Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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G R A E T Z ’ S S T R U C T U R I N G OF
J E W I S H H I S T O R Y
On the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of His Dea th
B
y
S
olom on
G
rayzel
N
o t
s i n c e
that genius, or those geniuses, who wrote the biblical
books of Samuel and Kings, did any historian have so great
an influence on the modern Jew’s view of his past as did Heinri
Graetz. No work of Jewish history has been so widely read, or
proved so stimulating, or roused so profound a faith in Jewish
unity and purpose. In many respects of content and interpreta-
tion Graetz’s work has been superseded; nevertheless, he fully
deserves being recalled on the seventy-fifth anniversary of his
death (September 7, 1891).
Historians, no less than other men, reflect the attitudes and
views of their time and place. Early in his life, Graetz came under
the influence of two currents of 19th century thought: the his-
torical approach that prevailed in Germany and the Orthodox
approach to Judaism as represented by Samson Raphael Hirsch.
The historical influence had created the movement of the Wissen-
schaft des Judentums; and one need only recall Leopold Zunz,
Abraham Geiger, and Solomon J. L. Rapoport, among others.
Their historical presentation of segments of Jewish life and ex-
amples of Jewish personality was motivated originally by a desire
to gain respect for Judaism and the Jewish people. It went on
from here to stand for meticulous research into the people’s long
historical experience.
Events within the German Jewish community further strength-
ened Graetz’s interest in history. For a battle raged within the
community during the first half of the 19th century between
Traditionalism and Reform. Rigidity on the one side and eager-
ness for revolutionary change on the other destroyed Jewish
unity and raised questions which went to the root of Jewish life.
The fundamental question that had to be answered was: What
is Judaism?
Graetz could not help taking sides in the discussion. Character-
istically, he thought he could present the truth by portraying the
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