The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations

HASKALAH (lit. "wisdom" or "understanding," but used in Neo-Hebrew in the sense of "enlightenment," "liberalism"):

Generally, "haskalah" indicates the beginning of the movement among the Jews about the end of the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe toward abandoning their exclusiveness and acquiring the knowledge, manners, and aspirations of the nations among whom they dwell. In a more restricted sense it denotes the study of Biblical Hebrew and of the poetical, scientific, and critical parts of Hebrew literature. It is identified with the substitution of the study of modern subjects for the study of the Talmud; with opposition to fanaticism, superstition, and Ḥasidism; with the adoption by Jews of agriculture and handicrafts; and with a desire to keep in touch with the times. Its adherents are commonly called Maskilim.

As long as the Jews lived in segregated communities, and as long as all avenues of social intercourse with their Gentile neighbors were closed to them, the rabbi was the most influential, and often also the wealthiest, member of the Jewish community. To the offices of religion he added the functions of civil judge in all cases in which both parties were Jews, as well as other important administrative powers. The rabbinate was the highest aim of every Jewish youth, and the study of the Talmud was the means of obtaining that coveted position, or one of many other important communal distinctions.

The extraordinary success achieved by Moses Mendelssohn as a German popular philosopher and man of letters revealed hitherto unsuspected possibilities of influence for the cultured Jew. An exact knowledge of the German language was, of course, necessary to secure entrance into cultured German circles, and an excellent means of acquiring it was provided by Mendelssohn in his German translation of the Pentateuch. The familiar text of the Pentateuch, which for many centuries had served as a school-book in the earlier stages of a rabbinical education, became the bridge over which ambitious young Jews could pass to the great world of secular knowledge. The "bi'ur," or grammatical commentary (see Biurists), prepared under Mendelssohn's supervision, was designed to counteract the influence of the Talmudical or rabbinical method of exegesis, and, together with the translation, it became, as it were, the primer of haskalah.

Beginnings in Germany.

The haskalah movement began to spread in Germany in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Wealthy Jews like the Friedländers and Daniel Itzig were its sponsors, Mendelssohn was its prototype, and Hartwig Wessely was its prophet. The latter's "Dibre Shalom we-Emet," an epistle to the Austrian Jews in which they were advised as to the best way to utilize the advantages extended to them by Emperor Joseph II. in his "Edict of Tolerance," became the program of haskalah. The attacks on that pamphlet were much more severe than those made on Mendelssohn's translation of the Pentateuch, and there is almost conclusive evidence that the "Dibre Shalom we-Emet" was publicly burned in Wilna by order, or at least with the consent, of Elijah Gaon ("Monatsschrift," xix. 478-480, xx. 465-468). These persecutions had the effect of assisting the movement. Wessely found defenders among liberal Judæo-German scholars and among Italian rabbis, and his apologetic writings strengthened the hands of his followers. The friends of Hebrew literature soon formed a society (Ḥebrat Doreshe Leshon 'Eber) for the purpose of publishing the first Hebrew literary monthly, which appeared in 1783 under the name "Ha-Meassef" (see Meassefim).

Spread to Slavonic Countries.

In Germany the first generation of haskalah was also the last. Jews of ability soon attained prominence in the social and intellectual life of the German nation, and the salon proved more attractive to them than the "Meassef." The "friends of Hebrew literature" soon tired of Hebrew, and changed their name to "Shoḥare ha-Ṭob weha-Tushiyyah" (Verein für Gutes und Edles; 1787). The formation respectively of the Gesellschaft der Freunde (1792) and the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft des Judenthums (1821), in Berlin, marked the passing of a large proportion of intelligent German Jews from haskalah to assimilation, and, in many instances, to Christianity. Polish and Bohemian Jews like Israel Samoscz, Herz Homberg, Isaac Satanow, and Solomon Dubno stood at the cradle of the haskalah, and when they returned to Poland (as did the above-named, with the exception of Satanow) they spread its tenets among their coreligionists, who had been up to that time strict Rabbinists. The "battle between light and darkness," as the Maskilim fondly described their movement, was soon raging in Bohemia and Galicia, spreading later to Russia. But the hopes of speedy emancipation awakened by the premature liberalism of Joseph II. were not fulfilled, and the haskalah, which was transitory in Prussia, took root in the Austrian dominions. In Bohemia the conflict was less severe, because many rabbis there recognized the utility of secular learning and encouraged the modern spirit (see Fuenn, "Safah le-Ne'emanim," pp. 109 et seq., Wilna, 1881). The Jeiteles family, and men like Peter Beer, did much for Bohemian haskalah, and the printing-office of Moses Landau in Prague, like the earlier establishment of the "Ḥinnuk Ne'arim" in Berlin under Satanow, issued valuable contributions toward a rejuvenated literature. In Prague, as in other Austrian provinces where the German influence was strong, the movement soon took almost the same course as in Germany, and the second period of haskalah therefore really belonged to the least Germanized portion of the empire—the province of Galicia.

In Galicia.

The condition of the Jews of Galicia, already deplorable, was made worse by the partition of Poland, and the haskalah movement was introduced in Galicia in such manner as to almost justify the view that it was one of the afflictions due to the new régime. Herz Homberg, the friend of Mendelssohn, was the chief inspector of all the schools established for the Jews in Galicia. The teachers under him were mostly Bohemian Jews, and, with the assistance of the Bohemian Christians, who then almost monopolized the governmental positions in Galicia, they forced the Jews to study Hebrew and German in accordance with the program of the Berlin haskalah. But there soon arose other forces which exerted an attracting influence. The reformative work of Joseph Perl, and his cleveranti-Ḥasidic writings, paved the way for a revival of Hebrew literature, and continued the work of the Meassefim. The speculations of Nachman Krochmal, and the investigations of S. L. Rapoport, as well as the excellent writings of Erter, Samson Bloch, and their contemporaries, attracted many followers and imitators whose love for the Hebrew language was disinterested and who worked for haskalah without expectation of reward. The small bands of Maskilim in the various communities were encouraged by wealthy men of liberal tendencies, who cherished the haskalah and assisted the dissemination of its literature, which otherwise could not have supported itself. Thus such periodical, or collective, publications as the "Kerem Ḥemed" and "Oẓar Neḥmad" were published by men who had no thought of financially profiting thereby. The same can be said of Schorr's "He-Ḥaluẓ." At the present time (1903) scholars like Lauterbach, Buber, and other Maskilim of means, are the leaders of the Galician haskalah; it is almost exclusively a literary movement, and its output properly belongs to Neo-Hebrew literature.

In Russia.

In the Russian movement the influence of Elijah Gaon of Wilna and of his school was very small in all directions, and in some respects was hostile to haskalah. Mendel Levin of Satanov (1741?-1819) may be considered the first of Russian Maskilim. He was, like Herz Homberg, a personal friend and follower of Mendelssohn; but as he had not the authority which Homberg enjoyed in Galicia, he could do neither as much good nor as much mischief. The direction of the influence exerted by Soloman Dubno is more doubtful; after he had left Mendelssohn and settled in Wilna he seems to have become distinctly Orthodox (see Yatzkan, "Rabbenu Eliyahu me-Wilna," pp. 118-120, Warsaw, 1900). Tobias Feder, Manasseh Iliyer, Asher Ginzberg, and perhaps also Baruch of Shklov, may be classed among the earliest Maskilim of Russia. Besides these there was a number of men of wealth and position in various cities, especially in southern Russia, who were friendly toward the Berlin haskalah, and encouraged its spread in their respective localities. Hirsch Rabinovich and Abigdor Wolkenstein of Berdychev, Hirsch Segal in Rovno, Leibush Khari in Meseritz (Mezhirechye), Berl Löb Stockfish in Lutzk, Meïr Reich in Bar, Joshua Hornstein in Proskurov, and Mordecai Levinson in Kamenetz-Podolsk were influential in their own circles, and to some extent leaders toward liberalism (Gottlober, in "Ha-Boḳer Or," iv. 783). But they had no plan or program, nor anything to guide them except the example of Mendelssohn; they contented themselves with studying Hebrew and a little German, and with ridiculing the Ḥasidim, who in their turn denounced them as "apiḳoresim," or heretics.

Influence on Education.

Thus the haskalah, which served in Germany as a stepping-stone to secular culture, and in Austria led to the enjoyment of minor advantages, in Russia almost involved ostracism. The Maskil was estranged and often persecuted in the Jewish community, and met with neither sympathy nor recognition in the outside world, where he was entirely unknown. Nevertheless, the number of Maskilim constantly increased, and soon attempts were made to found schools where children could obtain an education more in accordance with the principles of haskalah than was provided by the "ḥeder." Hirsch (Hyman) Baer Hurwitz (later professor of Hebrew in University College, London), of Uman in the Ukraine, opened in that city, in 1822, the first secular Jewish school in Russia, to be conducted, as he expressly stated in his application for permission to establish it, "after the system of Mendelssohn." His example was followed in other cities, especially in those of New Russia, where Jews had been treated liberally since 1764, when the country was opened to them, and where "merchants from Brody and teachers from Tarnopol" had planted the seed of Galician haskalah. Similar schools were established in Odessa and Kishinef, and later in Riga (1839) and Wilna (1841). But as far as haskalah in the restricted sense is concerned, the attempt failed in these schools, as well as in the rabbinical schools established later. Haskalah has not evolved a plan applicable in systematically conducted schools. The teachers who were autodidacts remained the greatest Maskilim. The pupils, with very few exceptions, abandoned Hebrew studies as soon as they had acquired a thorough knowledge of Russian and other living languages, which were taught by non-Maskilim and often by non-Jews.

The Russian haskalah found a leader and spokesman in Isaac Bär Levinsohn. His "Te'udah be-Yisrael," which became the program of haskalah, is in essence an amplified "Dibre Shalom we-Emet," supported by a wealth of quotations. Though this work, like most of the others by the same author, was intended to convince the old generation, the Orthodox, of the utility and the legality of haskalah from the religious point of view, it convinced only the young (see Mandelstamm's letter to Levinsohn in Nathanson's "Sefer Zikronot," p. 81, Warsaw, 1875); and the approbation of that work by R. Abraham Abele Posveller, the great Talmudical authority of Wilna, is believed to have been given for political reasons (Yatzkan, l.c. p. 119). Levinsohn's works helped to solidify the ranks of the Maskilim and to increase their number. The issue was now joined between the progressists and the conservatives, and persecutions of the weaker side were not unknown. The masses and most of the communal leaders were on the conservative side; but when theRussian government began to introduce secular education among the Jews it unwittingly turned the scale in favor of the Maskilim, of whom it knew very little.

Lilienthal and Uvarov.

Uvarov, minister of public instruction under Emperor Nicholas I., worked out all his plans for Jewish education under the influence of Maskilim like Nissen Rosenthal of Wilna, and of men, like Max Lilienthal, who were inspired by them. The abandonment of the Talmud and the study of Hebrew and German were the basis of Uvarov's schemes and the cause of their ultimate failure. But they gave official sanction to the program of haskalah; and Lilienthal, who was sent by Uvarov to visit Jewish communities to induce them to establish schools, is aptly designated by Weissberg as "an emissary of haskalah." He was received joyously by Maskilim as one clothed with governmental authority to carry out their plans, and was glorified by them to the point of absurdity. Lilienthal apprised Uvarov of the existence of groups of Hebrew scholars and friends of progress in many cities, and Uvarov, who until then had thought all Russian Jews ignorant and fanatical, perceived that these Maskilim could be employed as teachers in the schools which he was about to establish. He accordingly gave up the plan of importing from Germany the several hundred Jewish teachers to whom Lilienthal had practically promised positions. This action on the part of Uvarov was resented by Lilienthal, and seems to have been the reason for his departure for America (1845).

But although Leon Mandelstamm, who was commissioned by the government to continue the work of Lilienthal, was one of the Maskilim, the cause of haskalah was not materially strengthened by the establishment of primary and rabbinical schools, ex-, cept in so far as they provided teaching positions for Maskilim. The oppressive candle-tax, instituted to support these schools, and the other severe measures against the Jews taken simultaneously with the efforts to educate them, aroused indignation against haskalah. Later, when the more liberal policy of Alexander II. opened new prospects to the Jew with a good Russian education, the Maskilim with their Hebrew and German lost their hold even on the younger generation. The schools in Wilna and Jitomir, in which the ideals of haskalah were to be realized, went from bad to worse. The Maskilim could not control the situation for reasons which are best indicated by the fact that among the twenty-one representatives of the Jewish community of Wilna (the center of haskalah in northwestern Russia for half a century) who waited on Governor-General Nazimov in 1857, there was not one who could intelligently state in Russian his complaints in regard to the mismanagement of the rabbinical schools (Benjacob, in his letter to Levinsohn in Atlas' "Ha-Kerem," p. 54, Warsaw, 1887).

The Society for Culture.

The Russian haskalah movement, as an educational force, culminated in the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews in Russia (1863). The men at the head of that society modified the old Mendelssohnian program to suit Russian conditions, and thereby rendered invaluable service to the cause of education. The mild and cautious attempts at religious reform, as exemplified by the "Berliner Schul" of Wilna and "Chorschulen" (modernized synagogues) in most of the larger towns in Russia, are also due to the progressive movement. But its greatest achievement is the creation of a Neo-Hebrew literature and a large Neo-Hebrew reading public. The difficulties encountered by Jews in their efforts to obtain a good secular education and the inadequacy of school accommodations caused them, in that thirst for knowledge which distinguishes the Russian Jews, to turn to Hebrew studies, often to the exclusion of more useful subjects. The works of the masters of Jewish literature went through many editions, and of some of them, as Mapu's "Ahabat Ẓiyyon," hundreds of thousands of copies were sold. The activity of the Hebrew periodical press, and of large publishing-houses which provide work for a host of comparatively well-paid writers, has done much to stimulate haskalah in Russia.

The only movement in Russian Judaism and in Neo-Hebrew literature which has affected, and to some extent transformed, haskalah is the nationalistic. It really began with Peter Smolenskin, who rebelled against the old indefinite program and against Mendelssohn himself. As the situation of the Jews became worse, and the hope of emancipation almost disappeared, the Maskilim, with few exceptions, joined the national movement, and "haskalah" became almost synonymous with "Zionism." Still, the change is more apparent than real. The foremost Maskil of to-day, Asher Ginzberg, as the leader of the Culture-Zionists, advocates the harmonization of Jewish with general culture by means of the Hebrew language; this, except for the nationalistic tendency, is in essence the old program of Wessely and the Berlin school of haskalah. See Education; Levinsohn, Isaac Bär; Literature, Neo-Hebraic; Maskilim; Mendelssohn, Moses; Rabbinical Schools in Russia; Wessely, Hartwig.

  • Graetz, Hist. vol. v., ch. x.;
  • Jost, Neuere Gesch. der Israeliten, iii. 33 et seq.;
  • Margolis, Voprosy Yevreiskoi Zhizni. pp. 99 et seq., St. Petersburg, 1889;
  • Weissberg, Die Neuhebräische Aufklärungs-Literatur in Galizien, Leipsic and Vienna, 1898;
  • Brandt, in Jüdische Volksbibliothek, ii. 1-20, Kiev, 1889;
  • Lilienblum, in Ha-Ẓefirah, ii. 7-8;
  • Trivash, in Ahiasaf, 5661, pp. 225-239;
  • Ehrenpreis, in Ha-Shiloaḥ, i. 489-508;
  • Leon Rosenthal, Toledot Ḥebrat Marbe Haskalah be-Yisrael be-Ereẓ Russia, ii., St. Petersburg, 1885-1890;
  • Zeitlin, Bibl. Jud.;
  • Akiba Joseph, Leb ha-'Ibri, Lemberg, 1873.
H. R. P. Wi.
Images of pages