Jewish history

Essay by jane_la June 2006

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Were movements in European Jewry such as Haskalah, Reform, and Zionism merely responses to negative perceptions of Jewry? Or were they positive movements in their own rights?

For centuries, the Jewish communities around Europe strived to find their sense of identity within the vast continent. Through several controversial yet relatively triumphant and progressive movements such as the Haskalah, Reform as well as Zionism, European Jewry managed not only to maintain their social status, but had also contributed greatly to the European culture in vast arrays of perspectives. However, the motivations behind such momentous movements leads on to further discussions of whether it was an assertive response to negative perception of Jewry or simply a positive movement in their own rights.

The Haskalah, otherwise known as the Jewish enlightenment, was one of the major historical movements where changes began to be appreciated and embraced by the majority of Jewish communities.

The Haskalah, which traced the footsteps of Moses Mendelssohn's idea of reform, promoted "that Jews undergo basic changes in their economic lives and their culture." The Maskilims, who carried enlightenment ideas, had the mission to stretch the beliefs of Haskalah and "modernize Jewish lives" . This was achieved by advocating secularized studies of all areas, encouraging the use of Hebrew over Yiddish, as it was seen as reminiscent of ancient times when Judaism was pure. Other radical movements included the abandoning the two fundamental elements of observant Jewish laws, the Sabbath and the Kashrut.

Although the Haskalah movement had contributed to the division within Jewish communities, it quickly moved east, ultimately into Russia. Its rapid spread can be perceived as an indication of the popularity and successfulness of the movement. As prophesized by Naphtali Herz Wesseley, who saw the Haskalah as a positive movement towards greater opportunities, improved standards of...