Religious And Civil Life During The 19th Century

Decent Essays

One can hardly speak of the Haskalah in Eastern Europe without referencing its relationship to Hasidism. Beginning in eighteenth-century Poland-Lithuanian area, the Bal Shem Tov created a brand of simple and extremely pietistic Judaism appealing most to uneducated working class Jews. Hasidism viewed Western ideas, language, and even dress as a threat to traditional Jewish society. In addition, religious and civil life were inseparable, unlike their western coreligionist. These values brought Haskalah in Eastern Europe into a continuous and often tense struggle with the traditional Jewish community.
Unlike their Western coreligionist, Eastern European Jewish communities were still quite traditional by the early 19th century. The Hasidic movement strengthening traditional Jewish life and filled the leadership gap left by the government abolishment of autonomous communal structures known as kahals. At the same time, the maskilim were also exerting increasing influence and leadership among Eastern Jewish communities, and viewed Hasidism as outdated separatist preventing Jews from modernizing. To this end, maskilim sought to discredit Hasidism particularly with state authorities. Journals such as Ha-Karmel, Razsvet,and Kerem Hemed, carried the clever satire from maskilim such as Joseph Perl and Isaac Erter’s Gilgul Nefesh (Transmigration of the Soul) portraying Hasidism as backward, and purposefully antagonistic to government efforts towards Jewish social and political

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