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3.4.  AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT (1700-1900)

Table 6 presents major events which took place during the Age of Enlightenment, 1700-1900.

Moses Mendelsohn1728-86The "Jewish Socrates"; Blending of cultures
Ba'al Shem Tov1736Establishment of Chasidism in Poland
Vilna Gaon1740Lithuanian Misnagdim (against Chasidism)
Shneiur Zalman1790Establishment of Chabad
Jacob Frank1750-91False Messiah, Founder of Frankists
French Revolution1790Emancipation proclamation
Poland, Partitions1772/1792/1795 Russian Pale of Settlement created
Reform, Amsterdam1796New, separate synagogue with ritual changes
Reform, Berlin1815Israel Jacobson
Napolean in France1799-1813
Renewal of Hebrew1770In Germany
Secular Names Adopted 1800...German Jews adopt German secular names
Haskalah Movement1825...Spurt in Hebrew & Yiddish literature,
newspapers, journals, culture, & theater
Musar Movement1842Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Vilna
Conservative Judaism1854Zecharia Frankel, "Science of Judaism," Prague
Modern Zionism born1882Pinsker, "Auto-Emancipation," Odessa, Ukraine
Jewish Socialism1885Secular/Agnostic
Jewish Socialist Bund1897Secular/Agnostic. Lithuania, Poland, & Russia

Table 6. Age of Enlightenment (1700-1900)

Background || Mendelsohn || Haskala || Secularism || Given Names ||


The scientific and intellectual developments of the 17th century (Newton in science, Descartes & Bayle in rationalism, Spinoza in Pantheism, and the empiricism of Bacon and Locke) fostered in the 18th century a belief in natural law, universal order, and confidence in human reasoning.  A rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility.  The main centers of creativity during the Enlightenment were in Western and West-Central Europe, that is, France, England, Germany, and Italy.  By comparison, backward East-Central and Eastern Europe reacted only later to the leadership of Western Europe.

The unification of the German state in the mid-19th century, Germany's industrial expansion, and the vigor of German educational institutions were all causes for German self-satisfaction.  When compared with life in Russian-occupied Lithuania, Germany could easily seem by contrast to be a land of Freedom.

The major champions of the Enlightenment were the philosphers who popularized and promulgated the new ideas for the general reading public. With supreme faith in rational man, they sought to discover and act upon universally valid principles governing humanity, nature, and society.  They variously attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and economic and social restraints.  They considered the State to be the proper and rational instrument of progress.

The movement received its strongest support from the bourgeoisie and its most vigorous opposition from the high clergy and nobility.  Some philosphers at first proposed that their theories be implemented by "enlightened despots" -- rulers who would impose reform by authoritarian means.  Indeed, this is exactly what occurred in Russia, Prussia, and Spain.  It is said that the proponents of the Enlightenment were responsible for the French Revolution.

The Age of Enlightenment began in Western and Central Europe, and gave the Jews there political emancipation and integration into society.  In 1780, in the Hapsburg territories of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia and Moravia, Emperor Joseph II abolished the Jewish badge and Jews were free to leave the ghetto, learn any trade and engage in commerce, and attend public schools and universities.  The French Revolution (1790) bestowed citizenship on Jews.

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Moses Mendelsohn (1728-86) was a giant of cross-culture bridging;  he was intellectual, gentlemanly, with great wisdom, and above all, greatly respected by non-Jews in Germany.  Defending his Jewish brethren, he felt that the improvement in their lot lay in two directions: the adoption of German culture, and the acquisition of equal rights.  His creation of a German translation of the Pentateuch with Hebrew commentary, struck a "forbidden fruit" chord in young students of the Talmud, who embraced his book's sublime lessons -- the German language and the philosophy of religion, Hebrew grammar, and poetry.  This view of the Bible was an innovation for those who studied Talmud deeply ("lishma," for its own sake), exposing them to the Five Books from a new perspective.

Mendelsohn's intellectual approach to Judaism created a sensation among German Jews.  It was in Berlin and Prague that the Reform and Conservative revolts against orthodox Judaism would take place and many Jews there were ripe for Mendelsohn's revolution.  Many of Mendelsohn's followers jumped much farther from traditional Judaism than he did himself, and he was, perhaps unfairly, criticized for being against tradition.

From Poland to France, from Italy to Holland, London, and Copenhagen, young men sang the virtues of the new Age of Enlightenment.  Inspired by the ideals of Mendelsohn, they embraced the Tora, poetry, and science. They achieved more than Mendelsohn, who was cautious.  For wealthy Jews in Berlin, who were still ostracized by nobility and the court, reading in their leisure hours became a necessity -- German literature and literary productions became de riguer. Hebrew became part of Art.

In Jewish circles in Berlin, knowledge procured more distinction than riches;  the ignorant man, however wealthy, was held up as a butt for contempt.  Every Jew, whatever his means, prided himself on possessing a collection of old and new books, and when possible, sought to know their contents, so that he might not be wanting in conversation.  Every well-informed Jew lived in two worlds:  that of business, and that of books.  Therefore, the younger generation occupied itself with belles-lettres, language, and philosophy.  This extended itself to French wit -- Voltaire had more admirers among German Jews than among non-Jewish Germans.

Jewish criticizers of the apparent act of embracing the secular world and distancing from the Jewish religious world, opposed the Enlightenment and Mendelsohn.  And despite the positive aspects of the Enlightenment, it is true that many German Jews were lost to Judaism as a result of conversion;  of Mendelsohn's six children, only one remained Jewish, and when this one's son died, the line of Mendelsohn the Jew was extinguished.

Partially as a result of Mendelsohn's translation of the Pentateuch, the revival of Hebrew as a language in its own right began around 1770 in Germany.  In 1783, Isaac Abraham Euchel and Mendel Bresselau established in Berlin a society for the promotion of the Hebrew language (Chevrat Dorshei Leshon Eber) and founded a journal, "HaMeassef", The Gatherer.  They wished to advance culture;  only Hebrew in its purity and chastity could accomplish the union between Judaism and the German culture of the day. The growth was rapid, and the Hebrew language and poetry became a bond of union for the Western European Jews, and to some extent, for Polish Jews. The thirst of German Jews for the German culture that had been denied them for so long was unquenchable.

Western Yiddish which had grown in German soil, now began to lose its luster there and was looked down upon, as were the Eastern European Jews who gloried in it.  Given names also reflected the embracement of German culture, as Yiddish names were little used and German names were adopted without change by German Jews.

In the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, the Partitions of Poland occurred in 1772, 1792, and 1795, Poland ceased to exist as a distinct country, the huge ghetto called the Pale of Settlement was created under the control of Russia, and a peculiar period of major persecution of Jews, in combination with the Jews' simultaneous religious and intellectual growth, reached its zenith within the vast wasteland of their Eastern European hosts.

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The end of the eighteenth century saw a sea change and vast upheaval in Europe which altered the political condition of several nations.  With the great French Revolution of 1790, the principles of "Liberty, Fraternity and Equality" were declared politically for the first time, and not only by philosophers as previously, and men of all classes and religions were proclaimed equal.  Jews were not excepted, and having reappeared in France during that century, they found themselves on the same political footing as the rest of the people.  King Louis XVIth set his seal to the French Assembly's ruling of September 28 1791, making the very first instance in European history of a Jewish emancipation, that is, of a successful movement to free them of their age-long civil and political disabilities.

This emancipation spread to other countries, notably Germany, and while there were two steps forward and one step backward throughout Europe, the Jews of Germany and other Western and Central European countries began to embrace the cultures of their countries.  Indeed, the beginning of the eighteenth century saw the massive adoption by German Jews of German secular given names and conversions to Christianity, among them even Dorothea and Henrietta Mendelsohn, the daughters of Moses Mendelsohn, and the greatest representatives of German literature of that period, Borne (died 1837), and Heine (died 1856).

It may truly be said that the French Revolution marked the beginning of a new era in Jewish history when Jews began to enter into the cultures of their home countries and to become true citizens there.  This major development was destined to be both beneficial and detrimental to Jewish life in Europe.

From Western Europe, the Enlightenment spread to Eastern Europe, manifesting itself among Jews as the Haskala spurt, literary growth of Hebrew and Yiddish, modern Zionism, Jewish socialism, the Algemeyner Yiddisher Arbeiter Bund (1897), Workmen's Circle, and more.  The Bund advocated national and cultural autonomy for Jews, a middle course between assimilation and a territorial solution in Russia for Jewish problems.  The Poalei Zion (Zionists) founded in 1906, on the other hand, fiercely fought for resettlement of Jews in the Holy Land.

Before the Enlightenment, Hebrew was considered by religious Jews to be Loshen Kodesh (the holy tongue) and was not to be used for day-to-day and secular matters;  those activities were the purview of Yiddish (Mama Loshn -- Mother's language).  But with the Enlightenment, many Eastern European Jews eagerly embraced Hebrew as a renewed language and began to use the language to correspond, write short stories, novels, and discourses, and print Hebrew newspapers ("HaMeilitz," The Advocate), and Yiddish and Hebrew began to compete in scholarship, literature, and the Arts.  Ancient hebrew was renewed as a living language, and Yiddish reached the zenith of its development from its beginnings 800 years earlier.

In Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, the Enlightenment led to deep splits between traditional Jewish religionists and Jewish modernists who believed in change.  But there were differences from region to region.  In the West, the Enlightenment led easily and directly into assimilation and conversion, whereas in the East, it led to a split between the religious on the one hand, and the secular, cultural, and worldly, on the other.  The latter did not want for the most part to give up their Judaism, but rather to convert it into something new and different -- cultural.  While the conception in the West and parts of Central Europe was split between religionists, Jewish culturalists, seculars, and converters, in the East, the split was mainly between religionists and Jewish culturalists.

In the East, Jewish life was an island of energetic religious and cultural growth in a sea of non-Jewish backwardness and oppression.  In Lithuania, for example, the Lithuanian language survived by the late 19th century only in Suwalki and Samogitia -- the rest of the country was Polish-speaking -- and there, only among rural peasantry and the petty gentry.  Polish had been the language of high culture and government in Lithuania since about 1600. The educated and professional classes in Lithuania, and the higher gentry, were Polish speaking. Virtually no literary works were published in Lithuanian, and but little in Polish.  Accordingly, non-Jewish Lithuania was culturally backward, as well as oppressive towards Jews.

A split internal to the religious community, was the strong opposition of the Lithuanian Misnagdim to the Haskala and to the new Chasidism movement.  This led to the Musar movement, established by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter in 1842, initially opposed by the Misnagdim, but afterward embraced by them.  For the Musar movement lent stability to the magnificent Lithuanian yeshivot and provided an anchor for their students, serving as a shield against the winds of change. Musar was really an antidote to Haskala.

The first Musar group was opened in Vilna in Lithuania.  Musar was an humble attempt to improve the moral and ethical sides of traditional Jewish observance in Eastern Europe.  It was not enough to learn Tora without some kind of associated moral development.  One might view modesty and extreme self-centeredness as two opposites.  The latter thinks that he/she is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong;  such a person would submit to power, but not to persuasion.  By contrast, a modest person recognizes that strength of passion and desire for self gratification have the capacity to blind him to moral sensitivity;  just then is it essential for him to turn to objective sources of wisdom and ethics to provide the inspiration necessary to resist the drive for immediate gratification.

The essential difference between the Chasid and the Misnagid was that for the Chasid, his Rebbe enveloped him to such an extent that his personal aura was utterly absorbed.  His individual ego was submerged and absorbed in the group, merging with the emanation of the Rebbe.  For Misnagdim, however, even at moments of high spiritual exaltation, the group was made up of individuals sitting side by side.  The Misnagid faced G-d and man, standing alone, just as he was, great or small, and not beneath the mantle of another;  this preserved the individual's identity and did not permit it to be blurred or melt away, even for spiritual gain.  While rejoicing was above all else for Chasidim, for Misnagdim, there was no such thing as pure and simple joy for its own sake.  The Chasid shukled when he prayed, but the Misnagid stood stock still, the better to absorb his oneness with G-d internally.

Despite the deep splits and battles between the religious and the cultural/secular/worldly Jewish camps in Eastern Europe, and among the religious themselves, the Jews had an energetic, religious and cultural society which was developing like a pearl.  For example, the literacy rates of the Jewish and total Russian populations in 1897 are shown in Table 7.

All of Russia     Jews
Males over 9    38.7 %64.6 %
Females over 9    17.036.6
Total, over 9    27.750.1

Table 7.  Literacy Rates in Russia, 1897

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But the turbulence in Eastern European Jewish life introduced a slow, steady movement (particularly in Lithuania and Belarus) from a deeply religious Jewish life in the 19th century towards a cultural Jewish life, then to secularism, the latter becoming a major factor in Lithuania during the 1930's.  As a result, given names remained Jewish for those on the religious side of the spectrum, but for the other groups there was a gradual shift to secular given names in the 1920's and 1930's.

By this time, Jewish education remained extremely strong.  In 1925, an amazing 93 percent of all Jewish children in Lithuania attended Jewish elementary schools, and 80 percent attended Jewish secondary schools. Languages of instruction were Hebrew, Yiddish, or both.  The predominant school system was Tarbut (culture) schools, from kindergarten to gymnasium.  Unlike the major Lithuanian yeshivot, Tarbut was neither religious nor anti-religious, but Zionist-nationalist.  Bible and Hebrew language and literature were taught, and there was a love of Eretz Yisrael.  From 1918 to 1940 (when Tarbut was stopped by the Russians), Tarbut enrolled about 60,000 pupils, 70 percent of the Jewish children in the country.

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For the religious and culturally Jewish, given names in Eastern Europe were sacred names plus kinuim which were mainly Yiddish, German, Slavic, and other-Europe oriented.  In countries where persecution was especially harsh, there was a strong tendency not to adopt local secular given names.

It was during this tempestuous period that Jewish given names in Eastern Europe advanced dynamically in the direction of legal Hebrew double names, consisting of a standard Hebrew sacred name plus a Yiddish and/or a secular name.  The Hebrew names now included Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and absorbed European names, and now in Hebrew double names, Yiddish names and secular names (mainly in Germany, Poland, and Hungary).  Hebrew Double names and others are discussed below and in the first paper which is a companion to this paper. (1)

From the Given Names Data Bases Project, here is a sample of these Hebrew, Yiddish, and secular given names for various 19th-century European countries:

ESTONIA, LATVIA:  Are, Bruno, Eliakim Getz, Fabian, Gelman, Jeckel, Khonel, Moris, Noson, Orel, Ruvl, Shabsel, Urin, Yulius, Zvi Hirsh;  Asna, Chiesse, Elke, Guta, Leontina, Manya, Nora, Schone, Taube, Yeta, Zina

GALICIA:  Alkon, Ekhil, Fishel, Ishia, Kejfman, Kojftsya, Litman, Mal, Nuta, Semion, Shaya, Shmelka, Shopel, Shukher, Sumer, Urim, Yaker, Yurdko;  Adalya, Budina, Chencia, Donka, Drejzya, Erka, Finklya, Gides, Henele, Khinya, Mirka, Rodya

GERMANY:  Abraham, Berthold, Charles, Emil, Erich, Ferdinand, Gottfried, Hersh, Ignaz, Kurt, Mendel, Moritz, Otto, Paul, Siegfried, Theodor, Wilhelm, Wolf;  Agnes, Anna, Berta, Cecylia, Elize, Etel, Eva, Fanny, Flora, Gertrud, Helene, Henrietta, Johanna, Klara, Liselotte, Margerete, Marie, Rosa, Sabina, Trude, Yetta

LITHUANIA, BELARUS:  Afroim, Aharon Hermeln, Bejnash, Elias, Eliezer Lipman, Froim, Govsej, Herz, Ioel, Kalman, Man, Menachem Mendl, Mendl, Moshka, Note, Pinkus, Saadia Chalvana, Samuil, Sender, Tankhum, Velvl, Yuda;  Bella, Clara, Drobna, Leah Litza, Fani, Galya, Gnendl, Liba, Minda, Regina, Sora, Zlata

POLAND:  Achselrad Bendet, Aleksander Ziskind, Amnon, Ber, Chuna, Dodia, Dov Ber, Ejzyk, Fajvl, Geronim, Henoch, Kishl, Lajzer, Lapidot Chalvana, Mejlekh, Nosl, Ryven, Srul, Wolf, Zev;  Adelya, Bajla, Emma, Golda, Henrieta, Ita, Krendle, Maresa, Nucha, Rojza, Traindlya, Yanina

ROMANIA:  Aizic, Chiva, Faibis, Haim, Hascal, Herscu, Hunia, Itic, Lupu, Meilich, Mochiul, Moisa, Nuham, Paltiel, Rahmil, Sapsha, Shulem, Smil, Wolf, User;  Bela, Cecilie, Clara, Daltie, Ghitla, Gita, Haea, Haina, Hana, Mindl, Reiza, Rukel, Sura, Suzana

UKRAINE:  Ajzyk, Bendet, Chaskiel, Ejzik, Fajvish, Gershko, Iser, Kiva, Lipman, Markus, Nusen, Rakhmil, Shaya, Tevya, Todris, Zusya;  Alta, Anna, Bogdana, Dobrish, Edl, Gitl, Leya, Maryam, Nokhama, Rekhlya, Shulka, Sora, Tsirl

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