Category Archives: Publications

The Duty to Know: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Catechisms and Manuals and the Making of Jewish Religious Knowledge

A contribution to the blog series “Learning by the book” at the GHI’s History of Knowledge Blog and in anticipation of a presentation at the conference “Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge” at Princeton University, June 6-10, 2018:

In 1878 Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800–1882), probably the most famous nineteenth-century German-Jewish painter, created a work entitled The Heder, or Jewish Elementary School, which re-imagined his first school in Hanau near Frankfurt am Main in the early 1800s.

The Heder (1878) by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, courtesy of the Jewish Museum, New York

In his memoirs, written only a few years later, he described this school as a

longish chamber with a low ceiling next to a small courtyard . . . Alongside the wall was a small bench not much higher than a pair of shoes; boys and girls, the children of the Jewish quarter, sitting there until called upon, one by one, to the teacher sitting in an old chair. On the desk in front of the teacher was a table with the Hebrew alphabet, which the children could only see if they climbed on a brick.[1]

This rather informal school setting was not unusual for early modern education. Similar one-room schools for younger children were as well common in the Christian society, especially for the children of the poor or in rural areas. What makes Oppenheim’s painting so fascinating is that by the time he had recreated his childhood memory, the organizational framework of Jewish education in Germany had changed entirely.

The heder (literally “chamber”), a private institution run by the teacher in his own home and employed by the children’s parents, had been replaced by Jewish elementary schools or supplementary religious schools run by the community. These last had gained relevance since the 1830s, as more and more Jewish children attended local public schools, which in the German lands remained Christian in character and included—down to this day—Christian religious instruction. Jewish children were exempted from these classes and either gained knowledge on Judaism at home or attended community-run religious schools on Wednesday afternoons and Sundays. Although some public schools opened their doors to local Jewish teachers or rabbis, Jewish religious instruction remained mainly outside the public school system.

This kind of setting for Jewish education could be found in most nineteenth-century Central and West European states as well as in the Unites States. In the German-Jewish case, my focus here, three forces shaped this new educational setting: the Haskalah or Jewish enlightenment and its educational program; the process of emancipation and the significance that education and schooling assumed within it; and changing societal attitudes toward education in general and what children and young adults should learn and know.

Continue reading here.

Two new articles by Tal Kogman

Tal Kogman published recently two articles on the role of science and scientific knowledge in eighteenth and nineteenth century Hebrew print culture. Both articles express her continued interest in Jewish scientific education and Jewish scientific culture, as also manifested in her book The ‘Maskilim’ in the Sciences: Jewish Scientific Education in the German-Speaking Sphere in Modern Times (המשכילים במדעים: חינוך יהודי למדעים במרחב דובר הגרמנית בעת החדשה) published by Magnes Press in 2013. These two articles also relate to her current research on traditional and modern values in textbooks and other educational media for Hebrew instruction.

Both articles address the novel character of Hebrew scientific literature and the significant contributions of the Haskalah movement to Jewish attitudes towards science by re-drawing the line between ‘Jewish’ and ‘foreign’ knowledge.

Tal Kogman’s contribution to Jewish Culture and History elaborates on Hebrew science literature between the last third of the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. Hebrew print culture saw significant changes in this time. The last third of the eighteenth century saw an increase in publications, in part due to efforts of the Haskalah to revive Hebrew as the cultural language of the Jews which found its expression in the establishment of a “Library of the Haskalah“.

In her contribution to the Leo Baeck Institute’s 2017 Yearbook, Tal Kogman discusses rabbinic attitudes toward Hebrew scientific literature based on a thorough examination of Haskamot, or rabbinic approbations. The approach situated Maskilic scientific publication in the broader history of Hebrew print culture and its mechanisms. Haskamot gave legitimacy to Jewish books by means of rabbinic authorities. Approaching Hebrew printing and Maskilic scientific literature through Haskamot offer a unique perspective on the attitude of eighteenth and nineteenth century rabbinic authorities toward science and on the interaction between Rabbis and Maskilic authors.

Tal Kogman, The Emergence of Scientific Literature in Hebrew for Children and Youth in the Nineteenth Century: Preliminary Directions for Research. In: Jewish Culture and History 17 (3) (2016), 249-263.

Tal Kogman, Science and the Rabbis: Haskamot, Haskalah, and the Boundaries of Jewish Knowledge in Scientific Hebrew Literature and Textbooks. In: Leo Baeck Institute Year Book (2017), 1-15.


2016 Publications

Earlier this year Zohar Shavit and Tal Kogman presented insights into their research on the Haskalah movement, mascilic concepts of parenthood, childhood and adolescence and their significance for the transformation of Jewish life and Jewish education in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Both articles appeared in the Journal of Jewish Education.

The Fall issue of the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute (Washington DC) features further insight in our research. Simone Lässig sheds light on the history of knowledge, its intellectual and disciplinary origins and the value of knowledge as a category of historical research. These considerations are likewise significant for our research project. Kerstin von der Krone provides a concrete example through her contribution on the transformation of Jewish religious knowledge in the nineteenth century.