In Pursuit of Knowing: Nineteenth-Century Jewish Education and the Transformation of Jewish Knowledge

“In Pursuit of Knowing” illuminates the relationship of Jewish education (Bildung and Erziehung), Jewish knowledge, and Jewish thought in German-speaking Europe during the nineteenth century. A Habilitation project at the Martin Buber Chair in Jewish Studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt, this study examines, first, the political and social contexts of Jewish education during the nineteenth century; second, responses to those contexts as conveyed in the textual (re)presentation of Jewish knowledge; and, third, the philosophical and theological implications of the adaptation of new knowledge orders.

The transformation of Jewish education between 1780 and 1880 was shaped by three forces: the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) and its educational program, which promoted new curricula and teaching methods, the changing legal and political condition of Jewish education and schooling in the wake emancipation; and changing attitudes among educators and parents, of what Jewish children – boys and girls alike – needed to know and should learn. In light of this background, “In Pursuit of Knowing” asks how nineteenth-century Jewish education presented and represented Judaism and Jewish knowledge, which practices of knowledge production and orders of knowledge were employed and to what extant a) it built upon Jewish tradition(s) – religious, cultural and educational – and b) adapted new educational practices and modes of knowledge formation.

The project focuses in particular on religious education, on new forms of religious instruction in school and at home, and draws upon a broad body of source materials: congregational and governmental records; school reports; correspondence and autobiographies; press reports; and, above all, texts intended for use in Jewish religious instruction. It understands educational and religious writings meant for Jewish religious instruction as textual (re)presentation of Jewish knowledge, as an epistemic genre that rested as much on adaptation and reconstruction of familiar modes of Jewish knowledge and text production as on entirely new forms and formats of knowledge transmission. Those writings include systematically structured textbooks and handbook for religious instruction, which had been analyzed as part of the DFG project “Innovation durch Tradition?” (Innovation through Tradition?) and the associated sub-project “Erziehung zum Menschen, Juden und Staatsbürger. Werte- und Normenwandel in jüdischen Bildungsmedien des 19. Jahrhunderts” (Educating the “Man,” the “Jew” and the “Citizen”: Transformations in Social Norms and Values in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Educational Media). “In Pursuit of Knowing” expands this core study by situating nineteenth century Jewish educational and religious writings  within the broader socio-cultural, pedagogic, literary, and theological contexts in which they were produced and used.