Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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— G
truc tur ing
o f
historical development of the Jewish people. He was barely
thirty when he formulated his philosophy of Jewish history. In
an essay entitled
Die Konstrukt ion der juedischen Geschichte,
published in 1846 (republished by Schocken in 1946), he pre-
sented the outline of the great work whose writing was to occupy
him practically the rest of his life. How, he asked, does one obtain
a real understanding of what Judaism is? I t cannot be done
through theorizing about one aspect of the religion or another.
Judaism is an idea which worked itself out through the life of
the Jewish people. Only Jewish history can provide a definition
of Judaism.
The History of an Idea
Jewish history is thus the history on an idea developed by and
exemplified through the life of a people. The first period of its
history—that of the First Temple—is that of a people on its
national soil. Monotheism during this period was not merely a
challenge to paganism; it offered a positive and demanding view
of life. This is why the really important aspect of this part of
Jewish history is not the story of judges and kings, of wars and
conquests and defeats, but rather the effort of the prophets to
plant the idea firmly in the hearts of the people destined to be
its bearers.
The second period, that of the Second Temple, was that of the
idea triumphant. The wars of this age were religious, not political;
the parties into which the people were divided were primarily
religious parties. In the end the people became fed up with
political leadership of any kind. The real achievement of the
period was that intellect (
became henceforth the
main factor (
das maechtige Agenz)
in the people’s historical
Hence, in the third period, the idea became identified with the
very life of the group and its individuals. Essential unity was not
impaired despite the scattering of the people. Unity was main-
tained and strengthened through the common search for the
meaning and the application of the idea. Indeed, such unity
sometimes amounted to self-isolation at the very time the world
was expanding, and with it the diaspora. The representatives of
this diaspora era were the scholars, the philosophers, the legal-
ists. The rest of the essay is therefore a discussion of law and
letters during this age.
This outline of Jewish history was in the nature of an archi-
tect’s design. It was followed in a general way when Graetz
embarked on the actual writing of his great work. The first
volume to appear was the fourth in the series as planned, dealing
with the period around the destruction of the Second Temple.