Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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From an historical perspective Haskalah can be said to have
emerged on the Eu ropean scene as a reaction to both ex ternal and
in ternal forces. I t was undoubtedly a Jewish response to Eu ro ­
pean Enlightenment, yet it was definitely also an answer to a g rea t
need within the Jewish camp for some changes. It came in the
wake of inne r strifes within Jewish society resulting from mes­
sianic movements and a breakdown in the structure o f the
T he ideas and ideals o f Haskalah were neither purely innova­
tive no r original. Borrowing from Eu ropean Enlightenment on
the one hand and from medieval Jewish philosophy on the o ther,
its ideology may be characterized as eclectic. I t had no sys­
tematized code, indeed no unified view. Its facets, factions and
voices were many and varied.
This accounts for the difficulty in assessing it and for the pitfalls
which confront students o f its phenomenology. Still, the Hebrew
Haskalah is distinguished by certain unique characteristics and
typical trends and attitudes.
In no o the r area o f the ir Enlightenment endeavor did the
face as difficult a task as in the area of language. In
keeping with prevailing notions concerning the role o f language
in though t and its impact on morality, the
rejected Yid­
dish, which they considered a “co rrup ted language,” and set out
to revive the Hebrew tongue. They attem p ted to reject the cu r­
ren t rabbinic idiom and its careless grammatical usage. However,
one must note tha t this was easier said than done. Many still
resorted to the old rabbinic stylistic practices even when others
had already begun to probe the realm o f language and to produce
grammatical and linguistic studies.2
T he ir first inclination was indeed toward the biblical idiom,
which they considered to be the epitome o f linguistic purity.
However, while they could employ the biblical idiom in poetry
2 See ch. IV, “Revival o f Hebrew and Revival o f the People,” in my book,
73-90. I cite an example o f Joel Brill’s writing which is patterned on rabbinic
style on p. 89, note 73. On the
preoccupation with Hebrew grammar,
see p. 73.