The Haskalah Movement in Russiaby Jacob S. Raisin
To the lover of mankind the history of the Russo-Jewish renaissance is an encouraging and inspiring phenomenon. Seldom has a people made such rapid strides forward as the Russian Jews. From the melancholy regularity that marked their existence a little more than two generations ago, from the darkness of the Middle Ages in which they were steeped until the time of… See more details below
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To the lover of mankind the history of the Russo-Jewish renaissance is an encouraging and inspiring phenomenon. Seldom has a people made such rapid strides forward as the Russian Jews. From the melancholy regularity that marked their existence a little more than two generations ago, from the darkness of the Middle Ages in which they were steeped until the time of Alexander II, they emerged suddenly into the life and light of the West, and some of the most intrepid devotees of latter-day culture, both in Europe and in America, have come from among them. Destitute of everything that makes for enlightenment, and under the dominion of a Government which sought to extinguish the few rushlights that scattered the shadows around them, they nevertheless snatched victory from defeat, sloughed off medieval superstition, and, disregarding the Dejanira shirt of modern disabilities, compelled their countrymen to admit more than once that Tho' I've belted you and flayed you, By the livin' Gawd that made you. "There is but one key to the present," says Max M�ller, "and that is the past." To understand fully the growth and historical development of a people's mind, one must be familiar with the conditions that have shaped its present form. It would seem necessary, therefore, to introduce a description of the Haskalah movement with a rapid survey of the history of the Russo-Polish Jews from the time of their emergence from obscurity up to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Among those who laid the foundations for the study of this almost unexplored department of Jewish history, the settlement of Jews in Russia and their vicissitudes during the dark ages, the most prominent are perhaps Isaac B�r Levinsohn, Abraham Harkavy, and Simon Dubnow. There is much to be said of each of these as writers, scholars, and men. Here they concern us as Russo-Jewish historians. What Linnaeus, Agassiz, and Cuvier did in the field of natural philosophy, they accomplished in their chosen province of Jewish history. Levinsohn was the first to express the opinion that the Russian Jews hailed, not from Germany, as is commonly supposed, but from the banks of the Volga. This hypothesis, corroborated by tradition, Harkavy established as a fact. Originally the vernacular of the Jews of Volhynia, Podolia, and Kiev was Russian and Polish, or, rather, the two being closely allied, Palaeo-Slavonic. The havoc wrought by the Crusades in the Jewish communities of Western Europe caused a constant stream of German-Jewish immigrants to pour, since 1090, into the comparatively free countries of the Slavonians. Russo-Poland became the America of the Old World. The Jewish settlers from abroad soon outnumbered the native Jews, and they spread a new language and new customs wherever they established themselves.
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