Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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GERBER / JEWISH HISTORICAL WRITING
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terms o f numbers o f scholars produced . In the a tmosphere o f
in te llec tua l vitality , ex p e r im en ta t io n and in te rd isc ip l in a ry
methodologies which have characterized Jewish historical tra in ­
ing in the 1970’s a new end-p roduc t is emerging. Jewish history,
by the very idiosyncratic na ture o f its subject matter, frequently
poses special problems to the practitioner. Unlike the raw mate­
rial o f the European historian, the data o f the Jewish historian are
often nonexistent, o r available in the most intractable o f sources
from which to extract history, i.e., rabbinic codes and responsa
collections. It was natural until recently tha t most o f the trad i­
tional historians o f the Jews received the ir training in the semi­
nary ra th e r than the secular university. T he difference in sources
and how they are employed combined with this difference in
locus o f training frequently led to a d ifferen t historical narrative
and scholarly end-produc t. While the university as the setting for
Jewish learning is still so novel tha t it is too early to generalize
about the newer historian, it is already appa ren t tha t his ap ­
proaches and intellectual tastes will be different.
NEW TRENDS
Jewish historical writing in the 1970’s began to reveal the influ­
ence o f the newer social sciences in American universities. T he
methods and insights o f the sociologists, psychologists and an ­
thropologists have been brough t to bear on Jewish historical data.
New questions concerning social and religious change are being
formulated and fresh and heretofore un touched sources o f in­
formation are being mined. In addition, the new technology o f
information retrieval and its methodological byproduct o f quan ­
tification have opened up new avenues o f historical inquiry.
Newer emphases o f historical work in the seventies also involve
the examination o f largely unde r-researched groups o f Jews such
as Oriental Jews, Jewish women, Jewish criminals o r “u n d e r ­
classes.” Religio-historical research has appeared as a school o f
Jewish history in America, chiefly associated with the p ioneering
writings o f Jacob Neusner and the cadre o f scholars he has
trained . In add ition , some landm a rk biographical-historical
studies have enriched the field.
Between 1970 and 1980 an entirely new area o f historical
research has become prom inent. While some m inor historical