Page 187 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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Hungarian empire of 54,000,000 people belonging to a dozen
different nationalities and cultures. I also participated in the trau­
matic experience of that city when it suddenly shrank to the po­
sition of a capital of a small state of 6,000,000 persons, a third
of whom lived within its own confines.. . . Subsequently, for more
than half a century I participated in the ever-changing, often
creative and always exciting crosscurrents of New York City
which had suddenly become the center of the financial, and in
many areas also of the cultural world.. . . Perhaps because of
these multifarious experiences I have been drawn into consid­
eration of numerous political, cultural, religious, and ethnic dif­
ferences with a much greater sense of understanding of, and
participating in, that unity within the diversity of mankind.11
An appreciation o f complexity and diversity is a hallmark o f
Baron’s approach. Quite in contrast to Dubnow’s programmatic
agnosticism is Baron’s meticulous handling o f the religion el­
ement in Jewish history. But unlike Graetz, the historian’s re ­
ligious faith is bracketed as irrelevant to his professional duties.
The first chap ter o f the first volume o f the second edition o f
Social and Religious History of the Jews
contains a succinct fo r­
mulation o f Jewish “historical” monotheism and possibly the
slightest hint o f Baron’s carefully submerged religiosity:
The preponderant instinct among the majority [of Jews], in any
case, still perceptibly tells them that the Jewish religion, but­
tressed by the Jewish nationality, and the Jewish nationality,
supernationally [s&’c] rooted in the Jewish religion, will weather
the forthcoming storms, too, and that together they will continue
their historic march into the unfathomable future.12
Baron carefully undertook to correct the exaggerations o f
popu lar Jewish history rooted in 19th-century apologetic real­
ities. One o f his most often cited themes was a critique o f the
“lachrymose theory” that before the era o f modern revolution
and en lightenment the medieval Jewish past was overwhelm­
ingly a tale o f darkness and woe (in contrast to Graetz’s and
the early Dubnow’s emphatic accounts o f medieval persecution
and martyrdom). In “Ghetto and Emancipation” (published in
Menorah Journal
in 1928) Baron argued for a more nuanced
11. Salo W. Baron,
The Contemporary Relevance o f History: A Study in Approaches
and Methods
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 96.
A Social and Religious History o f the Jews,
I (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1972), p. 31.