Modern Jewish society, politics, and culture

Authored by: Dean Phillip Bell

The Routledge Companion to Jewish History and Historiography

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193611
eBook ISBN: 9780429458927
Adobe ISBN:


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In an often cited article from 1975, the historian of modern German Jewry Michael Meyer noted the problematic nature of periodizing modern Jewish history, pointing to a number of possible beginning points and asserting that none could really carry the day for all Jews, given the multitude of places in which Jews lived and the varied conditions they faced. 1 “The very diversity and uniqueness of their Diaspora experience have militated against any agreement on its division,” he wrote, pointing out that various methodological and ideological considerations helped to inform the very question of periodization. Similarly, the topic and perspective from which one looked at history could determine where to draw the start dates of modernity—the experiences of different social classes might be quite divergent, with those on the lower end of the scale living in less “modern” conditions for longer. Geography could also play a significant role, as some people in less “developed” areas or countries experienced more “pre-modern” conditions for a longer period of time. Although Meyer conceded that there is in fact no real value in “setting a definite terminus for the beginning of modern Jewish history,” he argued that such attempts to construct the boundaries of a period nevertheless force us to grapple with the “principal causes and characteristics of modernity.” What is more, such discussion perhaps leads to an important focus on “the process of modernization,” even as we understand that there could be numerous modernities for different Jews.

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