Page 182 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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Simon Dubnow was born in 1860 in the Belorussian town
o f Mstislavl, six hund red miles east o f Graetz’s birthplace .5 Like
Graetz, Dubnow received a traditional religious upbringing ,
found his way to modern books and ideas, and experienced
a severe intellectual disorientation that led to much adolescent
soul-searching in the Haskalah style. Unlike Graetz, Dubnow
was not able to gain en trance to a university (his historical knowl­
edge was acquired completely on his own) and found no value
in philosophical o r theological idealism. In the early seventies,
when he resided briefly in St. Petersburg and wrote for various
Jewish periodicals, Dubnow wrestled with issues raised by the
positivist and utilitarian views o f Dimitri Pisarev and o the r Rus­
sian radical writers and their Western mentors, Auguste Comte,
John Stuart Mill, and H e rbert Spencer. By the middle o f the
eighties Dubnow’s earlier faith in the “religion o f positivism”
had been shaken, and he tu rned from iconoclastic literary and
social criticism to the study o f Jewish history.
Dubnow’s first impo rtan t research was an ex tended series o f
articles on early Hasidism for
the leading Russian-
language Jewish jou rn a l that was his principal literary outlet
for many years. Difficulties in finding primary sources led him
in 1891 to issue a summons to Russian Jews to collect the doc­
uments that would make possible a more comprehensive ac­
count o f the Jewish past in East Europe; this widely circulated
program was, in effect, a call to liberate the
from the
condescending attitudes o f Graetz and o ther German Jews. In
an explicit Jewish nationalism and broke with the Hovevei Zion for verging
on it.
5. I have drawn in part on some o f my previous writings, including the fol­
lowing: “Coming Home: The Personal Basis o f Simon Dubnow’s Ideology,”
The Association fo r Jewish Studies Review,
no. 1 (1976), pp. 283-301; “From
Graetz to Dubnow: The Impact o f the East European Milieu on the Writing
o f Jewish History,” in David Berger (ed.),
The Legacy o f Jewish Migration
(New York: Social Science Monographs and Brooklyn College Press, 1983),
pp. 49-60; “Simon Dubnow and the Nationalist Interpretation o f Jewish
History,” in Moses Rischin (ed.),
The Jews o f North America
(Detroit: Wayne
State University Press, 1987), pp. 144-152. On Jewish theologies and phi­
losophies o f history, see my “History: Jewish Views,” in
The Encyclopedia
o f Religion
(New York: Macmillan, 1987), vol. 6, pp. 390-94.