todefine a new branch of psychology, called cultural psychology.
The program of cultural psychology is. to show how human minds and livesare reflections of culture and history as well as of biology and physicalresources.6 [In the study of Self cultural psychology mandates] focus upon themeanings in terms of which Self is defined both by the individual and by theculture in which he or she participates. By a culture’s definition of Selfhood.
I mean more than what contemporary Others, as it were, take as their workingdefinition of Selves in general and of a particular Self. For there is a historicaldimension as well. If Gergen’s Self is “Self from the outside in,” the historicalSelf is “Self from the past to the present.” In our own culture, for example,views of Self are shaped and buttressed by our Judeo-Christian theology andby the new Humanism that emerged in the Renaissance.7 For Bruner the “dialogue dependence” of Self formation implies a dialogue, or a “transactional relationship,” not only with a contemporary Generalized Other but withan individual’s historical legacy as well.8 As he notes in discussing the Goodhertzfamily, a subject of his cultural psychological analysis, The lives and Selves we have been exploring are, to be sure, shaped byintrapsychic forces operating in the here and now. But to let the matter rest atthat is to rob the Goodhertzes of history and to impoverish our ownunderstanding of their lives and their plight. For individually and as a familythey are, always have been, and never can escape being expressions of socialand historical forces. Whatever constituted those “forces,” whatever view onemay take of historical forces, they were converted into human meanings, into 3 For examples of this approach in Polish and Jewish history see Aleksander Bruckner, Polish Cultural History [Polish] 3 vols. (Warsaw, 1958); Moses Shulvass, East European Jewish Culture: The Classical Period (New York, 1975).
4 See Gilbert Ryle, Collected Studies II (London, 1971); Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of 5 Acts of Meaning (Cambridge, 1990).
6 Ibid., p.138.
7 Ibid. 116–117, emphases in the original.
8 Ibid. p. 101. language, into narratives, and found their way into the minds of men andwomen.9 With this in mind it would be appropriate to approach the cultural history of a traditional society, as Jewish society was everywhere until the onset of modernity, byexamining the history of the interaction of a society and its members with theircollective history. Research can focus on how historical traditions are “converted intohuman meanings” and “find their way into the minds of men and women” on thecollective/societal—as opposed to the individual/psychological—level. The objectiveis to clarify how society in the present mediates the heritage of the past to facilitatemeaningful life into the future.
The advantage to this approach is that it begins where the people under study assumed they were beginning: with received tradition. It privileges, as they did, thelegacy of the past. The researcher sees, however, that tradition was in dialectic withthe conditions of the present; neither automatically dominant nor dominated butalways a factor with which to contend; sometimes victorious, but sometimes altered oreven subtly rejected. This kind of cultural history examines how traditional categoriesfor ordering experience and investing life with meaning were transformed in reactionwith other elements.
A text from one of the leading Ashkenazic rabbinic authorities in history, Rabbi Moses Isserles of Cracow, who lived in the sixteenth century, can lend brief insightinto this type of cultural history: Some have written that a menstruating woman may not enter the synagogue orpray or speak God’s name or touch a [holy] book; while some say that such awoman is permitted to do all of these things—and this opinion is primary.
However, the custom in these lands [Poland and Ashkenaz] follows the firstposition; but during the “white” days [i.e. the seven days between the cessationof the menses and the resumption of sexual contact between wife and husband]they would permit [these things]. And even where they are strict [in theapplication of the restrictive custom], on the high holidays and other suchoccasions, when many gather to go to the synagogue, it is permitted for[menstruating women] to go to the synagogue like other women, because itcauses them great distress when everyone assembles and they stand outside.10 The genesis of the opinion expressed here by Rabbi Isserles is the biblical-talmudic precept that a menstruating woman [Hebrew: niddah] is rituallyimpure. As such, during the time of the Temple, she would be considered impure forthe purposes of the ritual there. In addition, up to and including the present day, amenstruant is barred from any physical contact with her husband. In traditional Jewish 9 Ibid. pp. 136–137.
10 This passage appears in the Mappa, Isserles’ glosses on the Shulhan Arukh, Orah Haim 88:1. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History society the complex rules governing menstruating women’s behavior were afoundation stone of ritual life, akin to kashrut and Sabbath observance.11 In late antiquity in Eretz Israel and especially in medieval Ashkenaz popular customs developed that went beyond the proscriptions mandated by talmudic law,including forbidding menstruating women from any “holy activity” such as theexamples Isserles mentioned. By the fifteenth century, however, the distress that thecustomary exclusion caused was taken into account by the important German rabbiIsrael Isserlein (1390–1460), who set a precedent for part of Isserles’ ruling bypermitting menstruating women to attend the synagogue on the high holidays and such“because it brought them distress and melancholy when everyone gathered to betogether and they stood outside.”12 While Isserles explicitly recognized the legally non-binding nature of the extra restrictions, he was evidently both resigned to their entrenchment among significantsectors of the populace, and well aware of the dissension that they aroused withothers. Evidently, the trend implied by Rabbi Isserlein in the fifteenth century hadcontinued and there were more and more women (and their husbands?) who were notprepared to refrain from public ritual participation because of the expanded strictures.
For them, the significance of public religious expression, as well as the socialexperience it entailed, overrode the meaning of the exclusionary practices. Isserles’response, in addition to denying the legal validity of the supernumerary prohibitions,was to reiterate Isserlein’s indulgent ruling with regard to major holidays and to affirmanother way of mitigating the popular custom, that was itself probably an alreadyexisting popular expedient; namely, leniency with regard to the “white” days.
Thus a traditional category—menstrual impurity—retained basic meaningfulness over the ages, but came to be interpreted and applied differentially by Jewish societiesin different eras. In this case the prohibition was variably elaborated and relaxed. Jewsdid not disconnect from a cardinal practice and what it represented; but a particularmandate of tradition might be either intensified or attenuated in dialectic with othervalues that gained or lost their own meaning for society in various ages.
11 For discussion of the category of niddah, see the article by I. Ta-Shma in the Encyclopaedia Judaica 12:1141–1148; C. E. Fonrobert, Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender (Stanford, 2000); R. R. Wasserfall, ed., Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law (Hanover, 1999).
12 On the history, development and halakhic status of these customs see A. Grossman, Pious and Rebellious: Jewish Women in Europe in the Middle Ages [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 2001), pp. 47–51, 318– 319 and esp. the literature cited on p. 48 n. 106; J. R. Woolf, “Medieval Models of Purity and Sanctity: Ashkenazic Women in the Synagogue,” in: Purity and Holiness: The Heritage of Leviticus, ed. M. J. H.
M. Poorthuis and J. Schwartz (Leiden, 2000), pp. 263-280. The quote from R. Isserlein appears in his miscellaneous rulings and writings compiled and edited by S. Avitan in Terumat Ha-Deshen, part II (Jerusalem, 1991), no. 132 p. 377; cf. Seder Mitzvot Nashim (Cracow 1577), par. 77 (My thanks to Prof. Edward Fram for this last reference). For further studies of women and the synagogue, see S.
Grossman and R. Haut, eds., Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue (Philadelphia, 1992). The objective of writing the cultural history of the Jews (at least up until the twentieth century) can be construed, then, as the elucidation of the ways in whichtraditional categories of meaning have been transmitted and transmuted in order toshape and express meaning for the generation under study. To do so, however, it isimportant to take into account a number of issues that are perennially associated withresearch in Jewish cultural history.
Historians are trained to contextualize. Much of historical explanation is in essence supplying the historical context of a particular phenomenon. Sources areusually approached with the goal of uncovering what they indicate about the particularcircumstances of the people and society that produced them. For example, typically, inanalyzing a source we seek to explicate what we can learn from it about the time andplace of its composition that will identify it with its era and locale and help todistinguish these from other places and periods. However, when dealing withtraditional Jewish sources, whose authors regarded themselves as transmittingtradition and tended to efface the signs of their own time and place, historicizing canbe problematic.
A good example of this is R. Isserles’ Mappa,13 glosses on the Shulhan Arukh law code of Joseph Karo, from which the preceding example regarding female synagogueattendance was taken. Isserles cited the gamut of medieval Ashkenazic halakhicsources and claimed that the very raison d’etre of his work was to give them theirexpression and their due. How much of his citation of halakhic sources is particularlysixteenth century or particularly Polish? With the exception of sporadic, explicit,salient examples (such as the one adduced above), how different are his halakhicdecisions from those of his predecessors in thirteenth century Ashkenaz? When heemphasized a particular subject was there necessarily something more to it than a 13 This composition does not exist in manuscript versions and was never published as an independent book. It was intended to be read in tandem with the Shulhan Arukh of Joseph Karo and indeed represents a new redaction of that work which effectively converted it into a halakhic textbook; see E. Reiner, “The Ashkenazi Elite at the Beginning of the Modern Era: Manuscript versus the Printed Book,” Polin 10 (1997), p. 97. The Mappa’s publishing history begins when one part of a combined edition of the two works was printed in Cracow in 1571. This volume quickly sold out and the entire double work was published, again in Cracow, in 1578–1580. (This edition was re-published in facsimile, Shulhan Arukh, 2 vols. [Jerusalem, 1974].) Subsequently, every standard edition of the Shulhan Arukh has incorporated the Mappa. Perhaps more than any other factor it was this joining of the rulings of two prominent halakhic authorities—one Sephardic, one Ashkenazic—that enabled the Shulhan Arukh to attain canonical halakhic status throughout most of the Jewish world. Their mode of juxtaposition in one work indicated essential agreement on the fundamental questions of the need for codification and the possibility of arriving at a halakhic consensus—albeit filled with demurrers, fine-tuning remarks and agreements to disagree. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History loyal continuation of the hermeneutic and homiletic traditions he inherited? When hetook sides in a halakhic dispute was there always something of his own society’sproblems influencing him or was he typically engaged in a closed circuit intellectualendeavor, insulated from the pressures of everyday life? Some scholars have successfully contended with the daunting task of identifying differences between treatments of like halakhic problems in sources from differentenvironments. They then have explained how those differences allude to the specificconditions in which their authors lived.14 This is a necessary and importanthistoriographical approach. There is, however, an additional, and perhaps tougherproblem; not the exegesis of differences but their frequent absence. Practicallyspeaking, historians who have tried to use halakhic and other rabbinic works asindices of the issues, attitudes, and mentalité of the societies of their authors haverepeatedly come up against the fact that these same issues, attitudes and mentalité—and the modes of expressing them—are present in earlier works with but negligibledifferences. The later authors can be seen to be repeating themes and motifs that arepart of their received tradition rather than representing their own time and place.
As summarized by Mendel Piekarz, who criticized the efforts of scholars of Hasidism to define its characteristic theological and spiritual features by studying thewords of the early Tzaddikim:15 The more deeply I probed the literary substance of the homiletical and moralisticliterature, including the writings of Jacob Joseph of Polonne, the more I came torealize that various ideas and literary motifs which appear to be emblematic oftheir generation were actually the product of long ago ages and their literarysource was the classic moralistic books. as well as works written a generation ortwo before Hasidism.
The conclusion of Piekarz’s study was that the theological innovations usuallycredited to Hasidism were not new at all and that the movement’s essence must befound in other of its features.
The difficulty is not only a practical one of developing the hermeneutic tools that allow for identifying the historical contingency of source material. One veryinfluential school of scholarship insists that even in theory rabbinic texts are 14 For example, important differences between Polish and other Ashkenazic practice, and what they say about Polish-Jewish life, are explicated in E. Fram, Ideals Face Reality: Jewish Law and Life in Poland, 1550–1655 (Cincinnati, 1997); see also H. H. Ben-Sasson, “Statutes for the Enforcement of the Observance of the Sabbath in Poland” [Hebrew], Zion 21 (1956), pp. 183–206; H. Soloveitchik, “Religious Law and Change: The Medieval Ashkenazic Example,” AJS Review 12 (1987), pp. 205– 221; Jacob Katz, The Shabbes Goy, Y. Lerner, trans. (Philadelphia, 1989); Z. Zohar, Tradition and Change: Halakhic Responses of Middle Eastern Rabbis to Legal and Technological Change [Hebrew] 15 The Beginning of Hasidism [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1978), pp. 7–8; cf. Yaakov Hisdai, The Emergence of the Hasidim and Mitnagdim in Light of the Homiletic Literature [Hebrew], Ph.D.
dissertation, Hebrew University (Jerusalem, 1984). essentially ahistorical intellectual exercises, “for the sake of Heaven.” Their authorswere dedicated to the distillation of halakhic, theological or some other truth and werenot making subtle references to or justifications for circumstances in their own times.
As Yaakov Elbaum asserted,16 It is conventional in our age to scrutinize every dispute of the past for politicaland quasi-political conflicts of interest; this may be no more than projection ontothe past. It should be remembered that the feeling of mutual responsibility beatsin the hearts of the sages of every generation and the concept that “all Israel areresponsible for each other” was the axiom which dictated the nature of theirresponses.
According to Elbaum when dealing with traditional texts written to further thecomprehension of Torah, the attempt at historicization is dubious.
The approach of cultural history can diminish the need for the frequently frustrating search for what distinguishes one source from its intellectual and spiritualpredecessors by focusing on the continuity present across sources. To be sure, much ofsixteenth century Polish-Jewish culture is virtually identical with earlierGerman-Jewish, or even talmudic, culture. Not everything is subject to historicistanalysis, but that which is traditional and beyond contextualization is also part of thecultural—even if not the social, economic or political—milieu. The Mappa—paradoxically written in large measure to preserve oral culture (see below)—anthologized tradition, picking and choosing the authorities and views to bejuxtaposed to the Shulhan Arukh.17 While much that is in Isserles’ citations anddecisions may not be original, the act of anthologizing implies that from the panoplyof Jewish tradition there was a particular cultural canon that was relevant to hissociety. The components of the past that he repeated had cultural meaning in hispresent. We are right to analyze as part of Polish-Jewish culture, not only material thatobviously originated in Poland, but also earlier material that was repeated in thePolish context.
Another gender-related passage in the Mappa can illustrate this point. With respect to women and slaves wearing a tallit with attached tzitzit Isserles said:18 In any case, if they want to wear [a tallit] and make the blessing over it, [they]may as with all other time-bound positive commandments; however, it appearsto be arrogance [yohara] and therefore they should not wear tzitzit, since [inany case] it is not a personal obligation [hovat gavra]; that is, a person is notrequired to purchase a tallit in order to be obligated to wear tzitzit.
Isserles’ ruling here is certainly not original. He was essentially echoing a decision voiced around 1400 by Rabbi Jacob Moellin of Mainz, repeated by Rabbi 16 Openness and Insularity [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1990), p. 15 and cf. pp. 27–28, 222, 376; and M.
Rosman, “Culture in the Book” [Hebrew], Zion 56 (1991), 321–344.
17 Reiner, “Ashkenazi Elite,” p. 97.
18 Shulhan Arukh, Orah Haim 17:2. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History Jacob Landau in his late fifteenth century code Ha-Agur, published in Italy, and statedagain by the Sephardic Joseph Karo in his sixteenth century code, Bet Yosef, whichpreceded the Shulhan Arukh.19 Yet this was not merely a ritual formulaic repetition ofa halakhic cliche. It was, rather, a sixteenth century, Polish affirmation of afundamental Jewish cultural conviction, that conventional gender roles weresacrosanct.
“Arrogance” as employed here can be understood as behavior that the practitioner engages in so as to pretend to a status that does not properly accord to her; similarly toa student who put himself on the same level as his teacher or a religious commonerwho assumed certain pietistic affectations without being a full-fledged pietist(medieval-style ascetic, mystic hasid)—both of whom are also accused of“arrogance.”20 Women who put on a tallit were attempting to arrogate untothemselves male status (and slaves, free man status) in contravention of their propergender role. The technical permissibility, in halakhic terms, of women wearing a tallitwas not sanction for violation of one of Jewish culture’s basic premises: that men andwomen properly filled separate, complementary roles in all spheres, particularly in thearea that symbolically represented the other’s ritual.
The fact that Isserles asserted the prohibition against trespass of gender roles by repeating the view of an earlier authority rather than by making a fresh argument didnot mean that the construction of gender roles was not a genuine issue for him and hisreadership. Citing an earlier source made the prohibition more compelling; it certainlydid not imply contemporary irrelevance.21 Despite technical permissibility, Jewishculture as transmitted in Ashkenaz, had other, perhaps less halakhically well-defined,but cogent reasons for outlawing female tallit wearing as a practice that posed a threatto one of the foundation pillars of society. By treating it as Rabbi Moellin had, Isserlescould drive this point home. The lack of original views in no way signifies a lack ofcultural urgency.
19 New Responsa of Rabbi Jacob Molin—Maharil [Hebrew], Y. Satz, ed. (Jerusalem, 1977), no. 7; Ha-Agur Ha-Shalem, M. Herschler, ed. (Jerusalem, 1960), no. 27; Bet Yosef, Orah Haim 17:1. 20 See, for example, Bet Yosef, Orah Haim 3:1, 24:2, 34:3, 90:24-25, quoting earlier sources.
21 Rabbi Isserles’ belief in the importance of maintaining gender boundaries is also implied in his comment concerning women wearing tefillin: [Shulhan Arukh, Orah Haim 38:3] “and if women want to be stricter [and put on tefillin even though they are exempt] we prevent them.” The Influence Model Versus the Polysystem Model of Jewish-Gentile Relations Given that Jewish culture is continuous with past tradition, a dichotomy is often drawn between “authentic” Jewish culture that grew out of the Jewish past and alien“influences” which impinged on it from other cultures. In the Polish context, to someextent discussions of Jewish culture in Poland have even emphasized its genuineJewishness by noting how little it was influenced by Polish culture. Certainly incontemporary discourse about assimilation, Polish Jewry in all ages is usually held upas one of the most “Jewish” of Jewries, the least “affected” by its surroundings.
Such a view might derive support from Chone Shmeruk’s study implying that direct contact between Polish and Jewish creativity in the cultural sphere is hard tofind even on the popular level. Both Jews and Poles have legendary traditions about awoman named Esterka who was the queen (in the Jewish version) or mistress (in thePolish version) of King Casimir the Great (fourteenth century). Shmeruk’s analysisshowed, however, that the two traditions were, perhaps surprisingly, independent ofeach other.22 The implication is that Jews had no interest in Polish culture, made noeffort to become familiar with it, even disdained it as inferior. Conversely, in literaryform, Jewish culture was inaccessible to Poles.
More subtly, however, the Jewish Esterka tradition, as well as the Jewish foundation myth about Abraham Prochownik, who was supposedly instrumental inchoosing the first king of Poland, and the famous story about the putative Jewish kingof Poland for a day, Saul Wahl23—all denote a profound identification with Poland onthe level of meanings and feelings. For a Jew to feel empowered, empowerment had tobe legitimate and recognized in the Polish context. For Jews, people who wereinfluential in Polish politics and society—and many more examples could be added tothe three already adduced—were cultural heroes. Is such identification to be classifiedas an “alien” influence on Jewish society, discretely separable from “genuine” Jewishculture? Certainly, as a matter of policy, the Poles made no attempt to Polonize theJews as they did with other ethnic and religious groups. Jewish adoption of Polishcategories of meaning with regard to power seem to be a measure of the extent towhich Jewish culture processed the realities of life in Poland and responded to them.
Is this response not a legitimate part of Jewish culture? Does it not also demonstratethat Jews were an integral, even if distinctive, element of the Polish polysystem? Jewish culture in Poland did not only incorporate features resembling specifically Polish culture. There are numerous parallels between Jewish culture and generalEuropean culture. For example, regnant pre-Enlightenment political theory held thatgovernment was not the representative of the public but its custodian. The oligarchicJewish communal governing institutions, largely similar in structure and function tomunicipal bodies that functioned throughout Europe, certainly reflected this principle.
In premodern times most people believed that the misfortunes of life were facilitatedby demons who were invisibly everywhere. A huge amount of energy was devoted to 22 Chone Shmeruk, The Esterka Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature (Jerusalem, 1985). 23 B. D. Weinryb, The Jews of Poland (Philadelphia, 1973), pp. 17–18, 336; G. Karpeles, “A Jewish King in Poland,” idem, Jewish Literature and Other Essays (Philadelphia, 1895), pp. 272–292. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History preventing their machinations. Jewish books on practical Kabbala, in Poland aselsewhere, make it abundantly clear that Jews were parties to this belief andconcomitant behavior. In European economic life, there was a basic prejudice againstcompetition and highly developed local protectionist practices were calculated tostymie it. While Jews tended to circumvent such protectionism in their dealings withnon-Jews, within the Jewish community protectionism was the rule. Similarly, theJewish belief in the absolute necessity of maintaining complementary gender roles ifsociety were to function properly was virtually the same as what obtained in all othercontemporary communities.
Once elements like these, whatever their origin, were embedded in Jewish culture, is it appropriate to call them “influences”? Having been long since assimilated intoJewish culture were not these characteristics also part of Polish Jews’ “Jewishheritage” that pre-dated settlement in Poland? If authorities like Isserles madehalakhic rulings against gender trespass; if elaborate rituals were developed to wardoff demons; if communal by-laws vested oligarchy and legislated economicprotectionism for generations; does not this imply that these subtle cultural featuresthat happen to parallel European or Polish culture were regarded as just asauthentically Jewish by those who identified with them as any other part of Jewishculture? These things were taken for granted as part of the way Jews did things and, inpractice, were as much part of Jewish cultural identity in the early modern period asbiblically mandated commandments.
Moreover, the usual impossibility of tracing modes of transmission renders the question of who influenced whom moot. Some of these common cultural componentsmay indeed have originated from Jewish sources (“Judeo-Christian heritage”). By thesame token, the Jews did not inherit only defined Jewish traditions, but also broadermedieval European and even earlier traditions which they adapted, made their ownand put into practice just as their non-Jewish neighbors did. So cultural parallelsshould not be seen through the prism of influence, but rather that of comparison; astwo variations of a common tradition whose roots are obscure. As Elliott Horowitzhas suggested, Jewish variations on the common culture can provide a useful tool forhistorical reflection on the nature of that culture.24 The Jewish case can be a test case.
Even ostensibly traceable practices related to dress, music, diet and popular literature might be better characterized as cultural accretions by default—as the mostviable alternatives—rather than isolated influences which by virtue of the power of thehegemonic culture displaced some pre-existing “authentic” Jewish custom. Theseputatively alien accretions could be rapidly incorporated and deeply rooted in the arrayof Jewish symbols. Gentile melodies were easily (according to some rabbis, too easily)adopted by cantors as music for Jewish liturgy and subsequently acquired their ownvenerability.25 Festive-style, central European braided white bread became the 24 See his review of Mark R. Cohen, ed. and trans., The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena’s Life of Judah, in Jewish Quarterly Review 81 (1991), pp. 460–461.
25 N. E. Shulman, Authority and Community: Polish Jewry in the Sixteenth Century (New York, 1986), pp. 80–81. Ivan Marcus, Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe, (New Haven, 1996), p. 11, called the type of premodern subtle and overt cultural adaptation I have been definition of halla for Jews in Europe and then, interestingly, was referred to as chalaby Poles.
Jews are a multi-colored strand within the European cultural polysystem. Perhaps the metaphor for Jewish-Gentile cultural interaction should not be that of twomagnetic fields coming into contact with each other and influencing or distorting eachother; but rather a metaphor of recombinant DNA that originates from a widelyavailable repertoire of building blocks, but achieves a unique character by virtue of thecombining process. Put differently, it is a kind of intertextuality that defines Jewishculture, not the degree of purity of the origins of the “texts” themselves. Authenticityis dependent not on pedigree but on practice.26 An important aspect of Jewish culture everywhere is attitudes towards non-Jews.
Yet, while Gentile attitudes towards Jews have been a frequent subject of study, thecorresponding Jewish feelings have not received much scholarly attention. Obviously,in Poland, as elsewhere, Gentiles were everywhere. Moreover, for Jews they were notan invisible Other. Judging from the attention paid to them in Jewish sources theywere not only physically but culturally omnipresent. Communal record books andrabbinic sources have myriad references to Gentiles as adversaries, allies and inbetween: litigation with non-Jews; debts to non-Jews; business transactions andpartnerships with non-Jews; the need to maintain felicitous relations with Gentiles andnot to arouse their ire; lobbying and cooperating with non-Jewish authorities;non-Jewish courts; non-Jewish testimony; episodes of anti-Jewish actions andpersecution; the proper response to non-Jewish religion; casual relations with Gentileneighbors, acquaintances and even friends.
It has been observed that in Polish culture there was a range of attitudes towards the Jews across sectors of society and often a duality when comparing theory withpractice.27 Examination of Jewish sources shows a similarly complex situation inJewish culture relative to Christians in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
While the theoretical Gentile was typically a monolithic, threatening character, real Gentiles came from a variety of social categories and were encountered innumerous contexts. In some they were feared and hated, in others they were dealt withmatter-of-factly, learned from, even liked and trusted. The Jewish establishment inPoland believed that the safest policy was to limit Jewish-Gentile intercourse to theinstrumentally necessary minimum. In contrast, many ambitious individuals aspired toclose relations with powerful Gentiles, which, as we have seen, were an importantsource of pride, power and accomplishment. Some Polish Jews who had left Poland discussing, “internal acculturation”; see also R. Bonfil, Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy (Berkeley, 26 See Bruner, pp. 116, 118 on the importance of practices as opposed to contemplation in 27 Jacob Goldberg, “Poles and Jews in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Rejection or Acceptance,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 22 (1974), pp. 248–282. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History expressed scorn for the country and its people. There are signs that some early Hasidicleaders contemplated moderating the demonic image assigned to Gentiles by Jewishfolklore and mandating relations with them based on ethical considerations.28 Such determinations as these, however, merely scratch the surface of this subject.
Systematic research can expand the catalogue of Jewish attitudes towards Gentiles andshow their development and nuances. It would raise and treat many new questions;some examples: What were the typologies and stereotypes that Jews used to simplifythinking about non-Jews? To what extent were Jewish attitudes towards non-Jewstypical of minority attitudes concerning the hegemonic group? What were the sourcesof the attitudes? What canonical Jewish texts were enlisted as expression of Jewishattitudes and how were they re-interpreted to do so? How did different attitudesdovetail or conflict? How were attitudes concretized in both ritual and unprescribedbehavior? What role did attitudes towards Gentiles play in the formulation of rabbiniclaw and communal policies? What role did they play in the inner dynamics of theJewish community?29 The Transition From Oral to Written Culture In an influential article on the development of modern fundamentalist Orthodoxy in Judaism, Haym Soloveitchik has posited that traditional Ashkenazic Judaism wasperpetuated in large part via an oral culture. This was lost, however, due toassimilation in America and then replaced by a book culture that enshrinesunprecedented legalism and ritual punctiliousness. Classically, Jewish culture,anchored in texts, was transmitted in a fashion that was mimetic, imbibed from parents and friends, and patterned on conduct regularlyobserved in home and street, synagogue and school. the classic Ashkenazicposition for centuries.saw the practice of the people as an expression ofhalakhic truth. on frequent occasions the written word was reread in light oftraditional behavior.30 As implied here, the dialectic between orality and literacy is very old. The early modern period represents a major stage in its development. The foundational nature oforal components in early Polish-Jewish culture can be traced in many sources.
28 Weinryb, Jews of Poland, pp. 165–176; Fram, Ideals Face Reality, pp. 28–37; G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town (Baltimore, 1992), pp. 40–45; M. J. Rosman, “A Minority Views the Majority: Jewish Attitudes Towards the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Interaction with Poles,” From Shtetl to Socialism: Studies from Polin, A. Polonsky, ed. (London, 1993), pp. 39–49.
29 An important recent study that does consider many of these questions is: I. J. Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv, 2000). 30 Soloveitchik published this article in two versions: “Migration, Acculturation and the New Role of Texts in the Haredi World,” in M. Marty and R. S. Appleby, eds., Accounting for Fundamentalism (Chicago, 1994), pp. 197–235, and “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (1994), pp. 64–130; the citation is from the first version, pp. 197–198. For example, one of the most common genres of Jewish text in Poland was the pinkas (minute book). Every community maintained a pinkas that was the officialrecord of communal life, recording such items as: by-laws, kahal decisions, courtrulings, real estate transactions, election results, budgets, expenses, revenues, taxation,credit transactions and other communal business and events. Pinkasim offer directevidence of how life was lived, of the problems and issues facing people in thesecommunities, and of the perceptions and opinions of at least the leadership of thecommunity. They also lend insight into the processes by which decisions were madeand solutions were adopted.31 The pinkas was under the control of the political elite, the elders of the kahal.
Kept under lock and key, it was actually seen only by the scribe, the kahal officialwho told him what to write and a few other authorized persons. Its contents werecommunicated through reading aloud at kahal meetings and selected publicannouncements (occasionally posted in written form) in the synagogue. Most peopleknew what the pinkas mandated by hearing it, or about it—not by reading it. Itengendered a local tradition known orally and through intermediaries, not by readyreference to the authoritative text.
A manuscript entitled Sefer Ha-Heshek is a book of segulot, i.e. a guide for ba’alei shem (shamans or faith healers), instructing them in the praxis of practicalKabbala, specifying what medical and mystical measures to apply to various humanproblems of the body, heart and soul. Written by Hillel Ba’al Shem circa 1741, itindicates what was on people’s minds and how they tried to make sense of life andchange it when they couldn’t. It is a classic example of the role of Kabbala ineveryday life (see below).32 Hillel Ba’al Shem asserted that he wrote his manuscript as a protest against a series of four segula books that were published in the first half of the eighteenthcentury in Zolkiew and against the general popularization of practical Kabbala whichthose four books both symbolized and promoted. Hillel insisted that the popularizationof mystical practices through printing bastardized them by making them available topeople who did not really understand what they were doing. Inexpert kabbalisticmanipulation based on half-baked learning gained from popular guides was at bestineffectual and at worst dangerous. It gave all kabbalistic practice a bad name.33Kabbala should remain the domain of learned experts who would communicate withthe masses—orally—on a need-to-know basis. His book was not to be printed so thatit would be widely available. It was to serve as a handbook for an expert, professionalba’al shem who would only get to see it if the manuscript’s possessor deemed him fit.
Sefer Ha-Heshek offers a glimpse of the process of transition from orality to literacy. Hillel was fighting a rearguard action against a trend ascendant in Jewish 31 There are extensive excerpts from Polish pinkasim and some analysis of them in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (PAAJR) 19 (1950). The entire volume, edited by B. D.
Weinryb, is entitled Texts and Studies in the Communal History of Polish Jewry. 32 The manuscript was discovered by Dr. Yohanan Petrovsky in the Jewish collection of the Vernadsky Library in Kiev; its call number is Or 178.
33 Sefer Ha-Heshek, p. 119b and passim. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History culture since the appearance of printing; the popularization of knowledge throughbooks. Traditionally, formal study was accomplished by oral instruction from ateacher based on a manuscript that students might copy, adding their teacher’s glosses(hagahot). The educational text was the manuscript plus the teacher’s oralinterpretation. Without the access to this “text,” represented by a teacher, studentswould find it difficult to learn.34 Informal study was also oral, with parents and othersinstructing children at home by reciting quotations, citing various halakhic rulesrelevant to the daily tasks of life, telling stories and demonstrating proper behavior. AsSoloveitchik noted, the transmission of culture was “mimetic.” Printing changed this paradigm. Books, both holy and secular, now came into every home, offering a much broader range of material that could be drawn upon forthe edification of family members. In the formal educational setting printed booksgave students a degree of independence from their teachers. The study text was nolonger the teacher’s oral interpretation of the manuscript, but a printed, immutablebook. The study curriculum could also be broadened to include the works of scholarswhose focus was other than that of the teachers of a given area. Thus, for example, inPoland students could learn not only Ashkenazic texts, but Sephardic ones as well; notonly halakha, but philosophy, homiletics, biblical exegesis, and more.35 Paradoxically, Isserles’ Mappa—which exists in printed form only—was also a confirmation of the weakening of oral tradition as printed books took hold. In hisintroduction Isserles noted that his primary reason for writing this work was to counterthe power of the printed Shulhan Arukh which would be such that students wouldaccept its pronouncements “without controversy and thereby contravene the customsof the[se] lands.” The Rama was moved to reduce to writing Ashkenazic oraltradition, largely based on oral teaching, in order to save it from oblivion in the face ofKaro’s code, which being in an accessible, printed form carried a presumption ofauthority.36 Sefer Ha-Heshek and the Mappa demonstrate that the old oral culture and its promulgators were on the defensive. The advent of printing and the consequentchange in attitudes towards knowledge and its “rightful” possession exercised theirinfluence among Polish Jews. Each of these works, in its own way, is an indicator ofthe demand for printed books that could serve as the sources for Jewish culture. Bookculture could empower broad sectors of the population, who now might know thehalakha as well as practical mystical rites by themselves without dependence on elitistexperts (consider, for example, the spate of halakhic and prayer books printed for 34 Reiner, “Ashkenazi Elite,” pp. 85–93.
35 S. Boruchson, Books and Readers: The Reading Interests of Italian Jews at the Close of the Renaissance [Hebrew] (Ramat-Gan, 1993), p. 105, demonstrated that in Mantua in 1595 the average number of books to be found in Jewish households was approximately fifty. As to the exposure to a broad variety of Jewish intellectual trends and schools that printing facilitated see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 24, 63–64, 179–180 and passim; and E. Reiner, “The Attitude of Ashkenazi Society to the New Science in the Sixteenth Century,” Science in Context 10 (1997), pp. 589–603.
36 Isserles’ introduction is included in the Cracow 1578–80 edition and the 1974 facsimile thereof; women beginning in this period).37 Because it was written and permanent, this culturewould be more precise but less flexible and adaptable. Once the rules were printed ineasily accessible form, life could be more readily measured against them. Mitigationof their rigidity through personal rabbinic intervention required a courageousassumption of responsibility, a towering authoritativeness or both. Over time therewas a tendency to strictly enforce the written demands and to articulate them evermore pedantically. It appears that Soloveitchik was actually describing theculmination of a process that had begun centuries earlier.
The problematics of using laws and other decretive works as historical sources are well rehearsed. There is no guarantee that behavior mandated by authorities wasactually implemented. Prohibitions are typically more indicative of the existence ofthe forbidden behavior than of its prevention. Historians who base themselves onnormative books are more likely to be describing what elites wanted life to be likethan what it was in reality. For pre-nineteenth century Jewish history in general,however, there is a particular dependence on prescriptive sources. The relative lack ofJewish archival documents as a result of the vicissitudes of the history we arestudying, forces Jewish historians to consider over and over again the books ofrabbinic instruction.
Most Hebrew sources pre-dating the Haskala are prescriptive works. There are no easy means for determining the extent to which the strictures of the rabbinic codes, thedecisions of kehalim registered in pinkasim, or the directives of ba’alei shempreserved in segula books were actually observed. Virtually every case requirescareful textual analysis of the way in which the source presents its demands anddiligent search after collateral or comparative material that can shed light on the livesthe authors of these texts intended to shape.
In this process of analyzing and searching, we can be guided by the example Jacob Katz set in the 1950s in writing his classic study Tradition and Crisis. As heexplained in the Preface,38 My description is derived from the various primary sources of the period:communal and provincial pinkasim, ethical and polemical works, and the like.
I have drawn on the halakhic literature of the period—responsa, codes andcommentaries—more than is common among historians. Moreover, I have not 37 D. Roskies, “Yiddish Popular Literature and the Female Reader,” Journal of Popular Culture 13 (1979), pp. 852–858; A. Segal, “Yiddish Works on Women’s Commandments in the Sixteenth Century,” in: Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore (Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 37–59; C. Shmeruk, Yiddish Literature in Poland [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1981), pp. 11–74, 147–164; C. Turniansky, “On Old Yiddish Biblical Epics,” International Folklore Review 8 (1991), pp. 26–33; I. Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, Vol. 7 (Cinn.-N.Y., 1975). On women’s prayers see C. Weissler, Voices of the 38 See Katz, Tradition and Crisis, p. xiii. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History restricted myself to noting historical realia incidentally recorded in theseworks. I have focused on the laws themselves, which, after all, formed anobligatory religious norm for the Jews of that era. For me these laws stand outas evidence of the life and spirit of the time, and bear witness to the manytheoretical and practical conflicts that affected both the individual and thecommunity. I have drawn upon the religious training of my youth in order notto treat as dead letters that which was, for our subjects, a philosophy of life.
What Katz called—in the 1950s—evidence of “the spirit of the time,” “theoretical conflicts” and “a philosophy of life,” is today considered to be the stuff of culturalhistory. Normative sources do not represent sets of arbitrary demands originating withthe authors of these books. They do present a considered exposition of how membersof society should express that which all hold to be meaningful. They containguidelines for responding to life in a way consistent with the cultural meanings held inconsensus. They are not only codes of law or codes of conduct but codes of meaning.
As such they offer profound insights into culture, even if they do not necessarilyreflect how people always behaved.
Recalling, for example, the use of the category of “arrogance” (yohara) to forbid various practices (as Isserles did with regard to women wearing a tallit [above]), wecan surmise that the society that was expected to respect such rulings—regardless ofwhether or not every individual always did so—placed a premium on people knowingtheir place. Conformity was valued and promoted. It was important that people playthe roles that tradition and society had delineated for them.
The highly genderized nature of traditional Jewish society and culture is a commonplace. Yet, as perusal of any standard survey discloses, Jewish men’s liveshave been explicated in ramified detail while Jewish women are mostly described inbrief, stereotypical fashion. It has taken work such as Chava Weissler’s on the Tehinesprayers; or Renee Levine-Melammed’s on Converso women and Converso religion todemonstrate that Jewish women had a complex cultural identity and a contouredreligious role which paralleled and contrasted with those of men.39 The new slant on Jewish history we have gained from these and other feminist scholars is added to the basic lesson provided by Joan W. Scott in how to use genderas a tool of historical analysis.40 We are now equipped to inspect sources with a view 39 Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs; R. Levine-Melammed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel 40 See her Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988), esp. pp. 28–50. Jewish analogues are Paula E. Hyman, “Feminist Studies and Modern Jewish History,” in L. Davidson and S.
Tenenbaum, eds., Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies (New Haven, 1994), pp. 120–139; Shulamit Magnus, “Out of the Ghetto: Integrating the Study of Jewish Women into the Study of ‘The Jews,’” Judaism 39 (1990), pp. 28–36; Myra Shoub, “Jewish Women’s History: Development of a Critical Methodology,” Conservative Judaism 35 (1982), pp. 33–46. On the development of Jewish gender towards analyzing how they depict differential gender roles. For example, from prayercollections we see that men’s prayer was rigidly standardized, while women’s prayerwas more occasional and topical. From halakhic codes it is evident that men’s rituallife was paced almost entirely by the calendar; women’s more by biology andcontingency. Educational texts show men’s religious education to be designed to trainfor public ritual participation; women’s for theological fundamentals and personal andhome practices.
We can also understand how these roles interlocked to undergird the structure of meaning and practice that supported Jewish culture. The elaborate Sabbath andholiday rituals were well served by the combination of women’s “freedom” to serve asfacilitators and men’s “obligation” to serve as performers, which in turn reinforced thefacilitator/performer dichotomy in the family, social, and political realms. Children’sinitiation into the culture was premised on the mother having a flexible ritual scheduleand the father, a more regularized one. When Isserles protested against women’sacceptance of the daily obligations to put on tzitzit and tefillin, he was demarcatinggender roles in a way that fostered the facilitator/performer dichotomy. However,increased female presence in the synagogue and Isserles’ leniency in this connection,as noted earlier, indicate that gender roles could evolve.
There were also spheres where the facilitator/performer dichotomy was undermined. In the marketplace there were women who were on their own or werereal partners with their husbands. Their “performance” was essential to ensuring theeconomic health of their families and of society as a whole.41 Sefer Ha-Heshek’snumerous rituals connected to fertility, pregnancy and birth indicate a domain ofculture where women were the main performers and men the observers.
There was no more pervasive factor than gender in determining the structure of Jewish culture. Defining its parameters will go a long way towards clarifying thenature and dynamics of that culture.
Since Gershom Scholem, one of the important vectors in research on Jewish culture in the early modern period has been the elucidation of the significance ofKabbala in forging the normative Jewish ethos. In the nineteenth century, Maskilimand Reformers had charged that one of the main problems with Judaism as it emergedfrom the Middle Ages was the ascendancy in it of magical, superstition-inducing,practical Kabbala, which occluded much of the rational religious substance of Jewishculture. Traditionalist practitioners of Judaism and apologist scholars of Wissenschaftreacted to this charge by suppressing the contributions of Kabbala to Jewish life roles see the controversial study by Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley, 1997).
41 On the economic role of women in Polish-Jewish society in the early modern period see M.
Rosman, “To Be a Jewish Woman in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth” [Hebrew], in: The Broken Chain: Polish Jewry Through the Ages, Vol. 2 (Mercaz Shazar, Jerusalem), forthcoming; for medieval Ashkenaz, see Grossman, Pious and Rebellious, pp. 256–265. A Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish Cultural History throughout history. Scholem burst upon the scene in the 1920s asserting that it isimpossible to understand Judaism without Kabbala. With regard to the early modernperiod he posited that the Kabbalistically inspired reactions to the Spanish Expulsionreverberated throughout the Jewish world and were somehow involved in all of theimportant developments of Jewish history from 1492 till at least the rise of Reform.42 To be sure, Scholem’s thesis that the popularization of Lurianic Kabbala laid the groundwork for the spread of Sabbatianism has been stood on its head in recent years.
Scholars have demonstrated convincingly that Lurianic Kabbala was not widelyknown before Shabbetai Zvi and that it is likely that the impetus for its spread amongthe masses was supplied by the Sabbatians. Moreover, Scholem’s general view of thepower of Kabbala to affect history has been criticized as reductionist.43 Be that as it may, the prevalence of Kabbalistic practices and beliefs in everyday Judaism, in part thanks to the availability of popular Kabbala books as alluded toearlier, from at least the late seventeenth century on is now conventionally recognized.
Why—as opposed to how—this occurred awaits full explanation and there still is nosystematic exposition of the popular religion of the period. Perhaps most important,the implications of Kabbala’s entry into the lives of normal people have barely beenexplored. With the exception of researching the roots of Hasidism which drew muchfrom popularized Kabbala, no one has asked: Which basic concepts, relations andinstitutions changed? For example, was genderization affected? Was the educationalprocess transformed? Did people sin less? The contrast between the “rational” and kabbalistic sides of Jewish culture is evident in comparing the Mappa and Sefer Ha-Heshek. Isserles, writing in the secondhalf of the sixteenth century, rarely cited kabbalistic sources in his halakhic work. Hishints at the Zohar serve only to reinforce the impression that this was a closed book tohis readership and that he had no intention of basing his rulings on it. Compare this tothe eighteenth-century Sefer Ha-Heshek which is overflowing with demons,incantations, inscriptions, magical pictures and formulas, and prescriptions forbehavior intended to lead to beneficial contact with the supernatural sphere.
The Mappa reflects a view of life where God is in Heaven and all is right with the world. What the Jew is called upon to do is but to follow the tradition of previous 42 David Biale, Kabbalah and Counter-History (2nd ed. Cambridge, 1982), esp. chapters “Mysticism” and “Messianism”; Joseph Dan, Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History (New York, 1987), esp. the first chapter.
43 Scholem’s thesis was stated concisely in the first chapter of his Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah (Princeton, 1973); for critiques, see: M. Idel, “One from a Town, Two from a Clan: The Diffusion of Lurianic Kabbala and Sabbatianism, a Re-examination,” Jewish History 7 (1993), pp. 79– 104; Z. Gries, Conduct Literature [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1989), Introduction; J. Barnai, Sabbateanism— Social Perspectives [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 2000), pp. 10, 15–20. See also, Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 356–376; Tom Hubka, “The Shaar Ha-Shamayim Synagogue in Gwozdziec: The Influence of the Zohar on Art and Architecture” [Hebrew], in H. Pedaya, ed., Ha-Mytos Ba-Yahadut [= Eshel Beer Sheva 4 (1996)]; Eric Zimmer, Society and its Customs: Studies in the Metamorphosis of Jewish Customs [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1996), according to the index, s.v. generations in the service of the Lord in order to qualify for an assured ultimatereward. Sefer Ha-Heshek assumes a world fraught with danger and excitement. Onecan never anticipate nor be sure how to respond to the obstacles that life (or demons)erects. The Jew—and particularly the Jewish woman—must live with psychologicaltension with regard to the overriding question of whether she has sufficiently providedfor the supernatural security of the members of her family.
From this differential approach to the basic human condition follow two different goals for religious life. Isserles’ rules were the means to fulfill God’s will and thus theindividual and collective Jewish destinies. By following his halakhic decisions aperson could hope to attain personal redemption and contribute the maximum to theultimate Redemption. The goal of Sefer Ha-Heshek is something else: protection fromharm at the hands of agents human or supernatural. The reward was simple survival.
This certainly might explain part of the Kabbala’s popular appeal. Whether theobjectives of the Mappa and Sefer Ha-Heshek were complementary and whether onetook precedence are questions that deserve study.
Wissenschaft des Judentums concentrated on the products of the Jewish spirit.
Nationalist-inspired scholarship created a Jewish political history. The Jewishhistoriography created in the decades after the Shoah and the establishment of Israelhas turned in significant measure to social history. The postmodern age that has beenso occupied with the deconstruction of symbols and meanings that were previouslyself-evident would seem to have prepared the ground for a new synthesis of culturalmeaning. We can return to the study of the spirit; not what it produced, but what itwas.


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