Books – English

When it first appeared in Hebrew in 1958 and in English in 1961, Tradition and Crisis, Jacob Katz’s groundbreaking study of Jewish society at the end of the Middle Ages dramatically changed our perceptions of the Jewish community prior to the era of modernity. This new, unabridged translation by Bernard Dov Cooperman makes this classic available to new generations of students and scholars, together with Katz’s original source notes, and an afterword and an updated bibliography by Bernard Dov Cooperman. Katz revolutionized the field by tapping into a rich and hitherto unexplored source for reconstructing the sociology of a previous era: the responsa literature of the rabbinic establishment during the Middle Ages. The self-governing communities of Jews in Europe dealt with issues both civil and religious. The questions and answers addressed to the rabbinic authorities and courts provide an incomparable wealth of insights into life as it was lived in this period and into the social, historical, cultural, and economic issues of the day. How did European Jewry progress from a socially and culturally segregated socviety to become a component of European society at large? What were Jewish attitudes toward the Gentile world from which Jewry had been secluded for centuries? What were the bridges from the old to the new era? Tradition and Crisis traces the roots of modernity to internal developments within the communities themselves. Katz traces the modern movements of the Haskalah (Enlightenment) in the West and Hasidism in the East, to an internal breakdown in the structure of these communities and the emergence of an alternative leadership in the wake of the Sabbatean challenge. A dynamic work that has radically changed our view of this history, Tradition and Crisis remains the pivotal text for under-standing the revolution in the entire conception of Jewish identity in the modern era.

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This book re-interprets the histoey of ideas which influenced Jewish-Christan relations between medieval times and the end of the eighteenth century. Making use of a wealth of untapped sources, the author. Professor of History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. shows how the ancient dialogue between Christian and Jew continued unimpaired throughout the Middle Ages, despite the powerful restraints of social pressures and religious zeal on both sides. Many cherished notions of contemporary Jewry are exploded, among them the belief that Israel was always a “liberal” faith. The author reconstructs the picture which the medieval Jew held to be an accurate representation of the religion, nature and morality of the Gentile world. He examines the steady deterioration of relations which set in between the two communities until, by the middle of the ghetto period. Jewry was almost completely estranged from the outer world. Paradoxically, this estrangement promoted the re-emergence of tolerance, and, as an idea, it took on new import with the disintegration of an exclusively Jewish society at the end of the ghetto period.

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The collection of essays, chosen by the auther, discusses the principal themes of modern Jewish history, involving the emancipation of the jews, his assimilation into the gentile society, anti-semitism and the Jewish answer to the state of affairs in the emergence of modern nationalalism. The introduction of former ghetto-dwellers into modern European society, with all its implications for Jewish and their gentile environment, is here reviewed with the approach of historical andsociological analysis.

In the hundred years beginning with the last third of the eighteenth century, radical changes took place in the economic, political, and social structure of Europe, particularly in the western countries. Nowhere were these changes more profoundly felt than in the Jewish communities. At the beginning of this period Jews lived as isolated strangers in surrounding Gentile societies; at the end they were citizens. Not only had their legal status changed but also their cultural habits, occupational distribution, religious outlook, and behavior. Jacob Katz's account of this transformation of Jewish life is unique in its breadth and objectivity. He presents the story of Jewish emancipation as a whole, from both Jewish and non-Jewish points of view and as a process that was inter-related from country to country even though details differed. He is concerned with the underlying forces: the great upheaval of the French Revolution, the loosening of bonds between church and state, and the ideas of the Enlightenment. It was those rationalistic and humanistic ideas which made possible Gentile society's acceptance of the Jews and which attracted Jewish intellectuals to the "secular knowledge"of languages, mathematics, philosophy and the wider world beyond their ancient learning. The transition from the ghetto to partial inclusion in society-at-large was no-where a smooth process. The political and social aspects of the problem were passionately debated in legislative bodies and among the people on both sides. At this time the modern dilemma of the Jewish community emerged: that of adapting to the surrounding culture without loss of Jewish identity. The fears, on both sides, of corruption by association were plainly stated. In reviewing this chapter of history, Prof. Katz uses a broad sociological approach which takes into consideration factual and ideological factors not previously applied to this subject. He considers the interplay between changes in conditions, alterations in types, and shifts in institutions on the one hand, and a reshaping of ideas, images, and stereotypes on the other. The latter process, as he points out, is generally slower than the former and is, indeed, still continuing today. It is precisely because many of the debates reviewed in this book have not yet been wholly resolved that this chapter of history has such relevance to contemporary problems.

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Jacob Katz here presents a major reinterpretation of modern anti Semitism which blends history of ideas with social analysis. He describes the process by which a set of negative ideas about the Jews gadually became transformed and then around 1870 picked up so much social force as to result in the premeditated and systematic destruction of the Jewish people of Europe. Katz revises the prevalent thesis that medieval and modern animosities against Jews were fundamentally different. He also rejects the scapegoat theory according to which the Jews were merelv a lightning rod for underlying economic and social tensions. On the contrary he argues there were very real tensions between Jews and non-Jews because the Jews were a highly visible and cohesive group and so came into conflict with non-Jews in competing for social and economic rewards. In the late nineteenth century Katz argues hatred of the Jews shifted from their religion to more essential aspects of their character and behavior. The term “anti-Semitism” he explains, which first came into use around 1870, was meant to bescribe this change. Thus ironically just as Jews were being integrated into the political state skillful propagandists such as Theodor Fritsch and Houston Stewart Chamberlain were extraordinarily successful in spreading notions of Jewish racial inferiority and its threat to the pure Aryan stock. And so when Hitler came on the scene, the seeds of race hatred were widely sown.

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From the Babylonian period to the twentieth century, strictly observant Jews have depended on a non-Jew, or “shabbes goy”, to perform work that was foridden on the Sabbath. The author traces the role of the “shabbes goy” through the centuries. Altough the “Sabbath gentile” has traditionally been recorded as a stereotypical folklore character, Katz accords him the central role in this fascinating case study on the larger question of the adaptability of halakhah to the ever-changing circumstances of life.

Praise for The “Sabbes Goy”

“What distinguishes Katz’s research is the broad variety of perspectives which he brings to bear on the material. He does not confine himself to explaining the legal argumentation. He also interprets it from the context of religious and intellectual history and as an indication of the workings of Jewish socicty and economics through the ages. The current study shows Katz at his finest.”

– The Jewish Star.

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For some, Richard Wagner is infamous as the favorite composer of Hitler, who seems to have admired Wagner as an early exponent of his own racist ideology and worldview. Impressed by this assumption, victims of Hitler have also associated Wagner and his music with Nazism to such an extent that in Israel a ban on public performance of that music is upheld to this day. Jacob Katz, a scholar of international repute, approaches the highly charged issue of Richard Wagner’s anti-semitism with the tools of a critical historian, asking two central questions: What role did anti-semitism play in the life and work of Richard Wagner? And how did his anti Jewish thoughts and sentiments contribute to the development of political anti-semitism and Nazism?

In this first comprehensive and judicious treatment of Wagner’s anti-semitisim, Katz analyzes the cpmposer’s attitudes in their own time and place and in the context of Wagner’s life and aspirations. He traces Wagner’s feelings toward Jews chronologically, showing the the composer was ultimately obessesd by a deep-seated Judeophobia generated byconflict with his Jewish mentors and competitors. But he argues against reading the later emergence of Nazism back into Wagner’s life and work. While not absolving Wagner from responsibility for his views, Katz contends that contemporary Jews have paradoxically and uncritically adopted the Nazis’ assumptions about Wagner. Katz argues that Wagner’s music is untainted by his anti-semitism, that there is, in fact, very little in Wagner’s art that, without forced speculation, can be related to his racist views.

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