Page 179 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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SELTZER / GRAETZ, DUBNOW, BARON
1 7 1
volume on Israelite origins th rough the reign o f Solomon, was
published in 1874 and its sequel, Jewish history up to the Has-
monean revolt, in 1875-76. In the seventies Graetz visited the
land o f Israel and suppo rted the Hovevei Zion. His last years
were spent writing commentaries on various biblical books and
planning a critical text o f the Hebrew Bible that he did not
live to publish.
Graetz epitomizes the priorities o f 19th-century
Wissenschaft
des Judentums:
the philological-critical method applied to histor­
ical texts, the recovery o f the full range o f Jewish literature,
philosophy, and high culture after the depredations o f the later
Middle Ages, a vigorous defense o f the Jewish contributions
to civilization and, above all, the centrality o f
Geist
— the tran ­
scending spiritual idea — in and through Jewish history.
Graetz’s essay, “The Construction o f Jewish History,” written
in 1846 when he was only 29, illustrates the philosophical ide­
alism at the hea rt o f his approach. In this ex traord inary work
he defined his position, vis-a-vis the Hegelianism that dom inat­
ed German intellectual life. His conceptualization o f Jewish his­
tory from biblical to modern times affirmed its continuity and
articulated its periodical and dynamic un fo ld ing .1
Graetz’s starting point was the principle that the original Jew ­
ish idea was a “negative force” o f absolute spirituality, funda ­
mentally at odds with the deification by paganism o f forces im­
m anent in nature . Judaism served as the antithesis o f paganism
inasmuch as its God was a self-subsistent transcenden t being
who freely created the universe and was not subject to the de ­
crees o f Fate. (The notion o f such a radical difference between
Judaism and paganism has a long and honored place in modern
Jewish thought.) T h e crucial point was that no static doctrinal
definition o f Judaism was possible since Judaism was a po ten ­
tiality that could be actualized only th rough the vicissitudes o f
time. In the biblical period Judaism was the community’s “con­
stitution,” as the people sought happiness in the land o f Canaan.
The full force o f the “purely religious element” emerged du ring
1.
The Structure o f Jewish History and Other Essays,
tr., ed. and introd. by Ismar
Schorsch (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary o f America, 1975). Am­
ong the essays on Graetz are two studies by Baron reprinted in
History
and Jewish Historians: Essays and Addresses by Salo W. Baron,
compiled by
Arthur Hertzberg and Leon A. Feldman (Philadelphia: The Jewish Pub­
lication Society o f America, 1964), pp. 263-275.