Leaving the Jewish Fold: Conversion and Radical Assimilation in Modern Jewish History

Princeton University Press
Free sample

Between the French Revolution and World War II, hundreds of thousands of Jews left the Jewish fold—by becoming Christians or, in liberal states, by intermarrying. Telling the stories of both famous and obscure individuals, Leaving the Jewish Fold explores the nature of this drift and defection from Judaism in Europe and America from the eighteenth century to today. Arguing that religious conviction was rarely a motive for Jews who became Christians, Todd Endelman shows that those who severed their Jewish ties were driven above all by pragmatic concerns—especially the desire to escape the stigma of Jewishness and its social, occupational, and emotional burdens.

Through a detailed and colorful narrative, Endelman considers the social settings, national contexts, and historical circumstances that encouraged Jews to abandon Judaism, and factors that worked to the opposite effect. Demonstrating that anti-Jewish prejudice weighed more heavily on the Jews of Germany and Austria than those living in France and other liberal states as early as the first half of the nineteenth century, he reexamines how Germany's political and social development deviated from other European states. Endelman also reveals that liberal societies such as Great Britain and the United States, which tolerated Jewish integration, promoted radical assimilation and the dissolution of Jewish ties as often as hostile, illiberal societies such as Germany and Poland.

Bringing together extensive research across several languages, Leaving the Jewish Fold will be the essential work on conversion and assimilation in modern Jewish history for years to come.

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About the author

Todd M. Endelman is professor emeritus of history and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan. His books include The Jews of Britain and Broadening Jewish History.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 22, 2015
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Pages
440
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ISBN
9781400866380
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Jewish
History / Modern / 20th Century
History / Modern / General
Religion / Religious Intolerance, Persecution & Conflict
Social Science / Jewish Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This book-series, initiated in 1992, has an interdisciplinary orientation; it is published in English and German and comprises research monographs, collections of essays and editions of source texts dealing with German-Jewish literary and cultural history, in particular from the period covering the 18th to 20th centuries.

The closer definition of the term German-Jewish applied to literature and culture is an integral part of its historical development. Primarily, the decisive factor is that from the middle of the 18th century German gradually became the language of choice for Jews, and Jewish authors started writing in German, rather than Yiddish or Hebrew, even when they were articulating Jewish themes. This process is directly connected an historical change in mentality and social factors which led to a gradual opening towards a non-Jewish environment, which in its turn was becoming more open. In the Enlightenment, German society becomes the standard of reference – initially for an intellectual elite. Against this background, the term German-Jewish literature refers to the literary work of Jewish authors writing in German to the extent that explicit or implicit Jewish themes, motifs, modes of thought or models can be identified in them.
From the beginning of the 19th century at the latest, however, the image of Jews in the work of non-Jewish writers, determined mainly by anti-Semitism, becomes a factor in German-Jewish literature. There is a tension between Jewish writers’ authentic reference to Jewish traditions or existence and the anti-Semitic marking and discrimination against everything Jewish which determines the overall development of the history of German-Jewish literature and culture. This series provides an appropriate forum for research into the whole problematic area.

Not in the Heavens traces the rise of Jewish secularism through the visionary writers and thinkers who led its development. Spanning the rich history of Judaism from the Bible to today, David Biale shows how the secular tradition these visionaries created is a uniquely Jewish one, and how the emergence of Jewish secularism was not merely a response to modernity but arose from forces long at play within Judaism itself.

Biale explores how ancient Hebrew books like Job, Song of Songs, and Esther downplay or even exclude God altogether, and how Spinoza, inspired by medieval Jewish philosophy, recast the biblical God in the role of nature and stripped the Torah of its revelatory status to instead read scripture as a historical and cultural text. Biale examines the influential Jewish thinkers who followed in Spinoza's secularizing footsteps, such as Salomon Maimon, Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein. He tells the stories of those who also took their cues from medieval Jewish mysticism in their revolts against tradition, including Hayim Nahman Bialik, Gershom Scholem, and Franz Kafka. And he looks at Zionists like David Ben-Gurion and other secular political thinkers who recast Israel and the Bible in modern terms of race, nationalism, and the state.



Not in the Heavens demonstrates how these many Jewish paths to secularism were dependent, in complex and paradoxical ways, on the very religious traditions they were rejecting, and examines the legacy and meaning of Jewish secularism today.

The Marranos were former Jews forced to convert to Christianity in Spain and Portugal, and their later descendents. Despite economic and some political advancement, these "Conversos" suffered social stigma and were persecuted by the Inquisition. In this unconventional history, Yirmiyahu Yovel tells their fascinating story and reflects on what it means for modern forms of identity.

He describes the Marranos as "the Other within"--people who both did and did not belong. Rejected by most Jews as renegades and by most veteran Christians as Jews with impure blood, Marranos had no definite, integral identity, Yovel argues. The "Judaizers"--Marranos who wished to remain secretly Jewish--were not actually Jews, and those Marranos who wished to assimilate were not truly integrated as Hispano-Catholics. Rather, mixing Jewish and Christian symbols and life patterns, Marranos were typically distinguished by a split identity. They also discovered the subjective mind, engaged in social and religious dissent, and demonstrated early signs of secularity and this-worldliness. In these ways, Yovel says, the Marranos anticipated and possibly helped create many central features of modern Western and Jewish experience. One of Yovel's philosophical conclusions is that split identity--which the Inquisition persecuted and modern nationalism considers illicit--is a genuine and inevitable shape of human existence, one that deserves recognition as a basic human freedom.


Drawing on historical studies, Inquisition records, and contemporary poems, novels, treatises, and other writings, this engaging critical history of the Marrano experience is also a profound meditation on dual identities and the birth of modernity.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century most European Jews lived in restricted settlements and urban ghettos, isolated from the surrounding dominant Christian cultures not only by law but also by language, custom, and dress. By the end of the century urban, upwardly mobile Jews had shaved their beards and abandoned Yiddish in favor of the languages of the countries in which they lived. They began to participate in secular culture and they embraced rationalism and non-Jewish education as supplements to traditional Talmudic studies. The full participation of Jews in modern Europe and America would be unthinkable without the intellectual and social revolution that was the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment.

Unparalleled in scale and comprehensiveness, The Jewish Enlightenment reconstructs the intellectual and social revolution of the Haskalah as it gradually gathered momentum throughout the eighteenth century. Relying on a huge range of previously unexplored sources, Shmuel Feiner fully views the Haskalah as the Jewish version of the European Enlightenment and, as such, a movement that cannot be isolated from broader eighteenth-century European traditions. Critically, he views the Haskalah as a truly European phenomenon and not one simply centered in Germany. He also shows how the republic of letters in European Jewry provided an avenue of secularization for Jewish society and culture, sowing the seeds of Jewish liberalism and modern ideology and sparking the Orthodox counterreaction that culminated in a clash of cultures within the Jewish community. The Haskalah's confrontations with its opponents within Jewry constitute one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of the dramatic and traumatic encounter between the Jews and modernity.

The Haskalah is one of the central topics in modern Jewish historiography. With its scope, erudition, and new analysis, The Jewish Enlightenment now provides the most comprehensive treatment of this major cultural movement.

Wise Sheep Among the Wolves

All Christian disciples have one thing in common: as they carry the gospel across the ocean and across the street, persecution will become the norm for those who choose to follow Jesus. How believers respond in the face of persecution reveals everything about their level of faith and obedience.

The Insanity of Obedience is a bold challenge to global discipleship. Nik Ripken exposes the danger of safe Christianity and calls readers to something greater. The Insanity of Obedience challenges Christians in the same, provocative way that Jesus did. This book dares you—and prepares you—to cross the street and the oceans with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Some of Jesus’ instructions sound uncomfortable and are potentially dangerous. We may be initially encouraged by His declaration, “I am sending you out.” But how are we to respond when He then tells us that He is sending us out “like sheep among wolves"?

In light of the words of Jesus, how can modern day believers rest comfortably in the status quo? How can we embrace casual faith in light of the radical commands of Jesus which are anything but casual? Ripken brings decades of ministry experience in some of the most persecuted areas of the world to bear on our understanding of faith in Jesus. The Insanity of Obedience is a call to roll up your sleeves . . . and to follow and partner with Jesus in the toughest places on this planet.

"We have the high privilege of answering Jesus’ call to go," Ripken says. "But let us be clear about this: we go on His terms, not ours. If we go at all, we go as sheep among wolves."
 
Jesus gives us Himself.  And He gives us the tools necessary for those who dare to journey with Him.
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