European Jewry in the History Term Paper

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Subject: History - Israel
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #95073229

Excerpt from Term Paper :

These new laws applied to native-born Jews only; foreign, that is, Russian, Jews still suffered from restrictions. This division between native and foreign Jews was of importance then and still exists in present-day German law as it did in the days of the German empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi regime. (Cohn 10)

These old standards left the door open for new and modern forms of the same archaic segregations and prejudices.

When the Nazis rose to power, they revived many of the old evils. Restrictions on Jews owning businesses or entering certain professions were instituted, ghettos were reestablished, and special taxes were placed on the Jewish community at large rather than on individuals. The new ghettos were governed by Nazi-appointed Jewish officials, the Judenrat, right up to the point when the entire ghettos were "cleansed" and the inhabitants either shot out of hand or deported to extermination camps. Like the tsars of 100 years earlier, the Nazis made the Jewish officials pick who was to be deported first. Eventually, of course, the Jewish councillors and policemen shared the fate of their ghetto, but each of these officials had to make the difficult choice between cooperating with the Nazis in the hope of saving some or preparing to go down fighting. (Cohn 11)

There is a modern movement, in Europe even today that uses some of the same old ideas of inferiority to deem Jews lessor than others, regardless of their level assimilation or secularization and regardless of the length of time which they have lived within their chosen communities.

From 1648 to 1933, the advantages of living were all in the West, and the Jews followed the available advantages." (Cohn ix) These advantages spoken of by Cohn were those associated with economic and religious freedom and tolerance, yet these advantages were short lived, as the more the Jews moved the more dangerous their new homes became.

The Jews who came from the East did not come without gifts to the West. They brought their culture, their folktales, and the language of Yiddish. They brought their political skills, sharpened in the ghettos, and their flexibility in trading, and they applied these to the economies and politics of the West, giving many industries and ideas an Eastern Jewish flavor. (Cohn ix-xi)

During these transitions there were internal conflicts that challenged the Jewish culture as well, while the Western Jews attempted to separate themselves from the Eastern Jews, sometimes basing their rejections on the anti-Semitics of the culture at large.

Those Jews who were already living in the West and, to a certain extent, had adjusted themselves to the culture of their non-Jewish neighbors tried to set themselves apart from the floods of Jewish newcomers. Almost always this "setting apart" was cultural rather than biological. It was seldom successful for long. As the newcomers learned to adjust themselves to the new setting of the cultures of the West, they became more and more acceptable to the Western Jews. It could not be any other way, since the numbers of Eastern Jewish immigrants exceeded the number of Jews living in the Western countries. (Cohn xi)

The challenges of being set apart, and the at least nominal distinctions between the eastern and western Jewish traditions have as much to do with nationalism as with culture, as the regions influenced the Jew as much as they did any other immigrant. Yet, this separation of the Jews, between Eastern and Western leads many modern scholars to more closely analyze the differences between these two groups, prior to the backlash of the emancipation and reformation movements in Europe.

The political vulnerability and religious faith of the Jews led to the rise of several messianic movements; one of the most important was led by Sabbatai Zevi. In the 18th cent. Hasidism arose among the Jews of Eastern Europe. Jewish religious movement founded in Poland in the 18th cent. By Baal-Shem-Tov. Its name derives from Hasidim. Hasidism, which stressed the mercy of God and encouraged joyous religious expression through music and dance, spread rapidly. Baal-shem-tov taught that purity of heart is more pleasing to God than learning. He drew his teaching chiefly from Jewish legend and aroused much opposition among Talmudists, who in 1772, pronounced the movement heretical...the leadership role of the zaddik -- developed. The zaddik, the charismatic leader around whom various Hasidic groups gather, serves as an intermediary between his followers and God. Leadership is passed from father to son (or in some cases to son-in-law). By the 1830s the majority of Jews in Ukraine, Galicia, and central Poland were Hasidic, as were substantial minorities in Belarus and Hungary. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. (www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/)

It was through this movement and others, that the internal strength of the European Jew was formed. Developed as an attempt to protect themselves from outside as well as inside strife the movement served to reinvigorate the group as one defined by faith and not just ethnicity.

The effect of Hasidism on Jewish life in the eastern Jewish areas was enormous, even on those who were not followers of the zaddiks. Since Hasidism placed emphasis on the spirit of worship rather than on details of ritual, the poor Jew who did not know all of the ritual or prayers could now feel himself to be an equal of the leaders of the synagogue or those wealthy enough to be formal yeshiva students. Wealth was no longer the only factor that made a "good Jew," and partly for that reason, Hasidism had its strongest appeal among the Jewish lower classes. (Cohn 11)

Yet, as can be seen from above the eastern traditions were clearly more adherent to the Hassidic movement and the public declaration of faith, based on strict adherence to religious laws left many of these Jews with even greater personal distinctions from majority populations, than they had before. It was at this point that it became almost impossible for the Jews of this particular movement to blend in to the culture at large, which strengthened their internal frameworks but clearly made them vulnerable to criticism, both from other more moderate looking Jews and majority cultures. In the modern sense the adherence to tradition of this group still sets them apart from almost every group that surrounds them, and protects an idealized and historically rich history.

Some would say that Western European Jews did the opposite in their quest to protect their culture form further political and social challenges they stressed the importance of their history as an ethnic entity and downplayed the importance of their faith as their uniting force. This resulted in Western European secularization of the Jews, in much the same way as other cultures were seeking a separation of their politics and their diverse faiths the Jews of Western Europe attempted to separate their faith from laws, in most cases attempting to blend into surrounding cultures, through the recognition of their responsibility to follow the secular laws of the nations and locals which they lived in.

Modern political emancipation of the Jews began with the American and French revolutions. In Germany and Austria emancipation of the Jews was proclaimed after the Revolution of 1848. Simultaneously, the Haskalah encouraged the secularization of Jewish life, and the integration of the Jews into the societies in which they lived. Especially in Western Europe, this led to considerable acculturation, and even assimilation, of Jewish communities. The religious Reform movement advocated a form of Judaism shorn of its national elements and emphasizing ethical content rather than adherence to traditional Jewish law. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. (www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/)

As can be seen Eastern and Western Jews had two divergent responses to outside stressors leaving the two regions Jews divergent within their faith and expressive practices and paving the way for potential conflicts associated with the continued liquid state of the groups movements. In many places, at the height of anti-Semitic strife those who had acculturated identified themselves first with the nation in which they lived and second with their Jewish history. Once the European movement toward greater sanctions and challenges began in earnest again, many of these acculturated Jews resented their designation as Jews, to be scorned and segregated. In contrast those who did not assimilate and defined themselves as Jews first were often in greater peril and suffered constant prejudices and pressures, sometimes resulting in further movements, west, leaving them in conflict with both the new mass culture and the reformed secular Jews wherever they settled.

Taking the hint from assimilated Jews in the west the east would also respond with a secular movement known as Zionism. The attempt to protect themselves from further political and violent strife the Jews of the East, who did not relocate, found strength in their own brand of secularization:

In Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, new secular movements arose, particularly after a wave of pogroms in 1881. These movements sought to ameliorate the Jewish condition and establish Jewish…

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