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The Haskamah of History or Why Did the Dutch Wissenschaft des Judentums Spurn Zunz’s Writings?

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AbstractAccording to common opinion, nineteenth-century Dutch Jewry never developed a follow-up to the German Wissenschaft des Judentums. This paper makes a case for the opposite: Dutch Jewish intellectuals not only were avid readers of Wissenschaft publications, they also used them extensively as sources of inspiration and information. The result, however, lacked the academic dimension of the German tradition. Instead, Dutch Jewish scholars consistently merged the results of critical scholarship with the edifying content of the traditional treatises they were translating and annotating. Time-bound historical truth thus served to affirm the timeless truth of Jewish ethics. It is further argued that this indeed somewhat derivative strategy was more than a mere sign of conservatism or scholarly mediocrity. The Dutch Wissenschaft soon became one of the key instruments in formulating a new Jewish civic identity in the decades following the Emancipation Decree of 1796. Working from rather than towards political equality, the Dutch Jewish scholars could afford to ignore the radical content of Jewish national philology as developed by Leopold Zunz and his German colleagues.


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